Films don’t come cheap and aren’t delivering good ratings. In contrast, fiction costs a fraction and delivers better numbers and return on investment. Why do channels keep showing movies? A L CHOUGULE explains the logic.
Hindi films are said to be wholesome family entertainers, while television is supposed to be a medium of entertainment for entire family. Their mutual dependence on each other is so strong that both share strong synergy for eyeballs, reach and revenue. But movies don’t come cheap. In recent years, movie acquisition cost has gone up substantially. But there is no let up in major television networks’ hunger for movies to ramp up their weekend viewership share.
Since the good old days of Doordarshan, Hindi films have been major Sunday evening attraction on TV though satellite channels joined the race much later. But not all private channels were equally gung-ho on movies. Like for instance Star Plus which preferred low-cost fiction and non-fiction content over movies. But competition compelled the leading network to jump on to the movie bandwagon. In the last two years Star has been an aggressive buyer in Hindi movie genre to make its movie channel Star Gold a competitive brand as well as to help Star Plus compete with rivals Colors, Sony and Zee. Incidentally, Sony which has exclusive rights to all Yash Raj films is an aggressive player in movie genre, while Colors has relied heavily on films and events to increase its reach and audience share.
In fact, thanks to competition the demand for films went so high in 2008-09 that not only the price-to-return ratio was adversely affected, but overkill of the movie genre on multiple platforms also dented ratings. Only a few big hits like Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and Tare Zameen Par managed to deliver 7.5 and 5-plus TVR respectively, while others like Blue and Delhi 6 finished with 3.1 and 1.6 TVR respectively. Even Wanted, the biggest hit of 2009, garnered only around 4 rating. In comparison, some of the prime time fiction shows like Bidaai, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Uttaran and Balika Vadhu delivered 7-plus rating then.
Since then ratings for most Hindi films have been around the same level though only a few big blockbusters have managed to impress. Last year a lot of films were premiered on TV, but some networks preferred to premiere some of the big titles on their movie channels. Bodyguard, for instance, garnered a high of 10 rating points, followed by Singham and Ra.One at 8.7 and 6.7 TVR respectively on Star Gold. Agneepath on Zee Cinema managed 4.7, while Bol Bachan on Star Gold netted 4.8 rating points. Ek Tha Tiger was a blockbuster hit in theatres but didn’t rock on TV. Its double premiere on Sony fetched 3.3 TVR at the noon slot and 4.6 at prime time, while Rowdy Rathore finished with 5.1 and 5.6 ratings on the same channel. Both films delivered lower numbers on Sony’s sister movie channel MAX, while English Vinglish didn’t shine on Zee cinema either.
Recent premieres in January and February of 2013 speak the same story with Son of Sardar, Student of the Year and Khiladi 786 netting between 3 and 5 TRPs. However, channels continue to chase big titles and stars with top networks increasing spends on acquiring films by about 10 to 20 per cent. The average cost for A-category movies – box-office hits with A-list Bollywood stars – is anywhere between Rs. 20 to 25 crore or more in few cases, while the second rung films come for half the price or less. Research shows that TV viewers spend 20 to 30 per cent of their time watching films on TV, which include general entertainment and movie channels. While movie channels air films 24×7, films comprise about 15 to 20 per cent of general entertainment consumption.
While with a few exceptions, most films don’t deliver cracking numbers, channels use films to fight the weekly battle of number game as well as to sell inventory to media buying agencies. TV is not a cinema hall, but channels promote and market every premiere like a big event. Industry analysts, marketing and sales heads are of the view that films are essentially marketing tools. “They not only bring in additional non-core GEC viewers (kids, youth and men) but are used as a marketing strategy to promote existing and new shows,” says a senior channel marketing executive.
According to channels and industry analysts, there are two reasons for fall in ratings. One, the competition between general entertainment and movie channels for viewership of film properties besides the number of films telecast on top four channels on weekends which has gone up from just one five years ago to four or six, and two, the steady decline in ratings for general entertainment channels. “A few years ago, top fiction and non-fiction shows used to deliver 7 and 8-Plus rating. Today it has come down to 4 and 5 TVR. Similarly, the rating for films has come down from 8 to 3.5 and 4 TVR. The decline is across the board,” says a senior channel programming executive.
But given high acquisition cost and lower ratings, do films make good business sense? Channels admit that economics are not loaded in favour of films. “Fiction is the bread and butter of general entertainment channels. But you don’t lose money on films even if you don’t make much,” says the marketing executive. Whatever it is, it’s a fact that most films fail to pass the test of popularity on TV and often their performance on TV is a direct reflection of their box-office collections in theatres.