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‘Real’ity Check: What went wrong with the youngest Hindi GEC?

10-September-2009
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‘Real’ity Check: What went wrong with the youngest Hindi GEC?

The sudden splurge in the number of Hindi general entertainment channels launching since 2008 had led many media experts to predict shake-ups and consolidations in the genre. Yet, many were surprised when Hindi general entertainment channel ‘Real’ lagged behind in gathering eyeballs, and eventually decided to pause and begin from ground zero again. This meant taking the channel to repeat mode, ceasing the investments in programming, and then downsizing.

A precedent of sorts was in ZeeNext and in a sense in the 9X story, though much about the latter was different. 9X and ZeeNext were the first ones to have launched from the second generation Hindi GECs. ZeeNext didn’t gather momentum and eventually became a plan on hold. 9X managed to cross the 100-GRP threshold, but couldn’t sustain the pace of what it had initiated and in the heat of the slowdown, fell like a house of cards.

Real, on the other hand, launched in the midst of the slowdown. Courageous, according to many, especially when the raging success example of Colors had left no holds barred in investing money in its distribution, marketing and content.

The (un)Real Proposition

Real’s proposition was simple and showed promise – Real channel for real people. In hindsight now though, the proposition itself looks like a question to some industry leaders. TME’s President, Divya Radhakrishnan, noted, “Much like one cannot assume that the viewer is happy with what is being shown, one cannot assume that the viewer is unhappy and wants to see ‘real’ content. There still are viewers who don’t mind exaggeration, bows and arrows hurling across the screen, crores discussed like pennies or over-dressed saas and bahus. It is not wise to exclude these viewers.”

Where Radhakrishnan disagreed on the niche approach for a mass media vehicle, Mindshare South Asia’s Leader R Gowthaman, better known as G-Man, said that the proposition was “alright”, but it still had given nothing to the channel for it to build on, if it had to re-launch in the future. G-Man said, “For the channel to survive now, it has to start from scratch.”

The lack of the FMCG mindset, and the needed buzz

One allegation made on the channel was that it was neither well distributed nor well marketed for a Hindi GEC. According to G-Man, “Connectivity is as important as content. Real launched on the back of ‘Sarkaar’, which reminded one of reality series ‘Survivor’, but the show did not get traction. It may well be that the Indian audience was ready for another reality concept like a ‘Big Brother’, but not for this. Whatever the reason was, the content didn’t connect with the audience.”

Radhakrishnan elaborated, “You have to think like an FMCG product. The game is about buzz marketing and unfortunately Real didn’t invest enough in that. Even on the distribution front, like in a detergent product, for example, the brand has to be seated next to the competition. Real didn’t play this distribution game either.”

Giving an overall view, Divya Gururaj, Managing Director, MediaCom India, explained, “There is too much of content sameness across channels today. Everything is commoditised. Differentiation, hence, though is the key for survival, is still not enough. Hindi GECs are no longer just competing with GECs, they are competing with music channels, even news channels, and there is no denying that increasingly the game has become difficult for them.”

Real officials have been quoted as saying that they are reassessing the business plan. The challenge looks daunting, but media experts are optimistic that the channel still has a shot to re-launch and find its place with the Indian viewers, who Gururaj describes as “merciless” in their media consumption habits. Needless to say, the increase in choices has not helped much on that front.

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