Call it bad timing or yet another impact of the economic slowdown. The disagreement over remunerations and other working conditions that had begun between the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) and various production houses associations that comprise the likes of IMPPA, AMPTPP and Film and Television Producers Guild almost two months back has led to a serious interruption in supply of fresh episodes. The plight at present is such that all Hindi general entertainment channels are airing repeats on multiple time bands.
The broadcasters have stated that this raises concern from both the viewers’ and the advertisers’ standpoints, and hence they have got together and have intervened in the FWICE versus producers battle. Following a meeting that took place between all broadcasters on October 30, 2008, a joint letter was sent to the FWICE and the producers on November 1, 2008. Two clear points in this letter are that the broadcasters would not agree to any increase any wages or others remunerations given the present “economy slowdown” period, and that if the situation is not resolved by November 9, 2008, all broadcasters would stop the commissioning of fresh episodes. Advertisers, on the other hand, have said that the situation is a real problem and the sooner it is tackled, the better it is for broadcasters.
‘Slowdown is a rough period for everyone’
Albert Almeida, Business Head, Sony Entertainment Television, explained, “The slowdown is a rough period for everyone, but we have not passed it down to either the advertisers or the producers, and we do not expect the producers to pass this down to anyone else either. We are honouring all existing contracts, and that is what we are asking the others to do too. Any demand for any increase in wages or any remuneration is highly unreasonable at present, and we have all taken a stand that we would not entertain it. The intent of this letter is to get the two parties to the table and reach to some sensible solution as soon as possible.”
The broadcasters per se do not interact with the members of the FWICE directly. There are around 22 crafts that form part of the FWICE. These range from set designers and ground engineers to spot boys, cameramen and junior artists to make-up and hairstylists. The production houses interact with the FWICE members for shooting episodes and the final execution of programming plans.
Zee TV’s Business Head Tarun Mehra added here, “The condition has become so bad that for the past couple of weeks, we are not sure on any given day whether the next day’s episode would be there or not. It has never been like this in the history of Indian GECs and the broadcasting fraternity on the whole is suffering losses due to this.”
Commissioning of fresh episodes under threat
November 9, 2008 is the D-Day that the broadcasters have set for the dispute to be resolved. But if the problem was resolved on a later date, would the broadcasters refuse to agree to begin business as usual and commission new episodes? Mehra replied, “We would, but you have to understand the gravity of the matter. At present, there is a sense of uncertainty for every broadcaster on whether a fresh episode goes in for the next day or a repeat. If the situation is not resolved by November 9, 2008, that uncertainty would be over. After that, if it means that we have to take the extreme step of airing repeat programmes, we would do that. There is no choice.”
Keertan Adyanthaya, EVP and General Manager, Star Plus, and SET’s Albert Almeida agreed with Mehra on this. Almeida said, “There has been a long relationship between the FWICE and the producers and with us. I don’t think the situation would come to that. However, should it come to that, we would be compelled to protect our businesses too.”
What about the viewers and the advertisers? Adyanthaya replied, “We have done this keeping them in mind. We cannot pass on any increase to the advertisers by drastically hiking our ad rates in the present economic conditions. Neither can we increase our subscription rates. The only way to resolve anything in the present situation is by controlling costs as much as we can, and by airing repeats.”
Advertisers voice concern
At present, there already are blocks on channels airing repeats. If a decision is not arrived at by November 9, 2008, then there would be quite a few repeat shows on primetime television. Sandip Tarkas, President, Customer Strategy, Future Group, said, “This is a real problem and really a big one for broadcasters. Viewers today have many means between a lot of other genres on television to DVDs and so on for entertainment in-home and even out of home. If we got into a situation where repeats dominated the content line-up and that went on even for a few days, the broadcasters would really lose out on a lot.”
R Chandrasekar (better known as Chandru), Head, Brand and Media, Bharti Airtel, said, “There is nothing that we can do in this either. The broadcasters have to tackle this situation themselves.”
Punitha Arumugam, Group CEO, Madison Media, added here, “Repeat programming would not mean the same viewership, and cannot mean the same cost.”
The advertisers and media agencies are clear on one aspect – their target is the viewer and relevant eyeballs. If repeats can deliver that, then it is fair, but the general consensus is that repeat programming cannot deliver same numbers. Tarkas said, “The GEC pie is already shrinking and consumers can move to other genres if they do not have anything fresh to watch on a GEC.”
According to Chandru, “From an advertiser’s perspective, it is important for us to get the right kind of eyeballs and efficiencies. The industry and advertisers would move to wherever the eyeballs move.” On another note, he added, “We would, however, honour the commitments that we have made to the channels much in the same way that we expect the channels to do whatever they can to honour the commitments that have made to us on their deliveries.”
Broadcasters have stated that the economic slowdown has aggravated this situation. It has been two days since the letter was sent out, and at least until the time of filing this report, broadcasters were still getting calls on disruption during shoots despite the clear mention of at least resuming normal shooting as soon as possible. Just about everyone exchange4media has spoken to has stated that it is very unlikely for the situation to prolong much further as it means serious loss to all involved. The FWICE versus producers feud, which has led to on and off strikes of the workers, has created enough problems already. It is a matter of a few days before the fate of this matter is known.
here to read the copy of the joint letter sent by the broadcasters to FWICE and