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English GECs: More of the same?

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English GECs: More of the same?

Star World launched the first six seasons of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ which will continue to be on air for six months though Zee Café is presently airing the latest season of the same show.

Big CBS Prime is airing season one to four of ‘Dexter’ though it has previously been telecast on Star World. Zee Café is also currently airing the first two seasons of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ which would be followed by the telecast of its latest season. FX is airing ‘Desperate Housewives’ which has earlier been aired on Star World. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is currently being telecast on Zee Café, as opposed to Star World, which earlier used to telecast the show.

The English general entertainment genre, which started off with a few channels, has gradually observed a spurt of channels with more and more players such as AXN, FX, Comedy Central, BBC Entertainment, Big CBS Love, Big CBS Sparks, Big CBS Prime, etc. entering the market in addition to Star World and Zee Cafe. But though there has been a steady increase in the number of channels, the growth in the programming content has not been at par, leading channels to air similar repetitive content on different channels.

What further deepens the dilemma is the fact that the English GEC space also consists primarily of acquired content as opposed to original home grown local content. This has led to English fiction shows observing a differentiated pattern of viewership. 

On the ambiguity being faced by the channels today, Anand Chakravarthy, Business Head, Big CBS, believes that these cult shows are telecast to attract two types of viewers; one who has never got a chance to consume the property even if it might have aired on another channel some time back, and two – those viewers who want to watch it again and again. He is of the opinion that a known programming brand comes with credibility, familiarity and assures high tune-ins from viewers.

Though the multiple telecast of the same show proves that the audience is interested in that show and not the channel, the question then arises is how channels should design their content strategies which would appeal to a wide audience base.

Acquired vs. original content
The dichotomy being faced by English GECs today is their inability to create something which would appeal to the audience on a large scale. Meanwhile the acquired content which appeals to the audience is available at a price.

Barring a few programmes such as ‘Rendezvous with Simi Garewal’, ‘Koffee with Karan’, etc., original productions that have been aired on the English GECs haven't clicked well with the target audience. The natural deduction would be that Indians are more interested in consuming international general entertainment content leading to channels not showing enough experimentation while creating their content strategy.

Commenting on the same, Anurag Bedi, Business Head, Zee Café stated, “The show loyalists shift to the channel where the show is and that is our strategy behind acquiring the latest seasons of the best shows. This was the idea behind getting season 8 of ‘Grey's Anatomy’ as well. With this we are expecting the audience to shift to Zee Café to catch the all new season.”

Marathon season telecast – Does it work?
As a part of the programming strategy, general appointment viewing and continual drama is also steadily being adopted by English GECs. Both, Saurabh Yagnik, Business Head, English Channels, Star India and Bedi believe that continuity of the series is an important factor since this helps people actually track the story throughout the entire life cycle of six months as opposed to having different season every year, which in turn leads to discontinuity. They also stressed on the fact that the continual drama format is what is accepted by the Indian audiences.

While there has been attempt for appointment viewing, the genre has yet not demonstrated the phenomenon.

According to Bedi, the concept of appointment viewing is comparatively new to the English genre and will take a while to pick up. He stated, “Over the past few months, the 9PM time band has seen increasing viewership in terms of appointment viewing. Our two major shows ‘AFV’ and ‘Just For Laughs’ also display appointment viewing.”

It is evident that various English general entertainment channels – both old and new entrants – are attempting different strategies to find what clicks with the Indian audience. It is still soon to say who has hit the bull’s eye and who has completely missed the mark.

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Prior to joining Madison PR in 2012 Chaudhary was Group President Corporate Communications at Reliance Industries Limited.