English GECs in India have solely depended on international content for a long time. This is in spite of high acquisition costs which burden these channels. We earlier reported the high acquisition costs of $7,000 - $10,000 (approx. Rs.4.5 – 6 lakh) per show per hour depending on the popularity of the show. Despite the English GEC genre expected to grow more than Rs.400-450 crore by the end of this year, the acquisition costs weigh heavy on these channels.
Few English GECs are willing to experiment with original content. Except some shows such as ‘Koffee with Karan’ on Star World and ‘Look Who’s Talking with Niranjan’ on Zee Cafe not many original local shows are running on English GECs. These two like many of the other shows are mainly talk shows including some of the previous shows like ‘Rendezvous with Simi Garewal’ and ‘The Front Row with Anupama Chopra’. Newly launched English GEC channel Colors Infinity is now trying its hand in original local shows and has introduced a show called ‘The Stage’ which is in the singing reality game show space. The channel is also looking to launch some more original locally produced shows in the near future. Comedy Central too has an originally produced show ‘The Other Week That Wasn’t’ a comedy series with Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijaykar. It also had featured another original local show called ‘The Living Room’ with Kenneth Sebastian last year. There were also other unsuccessful attempts by Zee Cafe with two reality shows, Bombay Talking in 2005 and Cafe Mic Testing in 2009.
The acquired versus original local content has always been a dichotomy that English GECs face even a while back. So what are the reasons behind this? And can original local content bring about success for English GECs?
Reasons why English GECs have not gone local
One of the main reasons for English GECs have been afraid of experimenting with original local content is the high costs of production. The costs of producing original content today are expected to be Rs.30-40 lakh per episode for a fiction show and around Rs.1.5 – 3 crore for a large reality show, similar to Hindi GECs. Content acquisition costs are much lower at Rs.4.5 – 6 lakh per show per hour.
Apart from the costs of production, the genre receives very little of the ad revenue pie as the ad rates are much lower. At Rs.400-450 crore ad revenue size, the English GEC genre is much smaller than even many regional genres such as Tamil, Telugu and Marathi.
Though the English GEC genre carries a premium tag due the target audience, ad spot rates are at Rs.2,000-4,000 for a 10 second spot and go upto Rs.5,000 – 6,000 for a 10 second spot for new seasons of a show. For weekend marathons of a show they charge Rs.30,000-40,000. Hindi GEC ad rates in comparison go from Rs.80,000 to Rs.1 lakh for a 10 second spot. However, it has to be noted that for original content on English GECs ad rates can go much higher. For instance, ad rates for Koffee with Karan was at Rs.50,000 – Rs.60,000 per 10 seconds spot in 2010 and is expected today be more than Rs.70,000 per 10 second spot. This show is considered to be an exception as it has the celebrity, Bollywood and glamour quotient and hence commands a premium.
The chicken and egg situation
Apart from the business attached to creating original local content for English GECs, the biggest hurdle lies in the perception that viewers will not watch such shows as the production quality cannot match international standards due to cost differences. As a result many of them stick to tried and tested formats when it comes to original local content such celebrity talk shows.
The challenge is to create original content which will strike the right cord with viewers. While many of the shows have been from the non-fiction side, almost no original local fiction shows have been created in this genre.
Kevin Vaz, Business Head, English cluster, Star India said, “You can (create original local content), but let me put it this way. it is very difficult to do it. The problems that we face is when each of these shows people are spending $4 - 5 million to make an episode, people who come and watch it see grandeur, effects, etc. On that I go and say let me take you though a serial made in India. What could be your logistics? Even if you spend Rs.1 lakh an episode, what can you get if I put it just after Homeland or any other international show?.” He further added, “It has crossed our mind a lot. Now we do things like Koffee with Karan because at the end of the day it gets you the biggest stars. People who come to watch it say that they are getting to watch Salman or Shahrukh. If you ask me yes there could be original content on English GECs but then you have to create a channel for it which is all Indian. Because then what happens is you are not comparing. I won’t do it on Star World or FX because it would be shocker for that audience.”
On the other hand, Ferzad Palia, Colors Infinity said, “We extremely excited about doing a lot of local language English production using Indian talent across the board. There is a huge space largely unexplored. There have been attempts in the past in the genre to use the English language, but they by and large have a Bollywood angle to it. So that is fairly safe route to follow, if I may say so. Can we match completely to the international standards of production and the scale of production as yet? No. Because the investments there are in many multiples of what you can do here. But the way to look at this is that viewers don’t only look at a show for its production and the scale of the production. You have had many big shows with massive scale productions and the most expensive in the world that have actually failed. And that is because of the content.”
While ad rates are low now, original content when successful can attract premium prices. Syndication on other platforms can also be another way of generating revenues for some of the original local shows. It just remains to be seen whether someone can come up with an original local show which achieves success in viewership. This will be the tipping point for the genre in terms of expansion. Right now it still remains a chicken and egg situation.