Many present at the broadcasters’ meet in Mumbai on November 10, 2008, called it a historical moment for the Indian broadcasting fraternity. Some of the most influential names of television in India – STAR India’s CEO Uday Shankar; NDTV Imagine’s CEO Sameer Nair; Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s (ZEEL) CEO, Puneet Goenka; Colors’ CEO Rajesh Kamat; and Sony Entertainment Television’s Business Head Albert Almeida – addressed this hastily called but full-house press conference. Even though INX Media and Sahara One’s Chiefs were not at the meet, the other officials of the two companies were.
Where the top bosses were together on the dais, the senior management that constituted executives like NDTV Imagine’s Harsh Rohatgi; Star Plus’ Keertan Adyanthaya and Zee TV’s Tarun Mehra were also present, making the same points at the conference sidelines.
Not ideal, but important
The broadcasters did not have anything new to say. The decision to black out fresh programming and completely move to repeat mode was already taken and executed much before this conference was called. The move to meet together in this manner, however, was important as it clearly gave out the message that these otherwise tooth-and-nail competing professionals were absolutely united in this cause. The producers and the Federation of Western Indian Cine Employees (FWICE) have hit a deadlock in their conversations to solve their ongoing dispute. The broadcasters have made it clear that they would not tolerate any unreasonable increase in prices, especially in the given economic condition.
The broadcasters reiterated that both from the viewer and the advertiser point of view, the current situation was not ideal. They took cognizance of the fact that the entire value chain, including the broadcasters, would suffer in the present state. They also emphasised that they had no control over this dispute and that they couldn’t agree to any arbitrary increase in costs as was being suggested in the producers versus Federation conversations. Each of the officials on the dais took the microphone to bring out various aspects of this point.
They also informed that none of the advertisers had as yet renegotiated any of their deals nor had made any changes in their media plans. The advertising on all of these channels, for now, would continue as it is.
All broadcasters have agreed to Colors airing its reality series ‘Bigg Boss’, which is perhaps another indication of the seriousness with which the broadcasters are approaching this issue. The channels didn’t want any temptation to break this union either. Officials familiar with the situation informed exchange4media that all the channels had, in fact, even asked TAM Media Research to suspend its ratings for some time. Even though there were discussions on the subject, the outcome was that TAM Media Research would continue to release data as usual.
The broadcasters also approached the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA). Subsequently, both AAAI and ISA sent advisory to all of its members suggesting that the agencies and the advertisers should support the broadcasters at this “time of need”.
Vikram Sakhuja, COO, GroupM South Asia, said, “We appreciate these efforts by the broadcasters to not allow any rates increase on the back of arbitrary demands by anyone. And we await a quick decision on this matter.” Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar Universal, was also of the same opinion. Sam Balsara, Chairman, Madison World, added, “We have been given to understand by the broadcasters that they are held to ransom, and a reckless demand in rates is asked. We do not want the broadcasters to submit to this blackmail. In the end, this would come back to the advertisers itself, and that is not welcome. We hope that this situation resolves soon.”
The agency heads have said that the situation was too unpredictable to give any comments on what could happen even two days down the line. A senior media agency head explained that advertisers would want return on their investments, and even more so given the current economic conditions. However, at the most, advertisers are expected to keep this calm front for a week to 10 days. Even for this period, the channels would be expected to “make good”. Balsara said, “If the situation goes on for long, then the questions of compensation would come up. The broadcasters are also saving on a lot in this time of no shooting, and I am quite sure that they would not mind passing this on to the advertisers.”
Who blinks first?
Just about every media planner and buyer that exchange4media has spoken to has said that a shift to other genres or even to other GECs could happen in this blackout period. People could sample other channels, the shows of which may not be seen by many or just move to other genres. Since the aggregation of audience is all that the advertiser finally looks for, the networks that have various channels in their bouquet have an advantage over the others. A media head explained, “If a channel guides audiences to its other channels like to a festival on a movie channel or something on those lines, you can see a shift in audiences.”
The situation might remind a few of the Indian Broadcasting Federation’s (IBF) surcharge of 25 per cent on input costs in October 2007. The ‘arbitrary’ decision of the broadcasters at that time had united the advertisers in an unprecedented manner to resist the surcharge. Following two days of advertising blackout then, it was business as usual. One would argue that it was the broadcasters who blinked on that occasion.
In the current situation, when the broadcasters, producers and the Federation would suffer, who would blink first really depends on how much can one bleed and sustain.
FWICE Vs Producers: Broadcasters to meet agencies & clients for support in ‘troubled times’
Broadcasters intervene in FWICE Vs Producers battle; advertisers watch with wary eyes