Getting comedy to work on English GECs is serious business

The comedy genre is viable, but experimentation has been observed to be low in this genre, say experts

e4m by Synjini Nandi
Updated: Apr 17, 2013 8:18 PM
Getting comedy to work on English GECs is serious business

Comedy has been an essential part of the programming mix in the English general entertainment space. Given the growing pressures of modern life, the significance of comedy has increased with channels launching new shows in this genre.

Over the years there has been a significant increase in the number of shows in this genre. Currently, Star World has ‘Big Bang Theory’ Season One and ‘Modern Family’ Season Three as part of it programming mix. Zee Café airs ‘Just for laughs’, ‘America’s funniest videos’, the latest Season Five of ‘Big Bang Theory’ as well as comedy marathons on weekends. Big CBS love has shows such as ‘The Game’ and ‘Everybody loves Raymond’ as part of its comedy lineup. Apart from the usual shows in the English GEC space, Viacom18 launched the channel Comedy Central last year, entirely pertaining towards the comedy genre with shows such as ‘Suits’, ‘Anger Management’, and ‘Whitney’, to name a few.

It can be recalled that the genre has also previously observed immense popularity with shows such as ‘Friends’, ‘Wonder years’, ‘Sex and the city’ etc which still continue to define the way forward for this genre. According to broadcasters, the growth of this genre is based on the fairly similar insight that it is a differentiating offering and hence it is growing exponentially not only on television but also across varied media platforms such as internet, mobile, etc. exchange4media takes a look at the viability of this genre and some of the significant elements that make it work.

Viability of comedy genre
According to Kevin Vaz, Business Head - English Channels, Star Jalsha and Jalsha Movies, STAR India, comedy shows form a critical part of the channel content mix as it brings a positive feel good factor to the brand. However, viewers and advertisers prefer a fair balance of genres apart from comedy, that is, drama, action, crime and edgy entertainment. Elaborating on the same, Vaz further said, “Star World throughout has retained a mix of content line up and we have got a loyal set of viewers who come to us day after day to view some of the best shows across the globe. Brand associations in English Entertainment are highly driven by the popularity of the titles across the genre, so we do have a host of different sponsors that associate with us for our shows.”

For Comedy Central, affinity is an important element which can help determine popularity and viability aspect since there is a lack of an effective monitoring system. Ferzad Palia, SVP & GM, English Entertainment, Viacom18 Media believes that comedy as a genre is doing exceptionally well in terms of buzz, popularity, etc., and is also one of the most highly produced genres.

Elaborating further, Palia said, “For us, comedy is not limited to television, but off it too. We have standup comedy shows, theatres, social media, etc.  Viability depends on how the entire genre has been taken into account. Comedy Central monetises across different media platforms such as TV, on ground, consumer products and a significant foray into the digital space.”

In Zee Café, around 30-40 per cent of the shows pertain to the comedy genre. According to the channel spokesperson, Zee Café has a healthy mix of comedy, drama and rom-coms, and also believes that the business of comedy is visibly increasing in India which the channel understands and caters to.

But though there have been an increase in the number of shows per se, the lack of experimentation is one element that has been limiting the genre’s growth. Elaborating on the same, Anand Chakravarthy, Business Head, Big CBS Channels stated, “The comedy genre is viable, but experimentation has been observed to be low in this genre. Though there are lots of shows, only 15 per cent of them do well. One of the reasons is the fact that comedy is very difficult to write. The audience is very discerning about the quality of humour. Also, it is difficult to depend on comedy to fill a channel.”

How to get it right…
Though the genre today is observing a lot of action today, there are certain elements that broadcasters should keep in mind when churning out content. According to Palia, there are two key elements which are of high significance. The first is to make sure that the particular show has scale. The second is that it should resonate with the broader audience which includes both the youth and the mature audiences. Also Comedy central has four buckets which consists of television, live entertainment, consumer durables and digital entertainment which they essentially focus on, since Palia believes that the key is to associate with brands that extend across the board and to monetize the genre across different platforms. 

Elaborating further, Chakravarthy stated, “There are certain key elements which are crucial to selecting content pertaining to this genre. The quality of the show has to be funny and it is important to understand that smart wit and intelligent comedy works. Also it makes sense to take up clean content since there is a lot of family viewership that happens. Good and clean fun is something which has a lot of potential”. Also it is essential for the show to be consistent which requires a good set of writers as well as the presence of a character which would lead to the series being more interesting.

It has also been observed that there is a dearth of local productions since comedy as a genre is hard to pull off in a market which is majorly Hindi speaking. Hence acquisitions of titles are a matter of high significance as well. Agreeing with the same, Vaz said that as an English Entertainment broadcaster though it is important to create shows, most of their line up consists of shows that they acquire. This makes it extremely critical for the channel to have a strong acquisition plan to acquire the most popular titles and the latest season that our viewer’s would like to see closer to the international airing. The objective is to acquire longer running shows across genres that help build habit and, therefore, loyalty.

What can be observed today is that though Comedy as a genre has been observing a steady growth, the real potential is yet to be exploited fully. With the huge opportunity of experimentation that the comedy genre presents to the players, only time will tell the differentiated content that would be observed on the English GEC space in future.

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