Is English GEC category disappearing from TV?

Apart from Disney- Star, the category is left with only two players, Viacom18 and ZEEL, with their six channels

e4m by Sonam Saini
Updated: Nov 8, 2021 9:09 AM  | 5 min read

The last couple of years have been challenging for India's English Entertainment General Channel (GEC) category. The implementation of NTO in 2019, coupled with a surge in consumption of international content on the OTT platforms in 2020, has left the category bleeding. And the coming into force of NTO 2.0 in 2021 is likely to add to the woes of the category. 

As earlier reported by exchange4media, Disney-Star India has decided to discontinue its three English GECs– Star World, Star World HD, and Star World Premiere HD. The channels will be discontinued effective November 30, 2021.  However, Disney International HD (English General Entertainment channel) will continue to exist. Last year, Sony Pictures Network India (SPNI) pulled the plug on its English GEC– AXN and AXN HD.  

Industry experts believe that the road ahead for the category will not be easy from now on. In the last two years, a considerable shift has happened from TV to digital for international content. Now with NTO 2.0 coming in, it will further put pressure on the category.  

According to Ashish Sehgal, Chief Growth Officer - Advertisement Revenue, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), the genre is becoming unaffordable with time. "The content cost has not gone down, it's only increasing, and advertisers are not supporting the genre considering they feel the viewership is moving to OTT," he shares.

The network owns two English GECs– Zee Cafe and Zee Cafe HD– which air international and Indian content on its channels. The channel has launched original shows like 'Dance with Me' and Chef Vs. Fridge too. But Sehgal says while the channel is producing Indian content, that also can become unaffordable when too much content is created. 

"The demand of English GEC has come down from an advertiser point of view. However, the consumer is still there. As of now, we haven't planned anything. We are going the way it is as we still feel that there is some traction there," opines Sehgal. He feels that now with lesser channels, the demand could be fulfilled. "It's another year for us to see. We will be watching this genre closely for a year, and then we will take a call." 

As per the Pitch Madison Advertising report 2021, the genre contributed around Rs 200-300 crore to the total television revenue. A major casualty of Covid-19, has been English channels that suffered a 40% decline in FCT. In 2018, the genre contributed Rs 300-400 crore revenue. 

A senior executive of a leading broadcaster on the condition of anonymity said, "The English language content is watched by the premium audience, unlike Hindi which is for the masses. "The genre has been struggling for a while now. Of course, the main reason is OTT platforms that have a vast content library. The journey for existing players is not going to be easy. We haven't seen any new channel launch in the category for a while now. But we see some channels going off-air. Hence, every year the category is only shrinking. Broadcasters need to evaluate their strategy for the genre and lessen its dependency on advertising revenue."    

Apart from Disney- Star, the category is left with only two players- Viacom18 and ZEEL with six channels, Colors Infinity, Colors Infinity HD, Comedy Central, Comedy Central, Zee Cafe, and Zee Cafe HD. 

"The category is not dead or dying on TV. The content is liked, and people are still watching it, but it's now on OTT. People still want that content; however, currently, it's no longer viable to watch on TV because it's fragmented," explains Dinesh Singh Rathore, CEO, Madison Omega.

He further adds that there was a novelty factor attached with TV when the content was not available anywhere else, but now the content is available across multiple platforms, hence, it will be a challenge for the existing players to survive.  

As per the FICCI-EY report 2021, Hindi and Tamil were the two largest languages by viewership which saw a rise in their total minutes of viewing by over 10%. Whereas English was the most impacted with a fall of 28%, followed by Assamese and Bhojpuri.

Karan Taurani, SVP, Elara Capital, explains that the English language genre, which includes movies, GECs, lifestyle and infotainment channels, saw a significant negative impact during Covid-19, and it never returned to the pre-pandemic levels. 

"The transition of English audience to digital from TV happened very fast, and it will only intensify going forward. This was expected. The audience has already moved to the internet, and they don't watch sitcoms or shows on TV anymore. Also, all global shows are available across OTT platforms on the day of their launch itself. Gone are days when people used to wait for the shows to air on TV."

Taurani also feels that the existing channels in the category will face similar challenges because the entire market is declining. "The leading channel in the genre may be able to sustain more as compared to other players, but eventually, they have to scale down and shift to OTT. Additionally, post-NTO 2.0, it will affect more because people will subscribe on an a-la-carte basis now, and all these factors won't work in favour of these niche genres."


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