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The ‘Rule of three’ sets in Hindi GEC; what next for tier-two channels?

17-June-2009
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The ‘Rule of three’ sets in Hindi GEC; what next for tier-two channels?

The Hindi general entertainment genre is undergoing one of its most interesting phases. This is the first time in over two decades when three players – Colors, Star Plus and Zee TV - are ruling the genre at such close range from each other. Each of these has a loyal audience base keeping them within arm’s length of the other. And the next tier is a significant gap away. Media observers state that while it is difficult for the number four player to break into the top three, the clear ‘floating audience’ is a key opportunity for the likes of NDTV Imagine and the other next rung players.

No number 1, no number 2, no number 3... Just ‘Top Three’

They are popularly referred to as the Big Boys’ League amongst informal industry conversations on Hindi GECs. Star Plus, Colors and Zee TV would go down in Indian broadcasting history as the three channels that witnessed the STAR monopoly end, and the rise of the ‘top three’ in Hindi GEC.

Every media expert that exchange4media has spoken to, has stated that GRPs are not the measurement that advertisers go by. However, a look at the GRPs of the three channels gives an indication of the narrow gap between these three players. In the current scenario, each of these channels has a loyal base of 210-230 GRPs; content like movies and events impacting another 30 to 50 GRPs, and deciding on the number one in that week.

For advertisers and media planners & buyers, this is a good situation to be in. Basabdutta Chowdhury, CEO, Platinum Media, explained, “The Hindi GEC has turned into a market share game, and the majority of the eyeballs is currently moving between the top three players. The resulting volatility that we see in the genre is positive for everyone involved. We have come a long way from the situation where no matter what you did, you just had to take a Star Plus in your plan.”

Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME, added here, “In essence, the Hindi GEC has now moved to the next level. Pricing would get normalised with the current situation, and from an advertiser or even broadcaster standpoint, that is very healthy.”

For Ajit Varghese, MD, Maxus India, this is where the positive turn of the game, ends. He explained, “Three clear destinations where viewers can be, is good for everyone involved. You can concentrate on things like building brands and creating loyalty but today, there are too many players eyeing the space, and even though the second rung is a distance away, there still is intense media fragmentation that you have to deal with.”

Rung two players need to tap on the ‘Floating Audiences’

If the top three are above the 200-250 GRP mark, the next tier is at 100 or lesser GRPs. Varghese’s point of contention is that at that level too, there are too many channels in the genre, and that the fact that this rung attracts audience, means further fragmentation. “Newspapers are not so fragmented, and look at the robust growth that the print players manage,” Varghese pointed out.

He elaborated, “Yes, the presence of many options allows you to develop frequency and adds to the efficiency of your plan. When a channel is fighting for its existence, it has to be cheaper than the others. So we are speaking about cost optimisation, value addition and innovation and various such advantages but what is the point of several options. The next rung channels have to see how they can add to themselves. Take a NDTV Imagine, or even a Sony and Star One for that matter -- the fourth player has to come closer to the top three. For indication’s sake – it has to be a 150-200 GRP channel.”

Chowdhury believes that the second rung has the opportunity to grow its audience base even if breaking into the top three appears to be a difficult feat. She explained, “If you see today, even Colors didn’t stay at 300 GRPs for more than a week. On another hand, you have the example such as an NDTV Imagine that has grown in the last few weeks. What you see is that perhaps a 20-30 per cent of the audience base that the top channels have at present is a floating audience. And there lies the opportunity for the tier-two.”

Radhakrishnan too is of the opinion that one good show can change the fortune of the second rung channels, and bring them in a comparable league, even though not into the top three.

It is not easy being a tier-two channel according to these experts. The numbers are not low enough to get off the market, and not high enough to become a channel of reckoning. But there is a fighting chance to constantly keep the fear alive in the top rung. As for the top rung, the next step to observe is how the top three grow the genre per se – whether on breakthrough content, creation of newer dayparts or simply ensuring better ad rates.

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