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Ramayan, Bigg Boss reruns keep viewers hooked, but lockdown is bleeding TV of crores a day

Industry insiders say the TV landscape is likely to look very different even once the lockdown ends, with social distancing keeping reality show shoots on backburner.

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New Delhi: They still have the viewers, but sponsorship is shrinking and there are few prospects of quick revival. Indian general entertainment channels (GECs), one of the most lucrative sectors of the media industry, have been left bleeding by the Covid-19 lockdown.  

Even as reruns of popular shows like Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashma, and the return of mythological classics like Ramayan, keep viewers hooked, the industry is losing crores a day on sponsorship money for want of fresh content, say insiders.

As with Bollywood, the lockdown and social-distancing guidelines brought in to check the spread of Covid-19 stalled many shoots for daily soaps and other shows like reality series.

According to insiders, the TV landscape is likely to look very different even once the lockdown ends. Social distancing will possibly keep reality show shoots on the backburner for some time, and even daily soaps will have to be shot amid multiple restrictions, if at all. Some programmes, like the popular Sony comedy Kapil Sharma Show, may return, but without the live audiences that animate the jokes with their reactions.


Also Read: DD viewership down by nearly 50% after Ramayan ends, plans afoot to bring back Vishnu Puran 


A massive impact

The Indian media & entertainment sector — including newspapers, news channels, radio, and cinema — is valued at Rs 1.82 trillion, according to the latest FICCI-EY report released last month. This marked a growth of 9 per cent over 2018. 

After sports channels, which have also been left reeling by the suspension of live games, the GECs comprise the biggest cash-churners of the sector. Some of the biggest players include Star Plus and Star Bharat of Star group, Zee TV of Zee Group and Sony Sab of Sony.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation, the apex broadcasters’ body, has noted that the coronavirus lockdown has resulted in nearly a 50 per cent drop in advertising bookings for the media and entertainment sector.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown kicked in on 25 March, nearly all Indian GECs have run out of content and have been offering reruns of their popular offerings. 

While Colors TV has been airing reruns of the reality show Bigg Boss, Sony Sab viewers can catch the likes of Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, a popular comedy series with over 3,000 episodes. 

Doordarshan, meanwhile, has reclaimed its pre-1991 supremacy by bringing back mythology classics like Ramayan (the last episode was aired 18 April) and Mahabharat, which, in their heyday, were known to lend entire cities a curfew-like appearance as most people stayed in to watch them. 

Zee TV is not just bringing back older episodes of reality shows like Dance India Dance, it has also taken a leaf out of Doordarshan’s book by recycling classics like Hum Paanch and Zee Horror Show, the 1990s shows millennials grew up with. 

The line-up on Star Plus includes the soap opera Diya aur Baati.

Ravi Kottarakara of Ganesh Pictures, a reputed Chennai-based production house whose programmes have been aired on Sun TV, told ThePrint that producers had been left with no option but to repeat episodes as the lockdown had brought all production to an abrupt halt.

Top industry sources told ThePrint that, at all times, GECs keep a maximum of 10-12 days’ content ready in store. “The episodes are shot for only that many days (in advance). No one anticipated such a situation for the three-decade-old industry,” said a source from one of the channels. 

“As a result, except for movies, there is no fresh content available on any GEC. Everyone is repeating old episodes of their shows,” the source added.

This, along with the overall economic distress, has cost channels dearly with respect to their main source of revenue, which is advertisements.

According to norms, a GEC can advertise for 10 minutes and show two channel promos every hour. But since the lockdown, there have been noticeably fewer advertisements on channels. 

Major GEC channels, industry estimates suggest, have been losing anywhere between Rs 25 crore and Rs 30 crore a day during the lockdown. 

Joy Chakraborthy, former CEO of Dangal TV, one of the most-viewed general entertainment channels, said the number of advertisers was at an all-time low. 

This, he added, had triggered the biggest crisis ever for entertainment channels, he said.

“But GECs will still have an advantage on viewership because theatres will not open and big-ticket sporting events will likely be deferred. GECs have an added advantage as most of them are paid and these revenues are secure as of now,” he said. 

ThePrint reached the Zee and Star groups for comment via emails, but there was no response until the time of publishing. 

Asit Kumar Modi, founder of Neela Film Productions, a Mumbai-based production house, said people had not lost interest in reruns. Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, created and produced by him, is still among the top five shows on GECs, he said, but added that this has has not translated in revenues. 


Also Read: Ramayan kept an entire country indoors 33 yrs ago, but some doubt if it can do it again


Not much viewership loss, mythology preferred for GECs

The sponsorship money may have shrunk, but there has not been a major decline in the viewership of GECs during the lockdown, what with the majority of the population staying home. 

According to the sixth edition of the BARC-Nielsen report on lockdown viewing patterns, overall television viewership recorded 31 per cent growth in the week between 18 April and 24 April, as compared to January.

While overall GEC viewership registered a 7 per cent growth between 18 and 24 April as compared to January, the report suggested a 31 per cent spurt in the viewership for Hindi GECs in the Hindi-speaking market (urban) belt.

In the south, meanwhile, GECs leveraged their movie library to sustain viewership.

Chakraborthy said several GECs across India were opting for reruns of mythological shows because they courted much popularity with viewers. 

“Mythological content always has had good viewership, be it original or reruns. During this phase of lockdown, you will see most GECs airing reruns and mythology will be dominant,” he said. 

“As most TV households are single-TV households, mythological content can be watched by people across all age groups sitting together,” he added.  

This, he said, was borne out by the fact that DD channels had registered a higher viewership than others during the lockdown. 

“Even on Dangal TV, Mahima Shani Dev Ki (first aired on the erstwhile GEC, NDTV Imagine) garnered topmost viewership, despite the channel having some of its own original content too,” he added.


Also Read: Ramayan on DD: Best way to keep India’s elderly indoors or show the young TV beyond Netflix?


The way forward 

The Covid-19 period is also an uncertain time for the thousands of artists, technicians and workers employed with the entertainment industry, especially those in the television and OTT sectors who are currently not covered by a social security net.

Ravi Kottarakara of Ganesh Pictures, who is also the secretary of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, a Chennai-based association of film producers, distributors and exhibitors, said producers were yet to assess the extent of the damage wreaked by the lockdown.

Even so, industry bodies have demanded relief from the government to keep the sector afloat. 

“For instance, MSOs (multiple system operators, who are operators of multiple cable television systems) have told us that they are not in a position to pay us for two months. Even cable operators are asking broadcasters to reduce the price..,” the first source said.

One of the crucial demands, broadcasters say, is to put on hold interventions by the sectoral regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), including amendments to the New Tariff Order (NTO) and the New Interconnection Regulations issued in January this year.

TRAI’s new tariff order mandates an MRP of Rs 12 per channel, down from the earlier Rs 19. It also restricts discounting on channel bouquets in order to promote a-la-carte offerings. 

Broadcasters have termed the changes “disruptive” and said they will prove more expensive for customers.

FICCI has demanded that the processing fee broadcasters are charged for any change in existing channel licences, as well as the up-linking fees for live telecasts, should be removed to encourage more entertainment and sports events after the lockdown.

Industry body Assocham, meanwhile, has said that cable and DTH subscriptions should be brought to the 12 per cent GST slab from its current 18 per cent slot. It has also argued that charges levied by the I&B Ministry for licensing and other permissions granted to private television and radio operators should be deferred by two years.


Also Read: Reruns of 1980-90s classics Ramayan, Shaktimaan, Byomkesh make DD most-watched channel


No fresh content soon

Even after the lockdown is eased, multiple industry sources told ThePrint, fresh content is unlikely to be available anytime soon.

“Our content team has been in touch with the production houses, but even after the lockdown opens gradually, there is unlikely to be any immediate fresh content as shooting new episodes will involve a lot of restrictions,” said a second source.

For instance, an outdoor scene in a marketplace, cafe or any other crowded place will be out of the question, the source added.

“Also, despite the fact that most production houses are in Mumbai, the actors and other production staff will have to be willing to travel out of Mumbai for shoots, and unless transport restrictions are eased, logistically, it could be a problem,” the source added.

While daily soaps can still be shot at specific locations with restrictions, the insiders said, shooting reality shows is “out of question” for some time.

“Reality shows (like dance and singing contests) are shot in a closed location with a significant number of the people in the audience. With the social-distancing norms expected to stay, shooting reality shows will take a longer time,” the source said, adding that most of them will be re-telecast too.

Reality shows like Bigg Boss and Indian Idol are among the viewership drivers for GECs and form around 30 per cent of all content.

Kulmeet Makkar*, CEO of the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, the Mumbai-based film, television and digital content producers’ body, said there were frenetic discussions underway about the revised standard operating protocol (SOP) and other safety norms to be put in place when production restarts. 

“The television industry, particularly the GECs, cannot work without fresh content,” he added. “The work should resume as soon as possible, we have to see how we can convince the government about gradually restarting the shoots… But for that, the workers and the artists should feel safe. So, we are getting all stakeholders to decide on when we should start,” he said.  

Modi, however, expressed some hope for when production does eventually begin. The string of losses, he said, will necessitate the creation of more entertaining content. 

With the lockdown, the need for entertaining content has grown and will continue to grow. So, I’m hoping that, in the next 15-20 days, some new regulations for restarting shooting and production with precautions should come in,” he said.

Modi said he was looking forward to shooting new episodes for Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah and some content for OTT platforms (Netflix, Amazon, etc). 

“But restarting production can only take place when it is a win-win situation for both the government and the industry,” he added.

*Makkar passed away Friday

This is an updated version of the report


Also Read: Game of Thrones holds viewership records, but Ramayan could cause ‘curfews’ in India


 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. People of The Print should’ve been to school… They don’t even know the differen the difference between History and Mythology.
    Ramcharitramanas is historical documentation with teachings on all walks of life
    Can you dare to call Bible and Quran mythology as well… you cant, who are we kidding

  2. Ramayana is not a mythology….it’s soul of universe
    Please learn and have respect towards creator of universe

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