The unprecedented has happened. The much used and abused word ‘TRP’ (which even the end consumer uses and abuses now!) will be out of our lives for the next nine weeks at least. By deciding that they want a ratings blackout to avoid misinterpretation of transient changes as a result of digitization in four metros, broadcasters and advertisers have created a scenario that has no reference point at all. And that can be a recipe for chaos!
Some may argue that it is not a total blackout, as the data will be released at the end of the nine weeks. But the fact that it is being withheld till then itself implies that it should not be taken with much seriousness even when it is released.
At the channel end, everyone is asking the same question differently: How do we use this blackout period to our advantage? For those asking the question earnestly, the word “advantage” has acquired a connotation it should have always had. The focus has shifted from tactical eyeball-led advantage to the more strategic and enduring image-led advantage. “Now that the ratings monkey is off our back, can we focus on our image?”
For niche channels in particular, this is an empowering thought. The pressure to deliver viewership (and hence a higher effective rate based on the CPRP benchmark set in the market) meant that many such channels ran an FPC that they didn’t necessarily believe in. Now that those shackles are broken, albeit temporarily, one can sense a newfound freedom in their strides. It has the “now, we shall do what we always wanted to do on this channel” vibe to it.
While there is no one-size-fits-all recipe, I want to focus on one key opportunity that the blackout provides for, what I call, “one-show channels”. These are channels for which a disproportionate share of their viewership (35%+) comes from just one programme. On a rough count, at least 25 channels fall in this category.
In ratings terms, a one-show channel can be identified as a channel whose top programme rates more than twice of what its second best programme rates. In image terms, it is a channel whose imagery is primarily, often entirely, defined by one programme. This club includes channels across genres, including some mainline GECs.
In an ideal scenario, a one-show channel should put all its efforts behind becoming a two-show or a three-show channel. Hence, they should be promoting their next line of programmes, which they see as having the potential of being channel drivers in the future. In television, on-air telecast is a type of promotion in itself. The more you see a programme, the more it is being “promoted”. Hence, showcasing the second line of programming through repeats and omnibuses is critical, often even sufficient, to create a strong second line, assuming the content passes muster.
However, the ratings reality rarely allows this to happen. Let’s take an example of a channel whose top programme rates 3 TVR and the next two rate 1.5 TVR. If the channel has five repeat slots available everyday, a future-oriented strategy will demand that it gives more repeats to the 1.5 TVR shows. Hence, the 3 TVR show should get one repeat, while the 1.5 TVR shows gets two repeats each. This sounds correct in more ways than one. For one, the 3 TVR show has a bigger primetime audience in the original telecast, and hence, should be relying on less on repeats. Secondly, its need to be “showcased” to irregular and light viewers of the channel is far lesser, as they are more likely to have sampled it in the past and made up their minds on it in either direction.
In reality, however, the 3 TVR show generally gets three repeats, while the 1.5 TVR shows get one each. This creates a vicious circle, where the viewers see more of what they are already seeing, or what they are already familiar with. As a result, the one-show imagery of the channel is moulded even further, to the point of the channel being stereotyped for it (“Ispe ek hi programme achha hai” to “Ispe to jab dekho yehi programme aata rehta hai”).
Why this happens is fairly obvious. In the short run, the 3+1+1 plan will give better returns (read ratings) than the 1+2+2 plan. The damage in equity is often invisible and intangible. And with that comes the resistance to adopt a plan that goes for the long haul; a plan that looks at the channel’s imagery (and hence, viewership) seven months from today, than seven days from today.
For these 25-odd channels, there couldn’t have been a better opportunity than this. The ratings blackout literally takes the burden of following the 3+1+1 plan off their shoulders. They can now do 1+2+2, or even 0+3+2 as a reverse tactical move. Nine weeks may not be a long time, but it is significant enough to ensure that the impact of a well-planned repeat telecast strategy will bear fruits over time.
I’ll be personally curious to see which channels actually adopt this line of thinking. These are the channels that will emerge as real winners at the end of this period, even if the results take a while to actually reflect in the ratings.
This aspect may also raise a larger question in our minds – Has our ratings system made our thinking too current and tactical, instead of being more fundamental and strategic? The answer was clear even a few years ago. It’s a big, and an unfortunate, yes.
This post first appeared on mxmindia.com, on my weekly column ‘TV Trail’