Over the five years of existence of this column, one of the most-extensively covered topics here has been the status quo in the Hindi GEC category. Every few months, I have touched upon the concern that the category has got too inert for its own good, not recognizing the viewer dissatisfaction that’s been on a steady rise over these years.
Over the last few weeks, the numbers are beginning to tell a story that’s harsher than ever before. In the equivalent eight-week period (May-June), 2017 saw a 11% drop in Hindi GEC ratings in Urban (HSM) India, compared to 2016. The drop is even higher at 16% at an Urban + Rural level. Since BARC’s last major market expansion in end 2015, the category has lost more than 20% viewership.
Over-simplistically and erroneously, some may attribute this to the rise of the digital media. If that was the case, the drop would have been more significant in the Urban markets, and the Rural markets should have held steady. But that’s not the case. So, unless we attribute all of this to BARC panel settling down and the reporting getting more accurate with time, the problem is too stark to turn a blind eye to.
There has been a 15-20% drop in weekly reach of the top channels, indicating lower sampling levels itself. Why are less people watching Hindi GECs over time? If there was an overall trend linked to panel correction, it should have reflected in similar de-growth in other genres. But that’s not happened. Kids and Hindi Movies are perhaps the two most mass genres to compare in context. Both have shown about 10% growth over the last year.
Clearly, it’s a Hindi GEC specific problem. From an average number of actively-followed programmes of about 9-10 three years ago, an average core (heavy) Hindi GEC audience today actively follows only about 6-7 programmes. The interest to add new launches to this list continues to dwindle. Hence, with each established show going off-air or losing its sheen, the problem multiplies.
We are in an era where digital content is grabbing the headlines. Much as its impact on television is minuscule, the GECs cannot possibly be caught napping in this period where digital is headlining content innovation. If not anything else, the advertiser can be swayed over time.
From 300-GRP channels to 225 to now 150, the big guns in the Hindi GEC category are no longer the giants they used to be. The viewer has waited for a long while, patiently like she always does, to see a change that has not come by. There’s not been a truly blockbuster weekday show for almost four years now, since Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, which launched in December 2013.
Innovation, when it has been attempted, has been at the cost of relevance. Genre lacunae like fiction comedy continue to remain. Serials becoming replicas of each other, both in terms of plot and treatment, is now a well-recognised consumer sentiment.
There may not be any easy solutions around, but the “Innovation” button needs to be pressed, without losing sight of relevance. It may not be easy, but any category that has de-grown by double digits in one year needs to find hard measures to fix its issues. Another year of 10% de-growth, and GECs may not even be “mass” anymore!