The music stops

Channel V’s transformation from a music to a general entertainment channel is complete. Will it work in the long run?

Turns out, you can stop the music. Two months ago, Channel V — India’s second-oldest music channel — ceased to be a music channel, turning off all its Bollywood song and dance shows, and instead became a youth entertainment channel. It was not a sudden decision — since 2009, the channel, part of Star India network, has been consciously reducing its music content, bringing it down to about three hours a day.

But now it’s just one more channel churning out the same fiction shows that umpteen other Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) are already doling out. Will Channel V’s move strike the right chord with advertisers or will it have to change its tune sometime soon?

A discordant note

When Channel V was launched in 1996, there was only one other music channel, MTV — and both channels were huge hits, with the audience and with advertisers. Over the years, though, not only has the genre proliferated, music and television habits have changed dramatically. Only about 8% of the youth ‘consume’ content on music channels — the rest prefer watching GECs and movie channels.

About a third of the viewership on Sony Entertainment Television (Bade Achhe Lagte Hain, CID and Crime Patrol) as well as Star Plus (Is Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon, Pyaar Ka Dard Hai and Ek Hazaron Mein Meri Behana Hai) comes from the 16-24 age group, according to media planners. As for music, the current generation of youngsters prefer Bollywood songs on radio or Youtube. There’s little room for music channels anymore. 

Channel V didn’t escape unscathed from this development. It stagnated at 10 gross rating points (GRPs) from 2000, far behind market leader MTV. In 2009, when the channel decided to change its positioning, it was 35 points behind MTV. The first non-music show, Dare to Date, managed a meagre rating of just 0.3 TRPs (TV rating points). But fiction did turn around the channel. Shows such as Surveen Duggal Topper of the Year helped Channel V increase its ratings from 10 GRPs in March 2009 to 20 just a year after. Over the past couple of years, it has been gradually increasing its hours of original programming from four and now to eight hours a week. 

The sound of success

Channel V currently has GRPs of about 55, ahead of 9XM (26 GRPs) and MTV (21 GRPs). From No. 29 last year, Channel V is now among the top 11 channels (MTV is at 20, from 19 last year), thanks to shows such as Dil Dosti Dance. Its top show based on TRP, Dil Dosti… gets a rating of 1 when it airs at 7:30 pm — highest among GECs for this time slot, most of which air repeats before prime time. 

And that success is fuelling V’s ambitions. “We want to compete with all the leading channels, even Star Plus,” declares Prem Kamath, executive vice-president, Channel V. “We cater to the largest demographic: there is no reason why a youth channel shouldn’t be the leading channel in the country.” By the end of the year, the channel aims to cross the 100 GRP a week mark — close to what the top GECs get — with 16 hours of original programming a week. MTV, in contrast, has five hours, while Star Plus has 32 hours.  “We are going to spend as much as the GECs do on programming,” adds Kamath. That’s going to need deep pockets.

Too high a pitch?

It costs about Rs.7-8 lakh to produce a half-hour episode of a fiction show for a top GEC; music programming can be done at less than half that. Will Channel V’s increased expenditure on original programming pay dividends as increased advertising revenue? Currently, higher GRPs or no, MTV still has the lead when it comes to ad revenues. From Rs.5.6 crore in April, Channel V’s ad income surged to Rs.6.2 crore in July.

MTV, meanwhile, maintained its lead at over Rs.10 crore. “This has more to do with MTV being around for longer,” says Samir Khanna, Mumbai head, DDB Mudra Max (Media). He adds that youth are diehard fiction viewers and if Channel V invests on quality content, its ratings will multiply and, consequently, so will its ad revenues.

But V’s not waiting for advertisers to make up their minds — it has already doubled its ad rates. Star India president of advertising sales, Kevin Vaz, points out that advertisers are now paying Channel V Rs.5,000-6,000 for a 10-second prime time spot. That’s several times the going rate in youth entertainment channels (Rs.850-1,400) and much more than what V itself was charging just a year earlier (Rs.600). “All the recent ad deals that have happened in the youth entertainment genre have been in favour of Channel V,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Channel V is also extending its franchise to cafés, making it only the second broadcaster after ESPN, which runs 12 sports cafés in the US, to do so. Currently, there are two V-Spot cafés in Delhi and Gurgaon, with plans to open 35 more across India. The cafés have gaming zones and video booths where consumers can make a 40-second video that is aired as a promo on the channel.

The idea is to reach out to the channel’s target audience outside of television. Declares Kamath, “The goalpost keeps moving: the challenge is to stay ahead of customers and lead them. We have to become culture creators.” Now, why does that sounds like the name of a song?