In a market that has become saturated with endless free Asian TV channels, the deciding factor to determine a broadcaster’s success no longer depends on the brand name. With more channels signing up to official measuring body, BARB in the UK, a mixture of differentiated programming and unique marketing strategies are deciding factors to ramp up viewing figures.
When the first Asian TV channel, Prime TV registered with BARB in 2007, others were quick to snub the audience measuring mechanism due to high costs (around 42,000 a year) and relying on subscription models that a lot of these broadcasters were used to. It was only until the likes of Sunrise TV, ZEE Music (now Zing) and Brit Asia TV started reporting official viewing data that other broadcasters woke up and saw the mainstream advertisers these channels were attracting as a result of BARB.
While ZEE Music led the BARB weekly reach ratings amongst the first four Asian TV channels in the UK, it was radio broadcaster Sunrise TV that surprised many with its weekly reach figures and claiming top figures despite no prior television experience.
Things took a turn in 2010 when broadcasting giant Star TV added Star Plus and Star Gold to the BARB system and have led the ratings in their respective genre. Turner’s Imagine Dil Se was quick to give Star Plus a run for its money by proving a huge success in the UK until corporate heads decided to shut the service in 2012 due to disappointing ratings in India. Since then, Star Plus and Star Gold had a clear run at the top in the ratings, until another rival decided to launch and with huge movie titles as a free-to-air channel in 2011. During its launch, UMP Movies switched between the top and second place regularly as a fresh service for UK consumers providing huge Bollywood movies for free and this became transparent in BARB ratings.
In April 2012, another shock came in the form of VIEWASIA repackaging with the exit of Sony SAB TV and Sahara One channels from the bouquet and going free-to-air. While, ZEE Network had a window to entice subscribers to its premium channels through Zing, Star TV had a similar strategy in place with its widely available channels. Sony TV Network was the only one from the broadcasting giants that did not have a free channel and that came in the shape of Sony SAB TV. While early figures for Sony SAB TV were low, it has repositioned itself with blockbuster movie titles being broadcast free, which has made the channel one of the biggest in the UK.
Talking about the shift in determining a channel’s success, Bill Miller from the agency Exodus told BizAsia, he thought Sony SAB TV changed the dynamics in the UK market. “I believe Sony SAB had a massive effect, given that it first went onto BARB with a comparatively tiny audience and minority appeal comedy content for a UK Asian audience. However, the team at MSM Asia, had a plan and stuck with it. They proved that content is king۪ and by carefully reworking their schedule they built a regular top six۪ performing channel be audience and revenue. Look out if they ever move Sony TV Asia and MAX to BARB.”
In September 2012, a ‘jhatka’ was felt with the launch of Rishtey! Its debut in the UK market had two significant impacts – Being the first free Hindi entertainment channel backed by a media giant (Viacom18) to rival leader Star Plus. Secondly, the start of a concept to re-run popular shows -a formula that proved immensely popular and was replicated by other broadcasters later. The copy-cat effect rolled on to Sony SAB TV, which up at this time was just a light-entertainment channel. It started to re-run dramas from its flagship shows in afternoon slots, similarly Star Life Ok did the same with re-runs of old shows during the afternoon timeband. ZEE Network UK decided to launch a whole new channel dedicated to old ZEE TV shows called Lamhe. This was positioned as a “classics” channel with archived shows from ZEE TV being broadcast and nostalgic Bollywood movie titles being aired daily. However, Lamhe attracts around 450,000 viewers per week, compared to Rishtey’s 700,000 + viewers.
Miller added that Rishtey’s launch changed the game in providing premium content to viewers in a free-to-air model, “Yes. Rishtey and its UK launch directly onto BARB, was the first indication of Viacom 18۪s belief that the subscription model was not for them and I۪m sure that each channel launch since has been effected by that decision. The biggest risk is the one being taken by those channels whose BARB testing proves inconclusive, where they go ahead with BARB measurement when their weekly audience is well less that 200,000 viewers. If it does not quickly grow to 250,000 or 300,000 then they will struggle to make their financial model work.”
Now, it has become a norm for Asian TV channels to sign up to BARB. However, having a massive backing from a corporate does not necessarily guarantee a successful channel. Let’s look at some of the failures…
UMP Stars – When UMP Movies launched to huge weekly reach numbers, the company decided to launch its own Bollywood lifestyle channel, UMP Stars – branded the official channel for Bollywood stars. It was launched to give the likes of Zing and B4U Music some competition. However, the move proved a disaster and was closed within 6 months of its launch.
Sahara One – When Sahara One left the VIEWASIA bouquet and became a free channel, the broadcaster thought it was big enough to survive solo. However, poor programming and struggling to make any headway in the competitive market resulted in the closure of the channel in July 2013.
9XM – When 9XM first launched in the UK with sister channel 9X it proved popular based on word of mouth. The sudden departure from the market was felt amongst viewers. Then when the music service, 9XM returned in February 2012 the response was lukewarm. In fact the viewing figures did not match the response from consumers. It did not get a weekly reach higher than 150,000 viewers. The station shut shop in May 2013 after a poor run.
Some channels have had a taster with BARB but decided after a few months that the system was far too expensive and they are successful enough in their genres. Prime TV and Brit Asia TV are two examples of this. There were also technology issues that BARB at the time wanted broadcasters to implement, which meant further costs.
Colors breaks away from routine
With the kind of numbers Rishtey was seeing with its re-run shows, Viacom18 had alternative plans for its flagship channel, Colors. The channel, which launched in the UK as part of the VIEWASIA package, decided to break away from the conventions and shock the industry by turning completely free in September 2013. This was by far the most boldest move by a major Asian broadcaster from India.
With re-run shows performing so well on sister channel Rishtey, the original content offering by Colors was destined for much bigger ratings and success than Rishtey – yes? The answer is no! Even though, Colors is a much bigger channel than Rishtey, the initial weeks of Colors turning free-to-air did not spell success immediately for the broadcaster. It has been an uphill task since Colors went free-to-air last year to get the channel above a weekly reach of 750,000. Whilst marketing of Colors is being extended to every part of the UK, the numbers in comparison are gaining weight but on the expense of Rishtey. Over the past few weeks, film premieres, big events and afternoon movies have been shifted to Colors to help it garner more viewership.
An agency wanting to remain anonymous said that with Colors going free-to-air has simply started eating into the successful model that was created by an original product, Rishtey. “Rishtey was an original product and it was working well. Why would you turn its mother channel free as well that would just eat into its share? It needs to use fresh tactics to keep Rishtey alive as already numbers have begun falling.”
At the time of going free-to-air, the big ticket reality TV show ‘Bigg Boss 7’ averaged with an audience 70-90,000 viewers per episode, while fictions were struggling to reach over 30,000 viewers. While the fictions on Rishtey continue to regularly attract bigger audiences, Colors dramas including ‘Rangrasiya’, ‘BeIntehaa’ and ‘Sasural Simar Ka’ continue to build audiences averaging around 50,000 viewers. On the odd night, couple of the shows attracted over 100,000 viewers. Star Plus in comparison attracts a minimum of 120,000 viewers for its dramas – peaking to 250,000 viewers on some nights. In recent days, some fictions on Colors have gained further popularity with audiences gathering pace.
Talking about the figures for Colors, an agency told BizAsia, “The low figures for dramas on Colors have been surprising. As a matter of fact the dramas on Rishtey are performing much better than Colors during primetime. Colors needs to build on the fictions as they will provide stickiness to retain viewers. Up until then, the premieres and odd weekend shows will give them short-term scope.”
Surge of news channels
At one point, launching South Asian news channels was seen as taboo due to low returns from commercials to run such channels. However, this changed after ARY News garnered record breaking figures. Other channels such as News18 India, ABP News, ZEE News, Geo News and SAMAA TV jumped on board to the saturated UK market.
One thing was certain, the brand name does not help much in attracting eyeballs. None of the Asian news channels (except Al Jazeera English) have been able to match the success of ARY News’s 500,000 weekly reach. Only Geo News and Aaj Tak have come close.
Shocking low figures for News18 India have left many in the industry surprised, despite backing from Network18. The channel has unable to cross the 50,000 weekly reach mark – except on a couple of occasions has it peaked over that figure. Similarly, NDTV 24×7, which was one of the recent news channels to join BARB, initially proved disappointing. In recent weeks, the channel has been able to recover lost ground by regularly attracting over 200,000 viewers per week.
With the looming General Elections in India, channels are fighting for the largest chunk of the market share. While, ARY News continues to dominate the Pakistani news genre, its a close fight between Aaj Tak and NDTV 24×7 amongst the Indian news broadcasters.
Talking about giant brands not being able to deliver big numbers, Miller said, “Just because you are a brand giant۪ in India, there is no guarantee of success in the UK. With 20 major Asian channels and 30 or so minor channels all fighting for the attention of less than 4 million viewers, no channel can take viewer loyalty for granted.”
So while the fight for eyeballs is one part of the game – the other is fight for the money pot controlled by agency Sky Media, previously MEMS. Commercial airtime of mainstream brands and products on UK Asian TV channels is primarily sold by Sky Media. So with more channels signing up to BARB, it is the responsibility of Sky Media to sell airtime on these channels. However, it may not always be a fruitful relationship as some channels have struggled with low viewership, making it difficult to attract mainstream adverts.
With many of the larger Asian TV channels signing up with BARB, it is dependent on agency Sky Media to sell majority of its airtime. However, a broadcaster like Star TV recently made the decision to clamp down on shoddy local commercials, to give more space to mainstream adverts. It is the channel’s discretion how much airtime it will devote to local sales. With media regulator, Ofcom, only allowing 12-minutes of commercial airtime, channels have the choice to prioritise between local and mainstream commercials – depending on the agreement it has with an agency like Sky Media.
With the likes of ZEE TV, ZEE Cinema, Sony Entertainment Television Asia, Sony MAX and ARY Digital now joined hands with Sky Digital’s newly launched Sky Asia Pack, the fight for survival really begins now! They will now compete on the same platform with Star TV’s Star Plus, Star Gold and Star Life Ok channels, alongside the free-to-air rivals like Colors and Rishtey. The question is, who will be the last channel standing? Is it just perception that older networks have the biggest viewership? Are they the networks that viewers feel they can trust and be close to? Perception or not…The coming weeks will decide what stops broadcasters are willing to pull out to retain viewership and officially declare their channel as the biggest in the UK. Watch this space as the fight for survival intensifies!