The coronavirus lockdown has proven to be a headache for most Asian TV broadcasters – a combination of lack of original content and competition from digital platforms, has resulted in advertising revenue taking a nosedive. BizAsiaLive.com’s Raj Baddhan caught up with Sumant Bahl of World Media Connect, who spoke openly about the impact the pandemic has taken on its channels; PTC Punjabi, Republic Bharat and Travelxp in the UK.

World Media Connect is known to distribute popular channels, PTC Punjabi, Republic Bharat and Travelxp – How would you describe the lockdown period for your channels?
Lockdown period for all three channels has been a different experience, with instability in viewing figures and they forming a Yo Yo pattern instead of steady nature prior to lockdown. Good news is that Republic Bharat has found a steady audience and is constantly eyeing most watched Indian News channel in the UK spot.

With many sectors shut during the lockdown, advertising on television and radio channels have had a huge hit, what’s your take on this?
Advertising revenues have been hit in more than many ways with most ethnic categories severely impacted such as travel, hospitality – restaurants, banquets and catering services, entertainment such as film releases and music concerts, home improvements; and overwhelming sales of food clients cutting their budgets, its been a very hard road. Mainstream revenues are also badly effected due to huge price cuts by ITV/Sky Media causing an impact on the entire industry.

When advertising has been dented, how much do ratings matter?
Mainstream ads are also impacted. Ratings matter irrespective of advertising being dented or not as ratings/impacts put money on the channel, however sharp drop in price per rating has caused a huge dent on revenues and impacts have also fallen on most channels as most channels have nothing new to show. So it’s a double whammy.

During this period, there has been some relief, with Republic Bharat proving a surprise success – what would you say has led to the rise of numbers?
Yeah that’s been a great relief. Lockdown has allowed a lot more audience to sample the channel and clearly that has lead to more following. We also made a lot of changes in the channel and tweaked the FPC to suit UK audiences and clearly that is showing results.

In contrast, PTC Punjabi has witnessed a decline in numbers, is it that there are not many original shows attracting the kind of numbers it did prior to the lockdown?
Its not just PTC that has seen a decline in numbers but we have noticed the same in overall Punjabi category, but then so we have seen in most Hindi & Urdu channels too. We are still analysing the possible reason and we have also asked BARB a question to confirm if any movement of boxes could be the reason behind the same. We can also not rule out strong contribution to that due to change in programming, usually by this time we would have PTC Awards, Baisakhi special shows in April as well as Looking to start Voice of Punjab Chhota Champ by now but due to no production, none of that is there. We are very positive that once new programs start to come back, these numbers will go back to where they belong.

Advertising revenues have been hit in more than many ways with most ethnic categories severely impacted such as travel, hospitality – restaurants, banquets & catering services, entertainment such as film releases and music concerts…

You recently changed Republic Bharat’s output due to Ofcom regulations, will this impact the live output the channel is known for with its rolling news service?
Being in the UK, following Ofcom regulations are a must and yes there have been changes and clearly those changes are working with significant increase in viewership, guess its all for the good. I must iterate though that many or most of the changes were not necessarily due to any Ofcom regulation but more so of the experience of first 6-8 months and its analysis, educating us to tweak output to suit UK audiences.

How do you envisage TV channels will be consumed within the next 6-12 months?Are you planning to go completely digital with your channels?
I think digital is something all channels are looking at or already are there, PTC PLAY as an app is already present on Play store and App Store for just £0.99 pm with not just PTC Punjabi but six channels from the group and so much additional content. We are working on a strong app for Travelxp & Foodxp, and Republic is already available on various digital platforms. With all digital options there, relevance of linear service on Cable and Satellite still has a long way to go and we will stay in that sector for a long long time.

Do you think South Asian audiences in the UK are ready for a complete switch to digital from linear services?
I believe consuming South Asian content via digital platforms is already there and growing but I don’t see that as a switch to digital, rather a lot more additional content consumption. If anything, digital availability of lot of new and exclusive content in so many different platforms has strongly increased number of hours spent watching South Asian content even by the 2nd/3rd generation and both linear TV and digital platforms are complimenting each other and increasing the market and scope.

World Media Connect is a distribution company helmed by Sumant Bahl, registered in 2009. The company runs PTC Punjabi and Republic Bharat in the UK. Bahl is also the Managing Director (Europe) of Travelxp.

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