Premium Hindi general entertainment channels, including Star Plus, Zee TV and Colors, have seen a sharp decline in their viewership during the COVID-19 lockdown, even as viewership of Doordarshan, movie channels and news channels have seen sharp increases, reveals ratings from BARC, India’s largest TV ratings agency.
Even as general TV viewership increased, no category other than general entertainment channels (GECs) saw such sharp declines in viewership owing to the lock-down.
Star Plus saw its ratings fall by 56% from 6.52 lakh points for the week of March 14-20 to 2.87 lakhs for April 3-10, according to BARC’s data for Hindi general entertainment channels in Hindi-speaking markets.
Zee TV, the flagship channel from Zee Entertainment Enterprises, also saw its viewership numbers fall by 55% during the same period, from 5.30 lakh to 2.68 lakh.
Similarly, Colors, the flagship GEC offering from Viacom18 group, saw its viewership halve to 3.02 lakh points in Hindi-speaking markets from 6.00 lakh points.
The only premium Hindi entertainment channels not to see a similar impact were those from Sony Pictures Networks. The two channels operated by this company, SAB and Sony Pictures Entertainment Networks, managed to weather the storm pretty well.
While Sony Entertainment Television managed to contain its fall to 11%, SAB actually reported a growth: SAB’s ratings increased by 23% over the three weeks, and that too, in a steady fashion, with each week seeing a gradual increase (see graphic on top).
Even as consumers watched less of these premium priced channels — which cost them around Rs 22 per month, BARC’s numbers also indicated that such a sharp declines were not visible among lower priced Hindi GECs such as Big Magic and Star Utsav.
Star Utsav, priced at Rs 0 per month, saw an increase of 38% in its viewership during the period, while Big Magic, priced at 10 paise per month, saw an increase of 25%.
Zee Anmol, priced at Rs 0, too made it to the list of top 10 GECs for the rural Hindi markets after nearly a year.
However, the increases seen in the viewership of Star Utsav and Zee Anmol may have something to do with the price cuts announced by the channels. The two channels cut their price from Rs 1 per month to Rs 0 per month at the end of March.
Nevertheless, the numbers indicate that the free or cheap general entertainment channels are not seeing anything like the declines seen in the viewership of premium GEC channels like Zee TV, Star Plus and Colors.
Dangal, a free GEC channel that gets most of its viewership from the DD Free Dish platform, saw only a 16% decline in its ratings during the three weeks.
RETRO DD IMPACT
Industry veterans have pointed to broadly two reasons for the decline in the viewership of premium Hindi GECs.
The first is the disruption in the shooting of daily soaps and reality programs due to the lock-down imposed to curb the spread of Coronavirus 2019.
Because of the lock-down, most of the shooting activities are on hold, forcing these channels to air reruns of old episodes or recycle old shows.
This is not as much of a problem for the cheaper GECs, as they don’t depend on freshly shot footage for their serials and reality shows. Most of their content is recycled from premium channels.
The disruption in the shooting has also impacted the viewership of non-Hindi GEC channels too, with Malayalam channel Asianet seeing a drop of 41% in its ratings.
However, many GECs have taken to airing movies to make up for missing content.
The second reason for the decline in the viewership of Hindi general entertainment channels is a decision by public sector broadcaster Doordarshan to air the best of its programs from the 1980s and 1990s.
Going by BARC’s numbers, the public sector broadcaster’s decision to air classic shows on Doordarshan channels has had a major impact on viewers in urban areas of Hindi speaking states, even though its impact in rural areas was considerably less.
The decision also helped DD National, the flagship channel of Doordarshan, to shoot up to No.1 position within the Hindi GEC segment.
As noted earlier, the impact of Doordarshan has not been uniform in all areas.
In the Hindi urban markets, DD National is now nearly twice as popular as the No.2, Sony SAB, with nearly 11 lakh rating points vs 5.9 lakh rating points for No.2 SAB.
In this market, DD Bharati, another channel from the Doordarshan stable, is at No.3 with 3.24 lakh points. Till two weeks earlier, neither channels were even included in the top 10.
The situation slightly different in rural areas. While DD National has indeed shot up to be No.1 here too, the difference in viewership is not as stark as in urban areas.
While DD National has 8.1 lakh rating points in the rural Hindi GEC market, No.2 Dangal is close behind with 8.0 lakh points, followed by No.3 Big Magic at 5.6 lakh points.
The difference is even more apparent when analyzing the viewership number of DD Free Dish — India’s only free TV distribution service with around 30 million connections.
Unlike in the traditional cable and DTH market, DD Free Dish users still seem to prefer channels like Dangal and Big Magic, compared to DD National, which is at No.3 in this market.
According to BARC’s numbers, Dangal continues to be No.1 channel on ‘free platforms’ (which more or less coincides with DD Free Dish users). Dangal has 8.0 lakh rating points in this market, followed by Big Magic at 6.0 lakh. DD National is a distant No.3 with 4.8 lakh points.
It should also be noted that most of the viewers of the free platform (DD Free Dish) are from the rural areas and belong to the lower economic strata.
The exact reason why DD National has done better in urban areas and among those who are economically better off is not clear.
MOVIE CHANNELS SURGE
Two categories that have clearly emerged as winners during the lockdown are movie channels and news channels.
The three most popular Hindi movie channels — Sony Max, Star Gold and Zee Cinema — have seen a whopping 60%-68% jump in their BARC ratings during the three week period (see chart on top).
Strong increases are also seen in the viewership of most movie channels, including non-Hindi offerings.
The Tamil movie channel KTV, for example, recorded a 33% increase in its ratings with 5.8 lakh points in the Tamil Nadu market. In its home state, it has now reached its highest ever rank of No.2, up from No. 4 three weeks ago.
On a national level, the channel also made its first ever appearance in India’s top 10 TV channels.
Zee Talkies, which was at No.5 in the Marathi market three weeks ago with 1 lakh points, shot up to No.1 with 1.7 lakh points for the latest week.
Similarly, Telugu movie channel Gemini movies made an appearance for the first time in the list of top 5 channels for its home market.
In the Hind market, Zee Cinema now has almost three times as much viewership as the flagship Zee TV, while Star Gold now has more than twice as many points as Star Plus.
Similar trends can be seen in the English movie channel market too. Viewership for Star Movies has nearly doubled to 3,217 points from 1,724 points before the lock-down, while that for Sony Pix has increased 80% to 2,854 points from 1,587 points.
The second category of channels to see a sharp increase in TV viewership during the COVID-19 shut-down are news channels.
However, the viewership of news channels peaked during the week when the lock-down was announced — March 21-27 — and has come down slightly since then.
The highlight of the move must be Aaj Tak breaking into the top 10 channels of India with a rating of 6.63 lakh — well ahead of channels like Zee TV, Colors, Star Plus, Zee Cinema etc..
However, viewership of news channels have fallen by about 20% from the peak seen towards the end of March.
On a broader basis, the total ratings points for the three big news channels in Hindi — Aaj Tak, ABP News, India TV and Zee News — jumped to 15.1 lakh during the week of the lock-down from 6.3 lakh in the preceding week in Hindi speaking markets.
For the latest week, the combined total is at 12.2 lakh, indicating that viewership continues to remain at nearly double the usual rate.
A similar trend was visible in the English news channel market too.
The combined rating points for the four big news channels — CNN News18, India Today, Republic TV and Times Now — jumped to 5,375 points during the week of the lock-down from 2,295 in the preceding week. At present, it continues to be strong at 4,601 points (see graph below).