Mumbai: Remember those ads for sauna belts that claim to melt offending layers of abdominal fat within hours? Magic potions that promise to sprout hair from barren scalps, or the slicer-cum-dicer that made you wonder how you ever lived without it?
While the popularity and effectiveness of these products have always been disputed, data from TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd shows that the number of such commercials across niche and now even mainstream television channels has grown substantially over the past two years.
The volume of infomercials, or direct response ads that promote a product that can be bought through a phone number or website, and interactive programmes that throw in “Call now…” hooks, rose 28% to 701,014 seconds in the period from 1 January to 30 April 2008, from a year earlier. That number further rose 57% to 1.09 million seconds in the same span of 2009.
In probably a sign of how bad the advertising market is in the middle of an economic slowdown, infomercials from telemarketing and home shopping networks such as the Asian Sky Shop, Telebrands India and HomeShop 18, which generally air after midnight or early morning on television channels, are now sometimes riding on the back of prime time programming and even going on air during the afternoon slot on smaller or newer channels.
Growth in advertising volumes on television for January-April fell to 22% versus 29% in the same period last year, according to TAM. This slowdown is spurring television networks to offer more space and time bands to home shopping networks, interactive networks and telemarketeers.
“Earlier, this kind of content would usually be restricted to niche channels,” said N.P Singh, chief operating officer, Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd. This has changed recently, as more mainstream channels look at it as an additional source of income as well as content, he adds.
Practically all the channels on his network, including general entertainment channels such as Sony and SAB carry such infomercials.
The Network Eighteen Group already runs a 24-hour home shopping channel, HomeShop 18. It has 30-minute co-branded shows on channels such as Colors which run at midnight, and another on CNBC Awaaz, the Hindi business news channel, at 5.30pm.
“Every broadcaster has peak viewership and weak viewership. The empty slots can become a source of revenue,” says Sundeep Malhotra, chief executive, TV18 HomeShopping Network Ltd which sells everything from cameras to fire extinguishers.
The boom is also being stoked by a number of new telemarketeers entering the market. “Over the last three years several companies have entered the business, only to realize their mistake six months down the line,” says Hitesh Israni, managing director for Telebrands India Pvt. Ltd.
Telebrands sells products such as the Ab King Pro, Nicer Dicer and Air Lounge—an inflatable sofa-cum-bed on all Doordarshan channels, Sony, SAB, AXN, Discovery and Animal Planet. Israni maintains that while no business has been immune to the recent economic slowdown, consumer awareness and interest in such products is growing.
No surprise then that a number of home shopping networks are looking to enter the market. For example, early this year, Star India announced its joint venture with CJ Home Shopping, a Korean regional home shopping group, to launch and operate a home shopping network across India in 2009.
Infomercials, however, qualify for much cheaper rates than regular commercials do, so a few broadcasters are willing to part with a lot of prime-time ad inventory to such advertisers.
This is despite the fact that they buy ad inventory in bulk slots of 15 and 30 minutes duration each and are willing to pay upfront for ad-inventory that is locked up to a year in advance, says Joy Chakraborthy, chief revenue officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd.
The Zee network usually screens these programmes during the graveyard shift post midnight or early in the morning, which attracts few viewers and close to no advertisers. Some of the free-to-air channels such as Jagran and Zee Smile have even been known to run these slots in the afternoon.
According to industry estimates, a 30-minute slot post midnight on Zee TV would cost about Rs3.5–4 lakh. Which means that advertisers such as Asian Sky Shop could be paying about Rs2,200 per 10-second slot, while a regular advertiser would have to pay Rs1.3-1.6 lakh per 10-second slot.