As competition increases within and across genres, television channels are experimenting with new methods and media to promote their new programmes.
Full page advertisements in newspapers and ads on the Internet and on billboards have become common. On-air promotion isn’t new, but its volume is increasing, and broadcast firms are coming up with interesting innovations.
Graphics: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
For most television shows, on-air promotion on the same channel (so this can be called self-promotion) remains the primary tool of choice for attracting and retaining audiences. In this, these shows are similar to consumer products that depend on advertising to survive and increase sales. Today, on-air promotions account for 30-50% of total advertising volumes on TV. These self-promotional advertisements are usually placed at the beginning and end of all commercial breaks.
Among these self-promotions, those promoting a single programme or show are the most common—accounting for 70% of the whole.
General entertainment channels take the lead in promoting their shows, themselves and their brands; they are followed by the news channels. Unlike a few years ago, today, no single channel enjoys audience loyalty. This is especially true of Hindi general entertainment channels. Therefore, most new programmes strive to stand out in this clutter and differentiate themselves to garner ratings that can be translated into revenue.
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Two recent examples are the controversial programmes Sach ka Saamna and Rakhi ka Swayamvar. Both aimed to revive their respective channel’s position in the ratings game. The intense marketing and promotional strategies followed by both started almost a month before the launch with “teaser” advertisements. All popular media—print, Internet and also television shows—covered the interesting parts that were strategically placed to create more interest through gossip and shock.
What’s interesting is that even the news channels were all used to promote and push these programmes. Besides intensive advertising on news channels (see table above), these two programmes were also given time (in news bulletins) and attention (through special programmes) on the “national” news channels. Of course, the parliamentary debate triggered by Sach ka Saamna further helped the programme to figure more prominently in all content regulation discussions and programmes in news channels.
Also on view were other programmes directly and indirectly promoting these shows on either the same channel or one owned by the same company. For instance, CNN-IBN carried a special half-hour programme on “the new genre of social soaps” such as Balika Vadhu running on Colors, part of the same network (without once mentioning the association between the two channels).
These self-promotion and cross-promotional efforts are not limited to advertising. We see animated visuals announcing dates and time of new shows on our screens along with scrolling ticker ads. Characters of the new show are also used extensively in advertising and promotional activities. These also include introduction of such characters and new show announcements within ongoing shows by the same production house or channel. Balaji Telefilms Ltd—the maker of some of India’s most popular soap operas—regularly cross-promotes its new soaps in existing popular soaps by cleverly weaving in the announcement and/or characters of the new show. They are also known for the so-called special episodes, where two soaps merge for an episode in an effort to promote the lesser known show.
This wooing of audiences using innovative and intense on-air promotions may look innocuous. However, I think this trend is also an early indicator of highly fragmented, fickle and selective audiences. This trend is reflective of the challenge channel/programme producers face to get audience attention and to maintain it in this cluttered space. Hopefully, it also signals the coming of age of the Indian TV viewer who is learning to become more discriminating.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies. Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org