In the last two-three years, several new Hindi film channels have surfaced, fuelling an unprecedented growth in the genre. Television viewership monitoring agency the Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India throws up interesting numbers to underline the rise of the genre. The agency was measuring 21 Hindi movie channels in 2015. This has now gone up to 32.

That is not all. The average weekly viewership of Hindi movie genre in 2015 was 2.3 billion impressions, contributing 13.7% to total television viewership. In 2018, this has more than doubled to 4.9 billion impressions and contributes to 16.6% to total television viewership in a target audience that is all India in the age group of two years plus. Impressions refer to the number of individuals (in thousands) of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes.

On an average, weekly total TV viewership stands at 29.2 billion impressions. Of this, 11.5 billion impressions are contributed by Hindi General Entertainment Channels (GECs) and movies. Of this, 43% comes from the Hindi movie genre.

Clearly, there’s been a big influx of free-to-air (FTA) movie channels, which are off-shoots of the big film libraries which are available to the major broadcasters. There’s a perceptible growth in the viewership of these channels, driven largely by the growth in the uptake of the FTA platform, that is, Doordarshan’s FTA direct-to-home (DTH) platform Free Dish, in rural as well as urban India. “With the major broadcasters unleashing the strength of their respective libraries, there is no dearth of variety in the kind of movies which are being showcased in this space, and hence there has been a disproportionate growth in viewership numbers across these channels," says a television industry veteran, declining to be named.

Agrees Neeraj Vyas, senior executive vice president and business head at Sony Entertainment Television which also launched a FTA channel Sony Wah in 2016: “Wah was launched with the FTA market in mind as Barc had started reporting both urban and rural data." It already had MAX in its portfolio (a hybrid of movies and sports) which was launched way back in 1999 followed by MAX II in 2014 and MAX HD in 2016.

Vyas says Hindi films is the second most viewed genre in television with Hindi GECs taking the pole position. From a media plan perspective, Hindi film channels are integral to the Hindi-speaking markets. He explains that there has been a viewership spike as Barc expanded the universe and shifted from socio-economic classification to NCCS (new consumer classification system). “As a result, the viewers at the lower end of the spectrum also came into prominence. Mass viewers now started getting reported. That is one big reason why the numbers for the Hindi film genre are growing," says Vyas, adding that “India would be dead without movies. It’s a staple across demographics and markets".

What’s added to the viewership numbers in the film genre is the dubbed regional content. Since India is still largely a single TV household market, television is still about community viewing. Consequently, consumers are looking for content that is mass-based and can be watched with the family. Some of the dubbed regional masala films fit the bill, get high ratings even on repeat telecast and have added considerable volume to film content. Little surprise then that films like Maghadeera, Kanchana and Yevadu have fared well on Hindi film channels.

According to the television industry veteran, right now, it is comparatively easy to source movies through syndication—which helps in revenue maximization for distributors and larger networks. “This is how most of the long tail channels in this space are surviving at this point of time. This is another reason for the rise in number of Hindi movie channels in the recent period," he adds. He says more and more viewers are hooked to Hindi films as movies offer snacky content and can be watched any time.

So, is it true that the Hindi film genre is eating into the Hindi GEC pie? “With Hindi GEC being the largest viewership pie, the influx and the disproportionate viewership growth across these FTA movie channels has naturally impacted the genre. Clearly, the growth has been completely on the back of the FTA channels, especially since these channels did not even exist till about two years ago," he adds.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.