It’s a good time for Hindi film channels in the country. The genre has several reasons to rejoice. For starters, the total number of channels is up after several free-to-air (FTA) film channels were launched in the last couple of years. In 2015, the television viewership measurement agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India used to measure and report 21 Hindi film channels. As of September 2017, that number has gone up to 32. Currently, of the 32 Hindi movie channels, 16 are FTA while the other 16 are pay channels.

That is not all. The viewership in the genre has also jumped by more than 39%. According to data from Barc, the average impressions in thousands between week 8 and 36 in 2016 was 2,989,686, which increased to touch 4,168,846 during the same period in 2017. Impressions refer to the number of individuals in thousands of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes. What’s more, the viewership share of the Hindi movie genre out of total TV was 23% last year during the period mentioned above. It is at 25% this year.

To be sure, this growth can be attributed, specifically over the last one year, to the entry of FTA movie channels as well as the introduction of viewership measurement in the rural market by Barc in October 2015.

Although Neeraj Vyas, senior vice-president and business head, Sony Max cluster, Sony Pictures Networks, does not see more Hindi film channels in the offing, Raj Nayak, chief operating officer at Viacom18, says the broadcaster could launch more film channels if it spotted a business opportunity.

Why it makes sense for broadcasters to include a Hindi movie channel in their bouquets is easy to see. It adds to the network strength from a trade point of view—that is, having more channels helps the broadcaster spread its inventory and create a superior brand positioning in trade. From a distribution angle, the number of mass channels helps a broadcaster push its bouquet on platforms and enjoy greater bargaining power. “Besides, it is a mass entertainer and a mass reach platform—it cuts across all age groups, all socioeconomic segments of society," says Nayak.

Films are popular both in urban and rural India and audiences come equally from both these markets. In short, film channels have universal appeal. “For advertisers catching more eyeballs is important. And after Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs), Hindi movie channels are the second biggest genre in the viewership pie. So for any advertiser who wants to build a higher reach and frequency campaign, it’s essential to have movie channels in the campaign," he adds.

The Hindi film channel advertising market is estimated at Rs2,000 crore. Even though its viewership share is the second largest in the pie after GECs, the ad rates have been low as it was sold like a commodity, says Vyas. “We are correcting that now," he adds.

Interestingly, several movie channels, especially Sony Max and Sony Wah from the Sony Pictures Networks stable are flourishing on the back of dubbed films, which are doing phenomenally well for them. Vyas says that this is because there are only that many Hindi films you can get and those that are available get distributed across channels. In such a scenario, mass-based regional cinema comes to the rescue of Hindi film channels. Referring to such films in an earlier Mint interview, Vyas said that “most of this cinema is extremely enjoyable and well-crafted. If you were to look at the cinematic values, the locales are great, the action scenes are terrific, the stunts are superb, so it’s cinema that’s made well. From the content point of view, the themes are pretty generic—so there is vendetta, revenge, injustice, a downtrodden who’s fighting back—all pretty close to the viewing heart of an Indian". As long as these films are smartly promoted, they do well.

And that holds true not just for Sony Max and Sony Wah but for other channels as well. Viacom18, which operates Rishtey Cineplex and Cineplex HD, also has an inventory of dubbed regional films as does Disney India’s UTV Action and UTV Movies.

No surprise then, there is data to show that there is a growing audience for this cinema which is being watched in hardcore Hindi-speaking markets like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. However, Viacom18’s Nayak is quick to add that other genres—comedy, romance, family drama—too add to the success of film channels. “It’s a myth that only dubbed regional movies work. Yes there is a certain audience segment which is mainly watching dubbed content. But there are viewers available for different movie genres," he says, adding that every Hindi movie channel requires miscellaneous inventory. “But agreed that you need a library of dubbed movies as well, as you cannot alienate this set of viewers," he added.

Going forward, will over-the-top (OTT) video streaming services wrest market share from Hindi film channels that are flourishing at the moment? Nayak thinks both will coexist. “OTT will not compete; instead it will complement broadcasting and will act more as catch-up TV and this is true for most content except live sports," he says. Vyas, however, says that while TV may not face an immediate threat, things may change after 3-4 years when broadband speeds go up and smartphone penetration increases.

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.

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