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New Delhi: The general entertainment channel (GEC) category is up for a slow climb to recovery post the covid-19 pandemic. The Hindi category hasn’t seen any new launches in the past few months with broadcasters deferring plans, first because of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and then the second covid wave.

While the suspension of the tournament led to a minor surge in ratings, not all shows were able to capitalise with fresh content and had to air reruns. Broadcasters see normalcy setting in only by end of July or early August even as the discovery of OTT (over-the-top) streaming content looms as a big challenge with creators and writers compelled to innovate for a loyal audience base that has several options now.

“With the IPL, most GECs had anyway not scheduled any new launch during April and May, which coincidentally was the peak of the second covid wave. Some of them had one or two launches lined up for June or July, but decided against them due to the pandemic, wanting to wait for the restrictions to get over before they go on air, just to have a good episode bank available," said Srinivas Rao, national buying head for GroupM-owned media agency Mediacom.

A senior executive at a broadcast network, who did not wish to be named, said it didn’t make sense to go on air with only 20-30 fresh episodes for new shows they had planned and then lose traction or fail to form a loyal fan base for characters. “Shooting with restrictions, even outside of Maharashtra impacts the storyline and production values. Plus, we didn’t want to risk the lives of our cast and crew for a few episodes," said the person, adding that the network chose to not shoot at all during the latest lockdown and will wait even now for more clarity from the government on restrictions in Maharashtra. “The absence of tent-pole properties and hit prime-time shows is the biggest challenge GECs are facing right now," the person said.

Mansi Datta, chief client officer and head – north and east at media agency Wavemaker India agreed GECs are not looking at any major launches for another month. “Channels had to grapple with pauses in shoots while some tried to keep the momentum up and had shifted there shooting locations to places like Silvaasa, Hyderabad or Goa. However, at an overall level, fresh content was limited," Datta said adding that channels are also taking stock of the inventory demand and smartly scheduling launches to avoid loss of revenue. For example, Bigg Boss Kannada is slated to restart production by end of June while other marquee properties like KBC Marathi or The Kapil Sharma Show should resume by July.

Broadcasters like Zee, Sony, Star and Viacom18 did not respond to Mint’s queries on plans for upcoming shows.

Absence of new fiction launches does not impact ad revenues, said Shailesh Kapoor, founder and chief executive officer of media consulting firm Ormax, as long as running shows can hold on to their viewership. “But delay in non-fiction launches can have sizeable impact on revenue. However, channels have managed to extend their running shows, for example Indian Idol (on Sony Entertainment Television), to compensate for that," Kapoor added. While battling challenges of delays and changes in production design, Aradhana Bhola, managing director, Fremantle India that produces Indian Idol said they had to reinvent the show’s format to conduct digital auditions and do away with studio audiences, besides getting a lot of post-production work done remotely. “These hybrid versions of working will co-exist," she pointed out.

To be sure, some new launches are now lowly being announced across channels. Star Bharat and Sony will soon have titles like Lakshmi Ghar Aayi and Kuch Rang Pyaar Ke Aise Bhi Season 2 respectively. A senior TV producer, who did not wish to be named, said audience tastes have evolved over the pandemic and while TV retains its loyal fan base, people demand better stories now.

According to Ormax, about 23 million people, or 8% of the urban television watching population above 15 years, switched to original content on streaming platforms for the first time during the lockdown last year with 57% of them being women, the primary target for GECs.

“With the advent of OTTs and the varied content available there, providing the same on an individual GEC is a challenge," Rao said.

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