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NEW DELHI : Viewership of English language and Hindi film TV channels saw a steep decline at 18% and 20%, respectively, in 2021 as compared to 2019, said a recent report by Ficci_EY. Overall, film channel viewership fell 9% in 2021 as compared to 2019.

Media experts said direct-to-digital release of films during two years of the pandemic has resulted in longer windows for satellite TV premieres, leading to lower audience interest. The price of film rights for satellite TV itself has fallen 30-40% in the past two years as even broadcasters who have streaming platforms like to release new films on OTT first. Foreign platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, too, shell out big bucks for digital premieres.

To be sure, regional language films such as Bhojpuri and Marathi also saw a 13% and 14% dip in viewership. The report said that as the top 120-150 million Indians who own TV sets also have access to both cinema halls and OTT platforms, viewership of film channels will become more mass. So for better monetization of a film, the gap between its release in theatres and digital platforms versus its premier on satellite TV may increase.

“Calendar year 2021 was especially tough for television movie channels because there were a large number of films premiering directly on digital platforms which paid hefty amounts for exclusive rights. When there is a window of eight to 12 weeks before satellite TV premiere can take place, the film loses relevance," Karan Taurani, senior vice-president at Elara Capital Ltd said.

He said there is a structural shift in audiences moving towards movie-viewing on OTT platforms and television viewership witnessing a downfall. Especially as OTT subscriptions increasingly become available in attractive bundled packages, the trend is set to accelerate, he said.

Independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said with the exception of Sun TV Network that still airs big-ticket movies on TV first, all companies now opt for quick OTT premieres after theatrical release. The last resort for broadcasters now is to bank on their dubbed south Indian film libraries for which there is a loyal fan base in tier-II and tier-III towns.

However, Manish Shah, director, Goldmine Telefilms that owns Dhinchaak, a TV channel for dubbed films, had told Mint in an earlier interview that the films he shows are getting big viewership numbers on his YouTube channel. “Any company not moving online will be out of business."

Shah did not respond to Mint’s queries on the latest numbers for the film channel category. Networks like Sony, Viacom18 and Star didn’t respond to queries either.

Viewers also complain of TV channels peddling the same fare repeatedly with movies like Sooryavansham and Anil Kapoor’s Nayak: The Real Hero, being aired as frequently as once a month. While broadcasters point to the need for family entertainers that can appeal to the lowest common denominator, the contrast with OTT services that offer a variety of options, is stark.

Amit Wadhwa, CEO, dentsu Creative India, agreed that the big reason behind the fall in viewership of film channels has to be the strong emergence of OTT which has two key advantages going for them – appointment viewing versus view at one’s convenience and releases of films almost immediately on these platforms. “Having said that, I still feel film channels do have a strong audience because one, it is hugely economical versus OTT and secondly if they can work out prior release dates, they can certainly manage some kind of a reversal. Also, not all OTT platforms have all films and only a few selected ones allow multiple members in one subscription. Hence, the relevance is not going out for film channels," Wadhwa said.

Yet broadcasters remain optimistic on the continuing reach of television. “This is a point in time study and the time period is more of an exception. In 2020, the pandemic limited the number of Hollywood movie releases by over 50% and that reduced the number of TV releases in 2021. Since the movie genre depends heavily on new releases for growth in viewership, this data should not be seen as a trend. In fact, we have been seeing a positive uptake on the viewership of premieres," said Amit Shah, cluster head–north, west and premium channels, ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Ltd.

He added that the network’s premiere of Monster Hunter on ZEE channels saw a cumulative reach upwards of 34 million. Since theatres have started opening up, there has been a positive uptake in box office numbers, with Hollywood offerings like Venom 2 and Spider-Man: No Way Home, setting the cash registers ringing in India.

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