Have music channels recovered from the pandemic?

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Industry stakeholders are concerned that advertising rates are not commensurate with the audience the channels garner.

As with most TV channels, the pandemic-induced lockdown has also been a difficult time for music channels. Falling ad revenue and a dearth of new content have weighed on music channels. With the lifting of lockdowns and the recovery of the economy, most TV stations are back on track.

However, music channels in India largely depend on Bollywood film music for their content. But with few movies released during lockdown, these channels had very little fresh content to air. It wasn’t until late 2021, when Bollywood films returned to theaters, that these channels saw an increase in content.

Kailash Adhikari, chief executive of TV Vision, which has owned Mastii, the main Hindi music channel for a few years now, says the genre has recovered to up to 92% of its pre-pandemic levels. “The eight percent gap is due to the lack of movie promos. We were getting almost an hour of daily advertising from them. Although movies are coming back, there are very few Bollywood movies that are doing well It discourages the minds of producers to advertise,” he says.

He mentions that during the 2020-21 shutdowns, revenue from the genre had dropped by up to 80%. The recovery only started in August 2021, when the closures started to open.

The musical genre on television is watched across all age groups and attracts a diverse audience for the network. Mastiii has viewers from 15 to 60 years old. 9X Media has a younger audience that largely lives in nuclear families. Typically, brands that want to reach a mass audience advertise on music channels.

Kavita Sagar, Head of Revenue (Broadcast), IN10 Media Network, says advertising volumes for the music genre saw an estimated 40% growth in 2021 compared to 2020. “The genre has seen steady growth with categories like food and beverage, healthcare, e-comm and FMCG reaching their consumers using gender as a reach and frequency builder for HSM markets,” she says.

However, Gurjot Shah Singh, Executive Vice President (EVP), Media, Isobar, is clear that there is no recovery for music channels post-pandemic. “While the lockdown was temporary, the habits we developed appear to be permanent and continue to impact music channel usage. Content and music consumption peaked during lockdown and everyone wanted personalized, which led to the rise of OTT and music apps During lockdown, spiritual songs, Zumba music and Party numbers were all streamed simultaneously under the same roof, but on digital devices and not on TV,” he says.

Music channels or streaming services?

From more than 70 music channels in 2005, India now has only 50. The increasing emergence of digital music streaming platforms like Gaana, Saavn, Spotify has alienated viewers from TV channels. Many of them have closed over the last decade, including Channel V, Sony Mix, etc. Among those that survived, some had to adopt a change in its content strategy and evolve into a youth and entertainment channel. This includes the likes of Zing, Zoom and MTV which have more long-form content like reality shows and less music.

Clyde D’Souza, vice president of programming and strategy, ShowBox, says the TV and streaming platforms work in tandem and the latter only increases the appetite.

“Television offers a lazy and convenient way to consume music. We do all the heavy lifting for them, like providing them with the hit songs. The discovery happens on TV, and then they can search for the songs on streaming apps,” he says.

But for millennials, much of their musical discovery happens through reels on short video apps like Instagram, Moj, Sharechat, etc.

However Adhikari is optimistic about the future. “The future of media will be television and digital. There is no doubt that digital will grow exponentially. But at the same time, television is an integral part of India as a market. I don’t think the TV obituary should be written so soon,” he says.

Advertising rates not comparable to audience

In the meantime, he raises an important concern – advertising rates are not comparable to the eyeballs they collect.

“In some categories, our audience is higher than the number one Hindi news channel in the country, but advertising rates wouldn’t even be 25% of that. As we at our level try to change advertisers’ perception, the industry must fight together for better advertising rates. It’s a long journey,” he adds.

Singh says that although the viewership of these channels is high, viewers only watch TV passively. In other words, the TV is playing in the background, but different family members are consuming content on their separate personal devices.

“Television is broadcast in the house, but it is only a passive entertainment device. Viewership may be high because the television is on, but advertisers are unwilling to pay such a high proportion as the audience, because it is not actively consumed,” he explains.

Regional Content Reigns

Singh says regional music channels continue to thrive.

“Even on YouTube, many regional music channels have popped up. Yet people in the deepest pockets of the country remain loyal to TV channels. They provide another opportunity to target location-based audiences,” he adds.

9X Media has 9X Tashan for Punjabi music and 9X Jhakaas for Marathi music.

Punit Pandey, Chief Commercial Officer of 9X Media, says that as part of his content diversification strategy, he chose a vertical path and decided to create a music vertical. “There has been a huge growth in regional content consumption. Punjabi music is not film oriented but has an independent market. We saw a great opportunity there. While our competitors show all content on their channels, we’ve limited ourselves to curated music only.

TV Vision also has a Marathi music channel Maiboli. ShowBox offers Punjabi and Haryanvi music on its channel itself in dedicated slots. “New young India is open to listening to music from many independent artists. And our programming mix now reflects that. Just as people watch content in many languages, they also listen to music in other languages,” says D’souza.

Differentiation is key

An age-old challenge facing the musical genre on television is duplicity of content. The same songs play on all channels. For this reason, most of them are free channels. If differentiation is quite difficult in this space, the channels do it by their format and their programming.

TV Vision launched it in 2010 with the tagline “Comedy aur Music ka Sabse Bada Dose”. Since comedy was a very important part of the Sri Adhikari Brothers group, the channel aired short comedy gags from popular comedians. Over time, it evolved into a simple music channel.

Adhikari says, “Each music channel has the same content. What stands out is how they play it and at what time. It’s also about how you wrap the chain to make it look attractive.

IN10 Media Network’s ShowBox music channel provides differentiation through packaging and content curation. The channel underwent a rebranding exercise in August last year. It added many digital tools, like the scroll bar on streaming platforms that displays the duration, a song information watermark that remains throughout the song, a trivial pop-up window. In terms of curation, the channel brings it through its Punjabi and Haryanvi mix. The initiative seems to have borne fruit since the channel has been the leader of its kind for a few weeks.

D’Souza says the idea behind the rebranding was to provide a different look and experience.

“We focused on young people, who are very social media savvy and community oriented. So now our channel is very social media friendly. When we look at a song, we tend to google it to find out more about the artist or star. Now we’re going to provide the anecdotes with the song,” he says.

9X Media brought it through its short-form animated comedy characters that played between songs.

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