With ad revenues down, they are focussing on high-profile one-off events outside of traditional programming
Dubai: TV broadcasters are finding they don’t just need the TV or app to reach their audiences in the UAE or elsewhere in the Gulf. Even live events in concert halls or more intimate gatherings can serve a purpose. And these days they are going ahead with more of these.
For obvious reasons, too. TV-specific advertising saw a double-digit dip over the last year and prospects for an immediate turnaround are remote.
Which is where live events serve multiple purposes. “We realised these could provide serious monetisation opportunities,” said Sachin Gokhale, Senior Vice-President for the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific at Viacom 18, the Indian pay-TV channel broadcaster behind Colors, MTV India and News 18.
“It started off as a one-off, but then we decided we could create more experiences built around music and Bollywood themes. We have had live events in Dubai and we are now taking it to the other Gulf markets and Africa.”
If going live manages to hit the mark consistently in terms of bringing in audiences and sponsorships, Viacom 18 expects this side of the business would contribute more — say 20-25 per cent — than the 15 per cent it does now.
“Industry-wide margins have been under pressure for the last year or so, and there weren’t too many options out of trying to get more ads for TV,” said Gokhale. “What we had to do was build on the popular television brands we owned, such as MTV Unplugged, through events.”
Currently, TV commercials and other ads make up about 40 per cent of Viacom 18’s revenues, while deals with pay-TV and web-streaming platforms contribute 45 per cent.
“Pay-TV in this territory has to contend with 900 plus free — to — air channels, primarily targeting the mainstream Arab audiences,” said Gokhale. “As such, pay-TV penetration will not be more than 6-8 per cent of households — about 7 million — in the region. Specifically taking the Gulf markets, it would still be less than 15 per cent.
“When the cuts on TV advertising happened, pay-TV channels suffered more because advertisers were still putting aside some budgets for free-to-air exposure and at our expense.
“The predominant content driver remains Arabic programming, with the exception of the UAE. When so much of original Arabic or repurposed Arabic content is available on free-to-air, that itself has been a hindrance for pay-TV channels, especially the Indian language ones.
“So, where possible, we have to look beyond standard TV content to create — and sustain — revenue streams. Advertising alone will not cut it.”
And then the channels will have to contend with the industry-wide disruption web-TV apps are setting off. It is already happening with TV audiences for western and Arabic content, and much the same will be mirrored in viewer habits for Indian language fare.
Which is why Viacom 18 has signed up fully to offer up its content via an app. The app, named Voot, has already built quite a base in India — 7-8 million users weekly — and could be introduced later this year in the UAE.
“It’s clear that 30-40 per cent of content consumption will move away from traditional TV in the next five years, even in this region,” said Gokhale. With Voot, they will target seven to eight markets outside of India, and the UAE is one of them.
“We have to see ourselves as creators of content and not as creators of TV channels any more.
“What apps allows is to offer more content curated to an individual’s likes. This can be done by capturing demographic data — something that TV broadcasters have never been able to do. There is no way a broadcaster will be able to determine whether someone prefers watching ‘Bigg Boss’ over ‘India’s Got Talent’ … and at what time.
“Only curated content delivered over apps can provide that kind of data, allows content providers to make sense and then repurpose it quickly to each viewer’s taste as possible.”
Comedy yes, but don’t do overdo Bollywood
Indian TV channels wanting to create new revenue opportunities should not overdo the Bollywood or film-based live shows. That will only serve to put off ticket-paying audiences.
“The UAE scene is already quite cluttered in terms of events around music or films,” said Sachin Gokhale of Viacom 18. “What’s needed are radical formats and more of regional events in Gujarati, Marathi or Tamil. What TV channels need to do is come up with more radical formats — otherwise they will be competing between themselves and with individual event organisers.
“We attempted that with a stand-up comedy routine featuring (the Indian actor) Rishi Kapoor and which we plan to take internationally. Such events can give us the top-line growth, but industry-wide margins will continue to be under some pressure.”