Coronavirus impact: How broadcasters are dealing with content shortfall

The television broadcast industry is taking a few creative liberties to deal with the lack of fresh content in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. While some broadcasters are developing theme-based edits of existing content, and bringing back iconic shows, others are resorting to reruns of popular shows, and testing the viability of using video conferencing tools to create content.

The Indian film and television industry had decided to halt shoots as a preventive measure until March 31. But the 21-day national lockdown has imposed a longer moratorium on the industry. With a content repository that could last only four weeks, most broadcasters had run out of fresh content by March end.

Riding on nostalgia

Bringing back old shows seems to be broadcasters’ best bet. Public broadcaster Doordarshan led the trend by bringing back iconic shows such as Ramayan, Circus, Byomkesh Bakshi and Shaktiman, among others. Viacom18 is airing reruns of its marquee non-fiction show Bigg Boss (Season 13) at 10 pm every day on Colors.

Zee TV is replacing its prime time shows Kumkum Bhagya and Kundali Bhagya with a few finite web series namely, Karrle Tu Bhi Mohabbat, Baarish, Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain, which were first streamed on ALTBalaji.

Prathyusha Agarwal, chief consumer officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, says, “We will also be creating fresh edits of existing shows. For instance, for &TV, we are developing edit-based, long episodes of shows such as Ek Mahanayak – Dr BR Ambedkar and Happu Ki Ultan Paltan.” The broadcaster is expected to tap into the originals library of its OTT platform, Zee5.

Additionally, broadcasters have turned some of their channels into free-to-air for a period of two months on all DTH and cable networks. Sony Pal, Star Utsav, Zee Anmol and Colors Rishtey are among the channels that are now available for free.

‘Home’ productions

The lockdown has led to a significant increase in television viewership, but most of the viewing is concentrated on news, movies and kids channels. The average time spent on GECs dropped by 5% in the week of March 14-21, as per the Broadcast Audience Research Council India, while news and kids channels have seen an increase of 17% and 11%, respectively, in average time spent.

In the US, where talk shows are immensely popular, broadcasters have begun creating broadcast-level content from the homes of the show hosts.

“While we are exploring all kinds of best practices from our counterparts in other markets, replicating the broadcast-from-home model will be tough in a scripted content heavy market like India,” says Deepak Dhar, founder and CEO, Banijay Asia.

Indian programming is dominated by scripted serials and non-fiction reality TV shows — both of which need a large set-up, crew and equipment.

Content creators in India are getting creative though. Cricketer Kevin Pietersen has been hosting interviews via Instagram Live with celebrities such as Indian batsman Rohit Sharma and member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, while film reviewer Anupama Chopra is using Zoom video conferencing to interview Bollywood celebrities for YouTube channel Film Companion.

These formats are inspiring Indian television producers. Industry watchers say that sports channels are exploring options to replicate interviews via video conferencing and remote content creation formats.

Dhar says that while production has come to a grinding halt, teams are working on developing shows during this time. “This situation has shown us that we need to start evolving in the way we produce our content,” he says.

Ashish Pherwani, partner, media and entertainment leader, EY India, expects movies made on small budgets or movie producers struggling with cash flows to turn to early premieres on television. These too could help broadcasters who are content hungry right now.

―Financial Express

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