Even as Hindi language films (Bollywood) struggle at the box office, they do not seem to be faring much better on the small screen either. While Hollywood films seem to be taking advantage of this opportunity on the big screen, it’s the dubbed south Indian films that are filling the gaps left by underperforming Hindi titles.
In February, the Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) made some modifications to the universe of TV viewing, following the roll-out of the new Establishment Survey that forms the basis of BARC’s measurement system. In the following weeks, Hindi general entertainment channels saw a marginal rise in viewership, whereas the Hindi movie channels witnessed a significant jump.
Anuj Poddar, head, Rural Business Viacom18 says, “As markets mature, we’re seeing the popularity of dubbed south Indian films grow across boards, including those with theatrical popularity like 'Bahubali' and 'Robot', as audiences are becoming more open to dubbed film content. The kind of content is key– production values are important and some genres, such as action for instance, lend themselves more easily to dubbed viewership than others. And yes, Tamil and Telugu films have generally crossed over more easily for a variety of reasons.”
Vaicom18 launched its first dedicated movie channel in the form of Rishtey Cineplex in the first half of 2016. Since its launch, the channel has managed to maintain a strong position in the rural market by faring among the top five channels in the segment. In fact, until last week, the channel was ranked No 2, lagging just behind the market leader Sony Wah.
“Hindi films, especially the newer ones are losing the market for various reasons. For one, there seems to be no hook for the viewers even in the first airing, let alone repeats. Gone are the days when the second, third and fourth airing of a popular movie would get us phenomenal ratings. The south Indian dubs, however, rate consistently. So the first airing may not rate through the roof, but the repeat airing rate is consistent,” adds Neeraj Vyas, head of Hindi movies and music cluster of channels at Sony Pictures Network India (SPN).
Vyas runs three channel brands under SPN’s Hindi movie cluster– Sony Max, Sony Max 2 and Sony Wah, the last one being a free-to-air Hindi movie channel. “The popularity of south Indian dubs has been on the rise for a while now. We have been focusing on the acquisition and marketing of these titles for a while, and it has helped us maintain our leadership position in the genre. Also, over the past couple of years, films coming out of the south have also evolved and so they appeal to a wider audience once the language barrier has been overcome,” says Vyas.
According to data provided by BARC, Sony Max has been the number one channel in the urban markets since February, while Sony Wah has taken pole position consistently in the rural markets. The only time Sony Wah was dethroned was during the Vivo Indian Premier League, when Sony Max emerged as the number one channel in the rural markets as well.
While broadcasters are seeing the success of the South Indian dubs in terms of viewership, the segment is yet to see the appreciation in terms of ad-rates. Vyas says that the parity between the inventory rates for Hindi films and dubbed version of South Indian movies can sometimes be up to 50 per cent, something that needs correction at the earliest. “These movies rate equally well in urban and rural markets, so advertisers can target a wide territory with dubbed movies as well. It’s an underappreciated category on Hindi movie channels for sure,” Vyas says.
On the other hand, the acquisition rates for South Indian titles have been on the rise. Poddar says, “Yes there has been an increase for certain dubbed films, especially sequels of successful films or of stars that have gained a wider recognition. But it’s important to understand that the unviable increase in satellite rights prices for Hindi films is what drove channels to experiment with dubbed films, in the first place. So a steep increase in the acquisition rates of dubbed films will be killing the golden goose. Channels will look for other viable options.”
Vyas concurs with the opinion saying the failure of new Hindi titles in terms of attracting the attention of the audience and the acquisition rates of Bollywood titles need correction.