The Steady Rise of 9X
After a faltering start, the focus on getting its distribution nailed down is paying off for Hindi general entertainment channel 9X, experiencing a near 50% boost in ratings since the start of the year. “There were areas we needed to strengthen and that’s what we’ve been focusing on over the last 10 weeks,” remarks Peter Mukerjea, chief strategy officer of the company behind the channel, INX Media. “That’s beginning to give us some level of resonance.”
As the channel gains traction meanwhile, its push to secure long-term deals with big-spending advertisers is also giving way to seasonal deals stretching no further than this quarter or the next, bringing in a wider range of advertisers and building up a steady revenue stream. "9X took a little longer time to attract advertisers because of the slow growth in performance," says Venkatesh S, VP of media buyer, Lintas Media Group. "Channel confidence today is more realistic compared to launch phase, and they are more flexible on the transparent ratecard."
Media buyers have noticed that 9X’s ratecard, which stood out at launch for its structure and transparency, is becoming less rigid but Mukerjea says negotiation is always to be expected, pointing out that some broadcasters in India have abandoned rate-cards entirely, selling instead on a commodity basis on what is available on any given day. “I don’t think we’ve made a huge change in the way advertising is bought and sold,” he says. “We’re a new player and we need to do everything we do in a softly-softly approach. We need to manage the change in the best possible way.” As ratings rise, so too should air-time rates.
The disruptive power of cricket
It’s a rocky ride on the advertising front at the moment however, caused by the arrival of a 44-day new cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League (IPL). “In anticipation of the IPL delivering the reach which the media hype suggests, many brands who are on the tournament have pulled back their other GE channel budget by as high as 30%,” observes Sejal Shah, VP of Starcom and ZenithOptimedia’s consolidated buying arm, India Media Exchange. “This will affect GE revenues in the short run, but over the year will be evened out,” she adds.
Challenger channels in Hindi general entertainment (GE) can sometimes benefit from a big cricket match, Shah says, as brands look to secondary channels to maintain frequency while relying on cricket for reach. Nevertheless, cricket is the one genre that threatens Hindi GE’s dominance, with tournaments featuring the national side known to knock down ratings of Hindi GE programs airing at the same time by 80%.
Such a tournament can also shake people out of established viewing habits, to the detriment of incumbent channels and the benefit of new ones, Mukerjea muses. “If there’s any movement, it’s going to happen when there’s a big event on.” Forty-plus days of cricket will be as big for India as the Olympics will be for the rest of the world, he adds.
Distribution aside, slow but steady progress was always part of the plan, Mukerjea argues, highlighting the decision to gradually build on the two hours of original prime-time programming that 9X debuted with as a way to respond quickly to viewer trends and initiatives by rival channels. The success of new programs meanwhile, such as recently-introduced reality-style shows, also gives the channel an opportunity to promote existing content and build momentum. “You can make all sorts of assumptions,” he says. “But our needle is moving.”