How convergence killed the video star

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on July 05, 2012

Going digital: Today's youth listen to much of their music online and the music channels have shifted strategy to align with this new trend.   -  Business Line

VJ Anuradha Menon   -  The Hindu

VJ Gaurav Kapoor   -  The HIndu

VJ Pia Trivedi   -  The Hindu

Channel V, which achieved iconic status with its mix of music videos and snappy VJing, has stopped airing Bollywood music. A look at how warp-speed changes in technology turned the one-time trendsetter from music to melodrama.

This July, one of the country’s leading music and youth entertainment broadcasters, Channel V stopped airing music slots.

That’s like Maruti saying it will no longer make cars, or ITC will only sell atta.

Channel V carved a niche for itself among the urban, youth audience with its unique mix of largely Bollywood-driven music and an in-your-face attitude assiduously built up by a succession of young VJs, many of whom went on to become stars in their own right. Rival MTV may have been the bigger brand globally – but in India, Channel V had its own sweet spot.

The operative word here is ‘had’.

The channel, which was airing about three hours of Bollywood music, felt its strategy to completely focus on shows and soaps might be expensive but more sustainable. In the hyper-competitive music channel segment, playing music videos might generate the highest return on investments — but still does not ensure drawing in audiences in numbers which make advertisers reach for the chequebook without a second thought.

Why? Why did a channel that 99 out of a 100 viewers automatically associate with music decide to axe music from its portfolio?

The channel says it has to do with changing audiences and tastes. “Music is one part of the overall strategy to engage with the youth, the target audience that we cater to. But our shows are getting higher television viewership ratings than the music slots, which led us to focus on original programming,” said Prem Kamath, Executive Vice-President and General Manager, Channel V.

The company will continue with on-ground and on-air music-based properties but stop playing plain-vanilla Bollywood music.

Industry players believe the real driver could be different. It’s not that music has stopped being any less popular; the way music is consumed has changed beyond recognition.

Consider this: Indians aged 15-24 spend an average of 13.6 hours on the Internet. A lot of that is spent on videos — music videos. A recent study found that a majority of Indian Internet users visited YouTube as soon as they logged in. In the US and UK, youth audiences watch nearly 300 music videos a month — or 10 everyday. India is the world’s second fastest growing mobile market.

Put this all together and you have a tectonic shift in the way music is watched or heard. According to a FICCI-KPMG report, the nearly 24 per cent growth in digital music consumed led to the growth in revenues of the Indian music industry in 2011 despite a 19 per cent fall in sales of music in physical form. Digital music also contributed nearly 58 per cent to the overall revenues of the music industry.

Digital music revenues are earned through the music consumer via a mobile handset or the Internet. Industry players believe the growing Internet penetration and mobile phone devices have radically changed the way consumers sample music, which has led music channels to transform themselves into youth brands and be present across all the mediums.

“An increase in Internet penetration and consumption through mobile devices is expected to drastically decrease consumers’ desire to own music,” believes Apurv Nagpal, former CEO, Saregama. He said the constant availability of music on YouTube and other options now offers consumers the option to not watch television to listen to music.

Music channels have been working towards changing strategies in tune with the changing ways of music consumption. Most music channels are focusing on creating original content besides playing music videos.

MTV, for instance, is concentrating on building original programming, whether it’s through shows such as MTV Coke Studio, which is focused on creating independent original music, or the reality show MTV Roadies, which has acquired cult status among the youth. “We have created several hours of original non-film music and will always have a mix including a reality show, a Web show, a music-based show and regular music slots to engage with our viewers,” said Aditya Swamy EVP & Business head MTV.

He added that only one-third of the channel’s revenues come from selling advertising spots. The rest is through creating branded properties such as the Coke Studio, giving brands the opportunity to engage with the youth beyond the 30-second advertisement.

Analysts believe the investment cost of launching a music channel is very low. The channel can get music videos and promos for practically no cost and run it by selling ad spots. “Some channels might follow that strategy and make money, but would not be able to grow beyond a point,” believes Swamy.

Some industry players believe Channel V’s departure from the strategy to play music is also driven by growing competition in the music channel segment. “The Channel belongs to the Star bouquet, and the group’s strength lies in general entertainment content,” said a senior executive who did not wish to be identified.

Youngsters are no longer dependent on music channels to discover new music, which has also led music channels to strengthen their presence on the Internet and launch mobile apps. “Discovering new music is increasingly becoming a social decision and is being made on social networks. Youngsters then follow it up by downloading it on their phones, tuning into YouTube and listening it on demand, besides radio and music television channels,” said Shridhar Subramaniam, President (India and Middle East), Sony Music India.

He, however, felt that all media — television, Internet or mobile — continue to remain relevant and will co-exist. For instance, Sony Music extensively used social media to promote the hit song Kolaveri Di.

Nikhil Gandhi, Executive Director, Youth Channels, UTV Media Networks, said for a youth channel to be relevant it has to be present across platforms that youth engage with. “ Bindass is a 360-degree youth brand that connects with the youth through television, the Web, mobile, on ground, through events and consumer products,” he said.

YouTube has about 32 million unique users a month, according to estimates by Comscore. In an e-mailed reply, Gautam Anand, Director (Content Partnerships, APAC), Google, said, “Entertainment is the biggest category on YouTube with Bollywood and music being the two biggest sub-categories. We’ve actively focused our energies to bring the biggest music labels to share their content on YouTube and today we have T-Series, Tips, Saregama and other international labels which make their music videos available.”

He added that the way youth consume media has seen a drastic change in India. The Internet is where they spend maximum time. “As media consumption becomes more on-demand, we see a lot of users consuming high-quality music content on YouTube. Many Bollywood producers now release the songs first on YouTube, a trend that was first seen with music channels on TV,” Anand said.

Asked how much of YouTube’s consumption is driven through mobile phones, he said, “While the majority of consumption still comes from the PC, we’ve seen phenomenal growth in consumption from mobile devices in India. Over a quarter of the YouTube traffic now comes from mobile phones.”

The age of convergence has arrived.

Published on July 05, 2012

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