If you grew up in the nineties MTV, Channel [V] and their fashionable VJs or video jockeys were the epitome of cool. They captured the imagination and aspirations of young Indians, post-liberalisation and kick-started the TV revolution.
The success of Channel [V] pushed parent Star India to invest more and brought in many other broadcasters, many of who had a music channel. However for the last decade or so music television has floundered. After several revamps Channel [V] shut down in 2018.
So have others. From over 70 music channels in 2005, India is now down to about 50. In 2020 for the first time in over a decade, the share of music TV in total viewership fell from 5.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent according to Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) data. Have music channels become irrelevant?
That depends on who you are talking to.
“Our idea of music is related to a video. If I don’t see a video of a Salman (Khan) song release, I won’t like it on audio streaming because I can’t place it,” says Pawan Jailkhani, chief revenue officer, 9X Media.
The (claimed) Rs 240 crore 9X Media is one of the largest music broadcasters in India with two of its four channels being a fixture in the top ten. (See chart)
“New music is still discovered on TV first and then across video and audio streaming platforms,” says Ferzad Palia, head, Voot Select, youth, music (MTV, VH1) and English entertainment for Viacom18.
“The genre has lost share because of the pandemic and 2-3 players exiting. That won’t last, business is already back to 85 per cent. By end of FY 2021, it will be back to 100 per cent,” says Kailash Adhikari, business head for the (claimed) Rs 250 crore TV Vision, another music broadcaster.
Its Hindi music channel Mastiii is among the top ten.
9X and Mastiii, however, are the exceptions not the rule in the music market.
Why music television lost its mojo?
As business head for Sony Sab, Max and Pal, Neeraj Vyas handles some of the most popular and profitable channels for the Rs 6,425 crore Sony Pictures Networks. In 2011 he launched Sony Mix.
“At that time the trend was a music channel played 7-8 songs in an hour, the remaining time was spent airing (free) trailers and ads. They licensed very few songs. The whole channel was about free play plus ad plus trailers,” says Vyas.
Sony Mix made deals with every major music label to license songs, did loads of wraparound content and actually made it to the top ten music channels in India. Yet in March this year, it was pulled off the air. Why?
“We did not make money. It was breaking even plus making a bit more, but it was not worth the effort,” reckons Vyas.
That is the first reason music television is struggling to find relevance in this new world – it is not big or profitable enough for the big boys to invest in. If like all genres ad revenues were in line with viewership share (5.5 per cent) music broadcasting would have got Rs 1,760 crore out of the Rs 32,000 crore advertisers spent on mass media in 2019. Yet it barely gets Rs 650 crore in advertising.
“Although it is one of the most unique and complicated products sold, music is still absorbed as a commodity,” says Palia.
“In today’s clutter, anything that gives me an additional reach is good. I look at it (music) as a GRP (gross rating point) contributor,” says Subha Sreenivasan Iyer, head, media services, Godrej Consumer Products.
“Being at the commodity end means advertising rates remain a pathetic Rs 600-700 per ten seconds compared to say Rs 800-1,400 on the radio. At those levels the economics make no sense,” says Vyas.
Licensing is about 50-60 per cent of the cost and distribution, a critical element since the genre is about reach and frequency is the second big head. To do one good well-rounded music channel costs about Rs 100 crore a year – the market simply doesn’t support those costs.
Unlike a Star or Sony, 9X and Mastiii are music-only broadcasters and are free-to-air. This focus and lower costs keep them nimble in a game where the big guys with higher costs can’t.
The cost part is key because “In the last 5-6 years value spent has not changed,” says Iyer.
Nor is it likely to given the competition. If an advertiser wants to reach young people through music his options range from Spotify, YouTube, Gaana and Saavn along with linear music channels.
That brings it to the second reason music TV is staring at irrelevance. When MTV and Channel [V] was hot,
“Lifestyle was very aspirational. At a very basic level you had to be told what is cool and uncool. VJs would tell you what you wanted. There has been a generational shift post the internet,” says Mandar Thakur, chief operating officer, Times Music.
He was part of the original Channel [V] team in the nineties.
“TV does not introduce me to new music any more. I know about it because of Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and can watch as much as I want and it is free. YouTube has ended up replacing every single music channel. The role of the intermediary is demolished. You don’t need VJs. Fans and artists are talking directly,” says he.
This then changes the economics of the business in so many ways. Of the 662 million Indians online, 405 are on some streaming service or the other. Some of the biggest streaming music services get between 100-130 million unique listeners. Of the Rs 1,500 crore the music industry made in 2019, about 70 per cent or Rs 1,000 crore comes from streaming. It is then bringing in a lot more than TV for music firms though TV reaches more people.
“The internet involves a lot of techs but at a far lower cost structure and can reach a wider market than TV,” says Thakur.
To the internet add various tariff orders from the regulator and the pandemic which did not see too many new releases. Then mix in the fact that
“In the last few years film music has gone down from 5-6 songs per film to only 1-2 songs – usually title track or background,” says Jailkhani.
Since film music still forms roughly 70 per cent of all that is sold, this move towards less music-oriented films, especially in Hindi, has hit music channels hard. Hindi and English bring in roughly half the viewership. Note that Tamil, Telugu and other languages have actually grown very well. (See chart)
To make up for the drop in Hindi, “We developed our own music label Spotlampe. In another 3-4 years we may not need outside content,” says Jailkhani.
In addition to its two Hindi music channels, 9X has Tashan (Punjabi) and Jhakaas (Marathi), plus it offers podcasts on every major streaming platform. Think of it as the kind of de-risking music channels did when they put general entertainment or reality shows like MTV Roadies on air.
Only this time the battle for viewers then has shifted from other channels and broadcasters to streaming and other formats. The fight for relevance continues.
Text by Vanita Kohli-Khandekar