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Prime time’s big time

Television prime-time has increased the number of hours it straddles across television channels, remaining important for mass brand advertising, reports Saurabh Turakhia.
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON OCT 09, 2007 11:58 PM IST

First it was from 9 pm-10 pm. Then some felt 9:30-10:30 pm was better. Some even thought 8:30 pm was a good time to begin… As channel numbers expanded, so did the definition of prime-time slots on television. Even today, the start of prime time can vary across channels and weekends.

Moreover, live cricket coverage and some reality shows draw huge audiences irrespective of time. Many advertisers also opt for specially brand-designed programming deals. Consequently the question that raises its head is: is prime time losing its relevance for viewers and advertisers? The answer lies in the definition of prime time, perhaps.

Paritosh Joshi, president, advertising sales & distribution, Star India Pvt. Ltd., explains it in consumption terms: “The real prime-time, when the whole family sits together to watch television, is between 7 pm-10:30 pm.”

TAM data shows that prime-time stretches between 8 pm and 11:30 pm. Rahul Welde, GM media services, Hindustan Unilever Ltd, says, “The whole notion of prime-time is changing. It is now extended, starting earlier and ending later. It continues to attract more viewers and thus forms a critical component of the advertising mix.” All HUL brands advertise at prime-time, he says, adding, “over the years, afternoon prime has also become important.”

Joshi reasons that broad-based or mass brands will always need prime-time to reach out to a wider audience. High end or specialised brands may need to find more specific channels or programming, is the consensus.

Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar Universal, says, “Prime-time is still the backbone of the advertising plan. Big advertisers enter into a comprehensive deal, of which prime-time would be an important factor. In terms of the quantum of time, it is more than 50 per cent and in terms of value, it is definitely higher than 80 per cent.”

Chandradeep Mitra, president, Optimum Media Solutions, points out that despite a slight dip in the effectiveness of prime-time content viewership, it still delivers. True, popular reality shows or live cricket coverage may bring a channel the occasional spike (see table B), but prime-time delivers consistently.

According to Zarina Mehta, the CEO of UTV’s new youth entertainment channel, Bindass, “Prime time helps a quick build-up of reach and and also awareness.” Yet, she concedes, “today, there is a optimal mix of prime and non-prime taking place, with new channels adding on to incremental day-parts and incremental viewers.”

The traditional prime-time, she adds, is no longer the only time band that gives “reach-building gross rating points. Hence, prime time will be defined by each target audience and day-part.”

Pointing to TAM data, she says the traditional prime time forms just 19 per cent of the total day-part of 18 hours that is sold. In terms of ad duration, data for July 2007 and April 2007 (see table A) show that prime-time attracts 24 per cent of the total duration.

Television still rakes in big revenues through advertising. Mitra says,“In value terms, it is close to Rs 6,000 crore, of which general entertainment channels such as Star, Sony and Zee contribute Rs 2,000 crore. A 10-second spot on a GEC like Star, Sony or Zee may be anywhere in the range of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh.”

Joshi feels that television and more specifically, prime-time advertising, will continue to be important in India, which is largely a single television household market. “TV sales are rising annually. India has 70 million cable & satellite homes and 120 million TV homes, out of a total of 200 million-plus homes. There is scope for further penetration.”

Significant growth of specialised channels will take a long time. GECs with their prime-time fare will continue to dominate.

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