Thursday, June 4, 2015

Danger ahead! Don't (re)RUN

In my last post I wrote about the economics of reality shows. In the same vein, let's explore the economics of re-runs on television. 

Some television shows are runaway hits. The only problem is, these shows don't run away; they don't even go away! They keep 'running' on one channel or the other. How many times have your seen Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan? 


And B.R. Chopra's Mahabharat? Whenever any channel buys the rights to a movie, it 'premieres' it. So we see a 'TV Premiere' of the same movie on several channels! The channels also go to the extent of advertising it on radio, newspapers and putting up large hoardings at premier locations for the motorists who drive to office daily. Why do we see these reruns at all? Afterall, audience is always hungry for something new to watch, to enjoy, and to pass time. Well, it's not as simple as that.

Television programmers favour reruns because of commercial as well as audience gratification. Reruns on television provide the audience a sense of nostalgia. Some people relate episodes to personal episodes in their life. For example, the moment I think of Ramayan, I get nostalgic, because it used to allow us to play cricket on the empty streets! 

I relate to the 'Samay' in Mahabharat, because I had received a tongue-lashing from my mom, for the 'samay' at which I had got up from bed - exactly when the 'Samay' in Mahabharat was explaining how Shakuni won the game for the Kauravas, and how it gave Mahabharat probably the most important twist in the story - I also got my ear twisted! Everyone who watches a rerun, probably remembers something from the past, making watching it enjoyable.


But there are commercial reasons too. In my last post, I touched upon the economics of reality shows. The cost of syndication of a rerun is almost minimal, arguably even lesser than producing an unscripted reality show. Producing an original programme requires money for every new episode and becomes a far more expensive proposition than reruns of older shows.

Also, for reruns of very popular shows, advertisers too don't hesitate in spending, as they are assured of a dedicated audience. Most channels now run 24X7. It is almost impossible for any channel to fill up 24 hours with original programming, all with new and original content. The channels have to rely on reruns, and repeats too. Though the reason for repeats is mostly to allow viewers to catch up with what they could not watch.

However, trends in television economics are fast changing. For popular shows, the cost of syndication has gone up. In some cases, reruns have failed to garner the required viewership ratings. Too many reruns have faded the excitement and the feeling of nostalgia. Moreover, popular shows have a rerun on one channel or the other, so viewers could have already watched a rerun. With so many channels, this should not come as a surprise. 

The other challenge to the business of reruns is the Internet and the mobile phones. Most popular serials are now available free online. They are also uploaded in a highly compressed format (to reduce data consumption), so viewers can watch them on their mobile devices while on the go. The ad revenue flows have changed over the last few years, with the Internet and mobiles eating into the revenue pie of the traditional media.

Being a media student, I cannot but wonder where this is heading to. One thing, though, is certain. The next few years will decide the future of economics of television, and revenue flows in the media business. And all this is happening when the Media, Entertainment and Advertising sector are growing at a CAGR of a whopping 13%. Don't believe me? Here's a link: