Sunday, 26 February 2012

Take a Break..!

Amitabh Bachchan’s, sometimes humorous, sometimes anecdotal small talk to the participants of Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), was put to good use in the latest season of KBC. One of it was just before the commercial break when Amitabh appealed to the viewers, “Aap kahin jaiyega mat, hum bas abhi wapas aaten hain” (don’t go anywhere as KBC will be back soon).
From their humble beginnings in 1980’s, commercial breaks now have an identity of their own and are raison d’etre for over 600 television channels. Nestle India sponsored the first soap on Indian Television, paying for the telecast and production fee of Hum Log in return of 5 minutes of commercial time on Doordarshan, aka DD to advertise its brands, especially, Maggi Noodles. Until the arrival of 90s, people kinda enjoyed watching commercials and most of it registered in people’s mind (remember! Bombay Dyeing, Vicco, Charms, Nirma Detergent, Hajmola et al.), the credit goes to DD (the only one in the race) and of course to few brands (hence limited number of ads) in a given category, because of which certain brands established during the early years of television still enjoy an iconic status today.
Much of the TV programming landscape changed in the beginning of 90’s, when satellites began to beam private TV channels into India (STAR; FYI STAR is an acronym for Satellite Television Asian Region, MTV, Zee etc.). During the good old days of DD, no one ever imagined that segments of news could also be sponsored, but satellite channels turned most of the established wisdom over its head.
However, one thing that remained constant during all the advancements in consumer and broadcast technology was the commercial break. Sometimes big, sometimes small (1 minute/2 minutes/eternal breaks!), sometimes with an element of “intelligence” (marketers love to call it interactive ads viz. catch the number of times a particular ad is shown, SMS the secret code during the commercial break, etc. etc.), the only intelligent people over here being the advertisers and broadcasters, getting the metrics that  they want for measuring the effectiveness of their ads and making the viewer spend for each SMS (the all too famous tip “The more you SMS the greater are your chances to win”).
Off late, broadcasters have made the wait during the commercial breaks much easy, by showing a timer, indicating the time to return to the program (am yet to see this timer being sponsored, I hope watch brands read this post!). Contextualization has also set in; recently saw the ad of a broadband service provider on a movie channel just before the return to the movie with a download progress bar captioned as ‘now playing’.
No matter how much we rue them; commercial breaks keep the programming alive and are a major source of revenue to broadcasters. Especially for free to air channels (even in the case of pay channels, the ratio of revenues from advertising to subscription is approx. 80:20), that do not earn any subscription revenue, advertisements keep them going.
India’s advertising to GDP ratio of 0.35% (lower than US, UK and China), is approximately half of the global average of 0.75% thus indicating an increase in the advertising spend as the economy grows.
As the phrase from the evolutionary theory rightly puts it “survival of the fittest”, the ads or commercial breaks that are high on IQ (Innovation Quotient) will continue to register in our minds and won’t be rued by us, the rest will fall by the side. So….you tell me, break banta hai?

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