Mumbai: 2021 was the year of the paradox. The return of LIVE sports and original programming on TV continued to attract new and more advertisers to the medium ensuring a phenomenal growth in ad volumes over 2020 and 2019. While it seemed like the marketers catering to ‘revenge buying’ consumers were on a ‘revenge spending’ spree, the decline in ad rates that had set in as a result of the pandemic, failed to rationalise through the year except towards the end of the festive season.
Effectively, this meant that despite the economic recovery, positive consumer sentiment, availability of fresh content, and willingness of advertisers to spend, the 2021 AdEx could not reach pre-Covid levels. The negative trend was witnessed across categories.
According to the third edition of Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India’s yearbook titled ‘The Year After 2019’, TV viewership grew by nine per cent in India in 2020. Yet given the circumstances, advertisers reeling under economic losses used the medium either sparingly or judiciously, mainly to maintain brand recall in anticipation of the reopening. With re-runs of old shows dominating the scene, almost all of television was functioning on a second-tier channel level in the context of content as well as ad rates.
Picking up from the previous festive, 2021 began on a positive note with some fresh programming and the IPL motivating advertisers to place bigger bets on the medium. The second wave in May-June, however, postponed this recovery to the second half. Even as the rush of new FTA channels launched in 2020-21 and regional ones were making a significant contribution to ad volumes, broadcasters were now equally focussed on achieving pre-Covid ad rates.
In addition to leveraging their leading IPs to negotiate a ‘fair’ deal once again, channels sought to up the ante with new shows (fiction and non-fiction) and seasons, as well as with LIVE sports programming. According to media planners, AdEx recovery started from July, surpassing 2019 levels in September-October. Contingent upon the possibility and severity of the third wave, it is hoped that this momentum aided by government spending on election campaigns until March 2022, will very soon lead to a full-fledged recovery for the industry.
Content makes a comeback
The efficient content strategy of regional adaptations like Star Plus’ ‘Anupamaa’ and ‘Ghum Hai Kisikey Pyaar Meiin’, and reruns implemented by broadcasters to tide over the pandemic turned out to be a success. Buoyed by the TRPs of the reruns, many channels brought back their popular shows and stars with new seasons and narratives in 2021.
While ‘Sasural Simar Ka’ and ‘Balika Vadhu’ returned on Colors, SET launched season two of its popular series ‘Kuch Rang Pyaar Ke Aise Bhi’ and ‘Bade Achhe Lagte Hain’. Star Plus came up with the new edition of ‘Sasural Genda Phool’. After premiering the second season of ‘Saath Nibhanaa Saathiya’ in October 2020, the channel also re-launched the much-loved mother and daughter-in-law duo of Giaa Manek and Rupal Patel in ‘Tera Mera Saath Rahe’ (August 2021). Star Bharat chipped in with ‘Mann Kee Awaaz Pratigya 2’ in March.
Beginning the year with ‘Teri Meri Ikk Jindri’, Zee TV introduced six new fiction shows this year and a history-based series ‘Kashibai Bajirao Ballal’. On the non-fiction front, apart from bringing back ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’, it launched the new music league championship ‘Indian Pro Music League’. ‘Dance Deewane’ on Colors TV, ‘Dance Plus’ on Star Plus, ‘Super Dancer’ on Sony TV further added to the non-fiction list. Bringing new formats to the reality TV genre were Colors’ visual-based quiz show 'The Big Picture' hosted by Ranveer Singh and SET’s business reality television series 'Shark Tank'.
Return of LIVE sports
The return of LIVE sports further bolstered the recovery, with a host of new advertiser categories banking on TV to build reach. Whether it was the cryptocurrency brands, gaming, ed-tech or D2C brands, Television saw the ad volume rise across channels. While the 14th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was halted mid-way due to the second wave, it made a comeback in September, with the T20 cricket World Cup. It was followed by the India-New Zealand Test series.
The year also saw other major sporting events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics which was held amid Covid restrictions, and set the stage for India’s spectacular performance across different sports. Not only did India win its first-ever Gold in Athletics (Neeraj Chopra), it witnessed brilliant performances in Hockey, Boxing, as well as weightlifting. Over 48 million viewers watched EURO 2020 on its official broadcaster Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN), as per the data shared by the network for its entire coverage of the first 36 matches of the tournament from 11 to 25 June.
Then, there was the India-England Test cricket series, ICC World Test Championship Finals in June, India-Sri Lanka series, India-Australia women’s cricket series. The year ended with the return of the Pro-Kabaddi League (PKL) in Bengaluru.
Phenomenal recovery in ad volumes
An analysis of Barc’s monthly data reveals that TV showed a strong recovery in ad volumes since the beginning of 2021, and a noticeable growth over 2020 and 2019 levels. In 2020, TV ad volumes contracted by three per cent over 2019. However, in 2021, ad volumes grew over the last two years for most of the months except March (data not shared), May which saw a marginal de-growth of 3.5 per cent, and December (data unavailable).
Also read: October records highest TV ad-volume in 2021
According to media planners, the growth in ad volumes was supported by the launch of new channels in 2020 and 2021 which led to an increase in inventory on TV. Several new channels were launched to cater to the free-to-air audience including Ishara TV (FTA), Dhinchaak TV (FTA), Enterr10 Rangeela (FTA), Sun Marathi (FTA), Zee Pichar (Pay), Zee Thirai (Pay), Shemaroo TV (FTA), DD Retro (FTA), Dum TV Kannada (FTA), Azaad TV (FTA), Colors Cineplex Bollywood (FTA), Dhinchaak 2 (FTA), Republic Bangla, Times Now Navbharat HD (Pay), ET Now Swadesh and Gubbare TV.
Regional channels also scripted their growth story in 2021, with several Southern languages, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, and Bhojpuri recording a consistent growth in ad volume, not only over 2020 but also 2019 levels. In Q3’21 (July-August-September) almost all language channels saw growth over Q3’19.
While the launch of new channels increased the advertising inventory on TV, their contribution to the overall spend is not significant, according to media planners.
Another reason for growth in ad volumes on TV is the emergence new advertisers in the second half of 2021. As per Barc data, in H1’21 FMCG advertisers dominated on TV accounting for 65 per cent share of the total ad volumes (springing back to action, were also hit by the pandemic, ad spends not as before). But starting from July new categories (compared to H1’21) started advertising on TV. The data for Q3’21 shows that new advertisers comprised 54 per cent of TV ad volumes compared to 41 per cent in 2020 and 45 per cent in 2019. (Note – new advertisers: not present in previous quarter). Similarly, new advertisers had 22 per cent (not present in Jan-Sept) and 19 per cent (not present in Jan-Oct) share of total TV ad volumes in October and November, respectively.
The AdEx paradox
A like-for-like comparison of top channels on TV show the AdEx trend for 2021 compared to the last two years. The graph below shows that TV ad spends began recovering in July and only increased over 2020 and 2019 levels beginning in August.
Why compare only the top channels? “The 80/20 principle applies to TV where the top 20 per cent channels get 80 per cent of the ad spends,” explained a media planner. “It was only in the second half of the year that we saw AdEx recovery starting from July, with spends matching 2019 levels during the months of September-October. Otherwise, most of the year was lagging in terms of spends compared to 2019, except in April during IPL, just before the second wave of Covid-19 struck.”
According to E&Y estimates, TV advertising revenues declined by 21.5 per cent in 2020 from Rs 320 billion to Rs 251 billion. The Madison Advertising report estimates that TV AdEx was down by 11 per cent. (Note: TV advertising revenues is different from TV AdEx; TV AdEx may look only at top channels to exclusion of others)
“The festive period this year has given the much-needed boost to businesses across sectors, including the television industry,” remarked Carat India vice president – digital media planning Megha Ahuja. “The strong growth was driven by two sporting events (IPL and ICC T20 World Cup), GECs and news.” Ahuja expects this growth in AdEx to continue for the next couple of months. “We have elections next year. The government has already started spending on ads, and will continue to do so till March 2022,” she reckoned.
According to OMD Mudramax senior partner–client lead Sri Harsha, TV adex is expected to make a complete recovery by the end of 2021 and show slight growth over 2019 Adex levels, despite, most of the advertisers losing first-quarter advertising due to Covid second wave.
“Advertisers still acknowledge the fact that TV is the go-to medium for mass reach. Gone are the days when FMCG, Telecom, Auto, BFSI & Consumer durables contributed the lion’s share to the overall TV Adex. This scenario has changed with the advent of new categories like E-commerce, Fintech, Online education leveraging hugely on TV leading to the growth of Adex. A lot of advertisers are still in the anticipation of current news channels ratings which are not available for over a year now. This will help advertisers apportion definite budgets to news leading to the future growth of TV AdEx,” said Harsha, adding that the average time spent by the consumers watching TV hasn’t dropped either- maintaining 3.5 -4 hrs a day as per BARC - reinstating confidence among the advertisers.”