RadioandMusic
| 05 Apr 2020
Vh1 rides high on social media activity, diverse programming

MUMBAI: The English music channel space in India has been a fraught one, for long. Pioneers in the space turned mass Hindi within a short span and newer ones continue to struggle for a foothold.

Vh1, from the Viacom stable has weathered the digital storm and changing audience tastes successfully over the last decade. Understandably, VH1’s emphasis on social media helped the network, directly or indirectly, on the viewership front. The approach resulted into at least three million ‘likes’ on its Facebook page in six years so far, and 0.6 million followers on Twitter in the same period. (Note: VH1 has six times more followers on Facebook than its nearest competitor Pepsi MTV Indies). However, the latest data, according to BARC India, suggests that Pepsi MTV Indies garners more than twice the amount of weekly impressions (4.7 million) compared to VH1 (2.2 million).

The English music channels fight among themselves for a tiny share in the overall television viewership pie. Music on Television accounts for only 5.3 per cent of total viewership, according to BARC India, out of which only 2.6 per cent covers non-regional music. The precise data for English music channels continues to remain unanswered. Considering the dominance of Hindi music channels, the handful English channels’ viewership is unlikely to exceed one per cent.

VH1 manages to extend its consistent presence across the country and networks with the help of the strategic approach concerning its programming. Speaking to Radioandmusic.com, the Head of Programming English Entertainment at Viacom 18 Hashim D’Souza highlighted that the nature of programming, truly and simply, defines the success of any English music channel in a niche market like India. What distinguishes VH1 from its old and newly arrived competitors is the exclusive broadcasting opportunities for international award shows, concerts, reality shows and special events.

“Vh1 has evolved tremendously over the years, yet kept the core DNA of international music and pop culture intact. From being a simple non-stop block of music videos, we have always moved forward and introduced clutter breaking series like Driven, Unplugged, Fabulous Life, Pimp My Ride, major global awards and special events like the Grammys, American Music Awards, Genre based music like Hip Hop Hustle, Rock Rules, Dance 101. The focus is always to make International Music and Pop Culture relevant to our audience,” said D’Souza. ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in fact, surpassed all the biggest entertainment shows across English entertainment channels, he claimed.

Such relevancy becomes more crucial as the growth in the consumption of music streaming service serves to add to ‘outsider’ competition to this niche genre of television. But D’Souza claims that the rise in the competition from other forms of technology has only helped grow the base further and expand the category. “If anything, the viewership for Vh1 has only increased in the last year with the advent of new players,” he said.

However, the fall in viewership shares for non regional music channels from 3.2 per cent in 2014-15 to 2.6 per cent in 2015-16 draws a different picture. 9X0 – one of the VH1’s competitors in the Indian television space – followed an unique approach with its programming, and while the network’s Hindi music channel 9XM managed to break through the clutter and create an identity, its English music channel 9X0 still has not managed to create a significant impact. MTV Indies focused its energies more on the local talent, and its target audience ensured the channel’s specific growth and identity. Although Indies has extensively focused on the Indian music scene, VH1 boasts about venturing into the space even before other mediums and channels took the risk to experiment, “Vh1 has always had a clear focus on Indian artists within the programming. We have a platform called India Rules where we handpick and premiere the freshest new artists and videos from India,” says D’Souza.

Of the several initiatives VH1 executed throughout the decade, its original programming ‘Music Diaries’ continues to garner major traction and buzz on the channel and social media alike. The ‘special programming’ initiative allows VH1 to bank on the latest trends and occasions. “Whether it is a special day for David Bowie, or ‘Remembering Michael Jackson’ on his birthday, or premiering special programming for World Music Day, Vh1 has always taken the lead in creating special events on the channel. While the viewership does increase depending on the special programming, the buzz and traction that we create across our digital platforms increases manifold,” added D’Souza.

D’Souza clarifies that the patterns of original programming on the channel differs from phase to phase, and the huge consumption of electronic music has reflected on the channel through a series of EDM-focused shows like Dance 101. However, the channel has also focused on ‘mood-based programming’ that does not restrict the channel to a specific genre. “For example, we launched Vh1 Awesome Afternoons last year which is a music block that airs some of the best easy listening artists and videos. It has become one of our biggest properties since launch,” added D’Souza.

With the revival of Channel V and (possibly) MTV as youth-oriented music channels, the audience would definitely find revived hope in the music genre, however would the growth in viewership share extend to English music channels is a matter remain to be seen. But till then, be it Justin Bieber’s new single or the music video to an emerging folk band from Bengaluru, VH1 would continue to remain the go-to source for most English music consumers in India.