November 14, 2008 / 9:55 AM / 9 years ago

India TV viewers shop, sleep as soaps go off air

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - Television viewers in India are shopping, hitting the gym or sleeping early as an impasse between producers and workers in film and television over higher pay has forced broadcasters to air repeats of popular soaps.

<p>A man looks at television screens displaying India's Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram presenting the annual budget, at a consumer shop in Mumbai February 29, 2008. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe</p>

The lobby group representing thousands of workers in the film and television industry based in Mumbai is pressing for higher wages and more benefits that producers are unwilling to accept.

“There has been no progress in our talks,” said Dharmesh Tiwari, president of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, which represents about 150,000 workers, and which had struck work for several days last month, as well.

“They are asking us to reduce our demands, but we cannot tell or members to walk instead of taking a bus or eat less food.”

Broadcasters say they are themselves under cost pressure.

“The work disruption comes at the worst possible time (with) an economic downturn and advertising degrowth,” the top broadcasters said in a joint statement.

“Unless the dispute is resolved immediately, it will threaten the very survival of Hindi general entertainment as a category.”

RE-RUNS AND MORE RE-RUNS

Shoots in Mumbai, home to the Bollywood movie industry and the dominant Hindi-language general entertainment channels, ground to a halt more than two weeks ago, and broadcasters resorted to repeats of soaps and serials earlier this week.

“We’re hoping for an early resolution ... no one’s in a position to absorb any further cost increases,” said Keertan Adyanthaya, general manager of Star Plus, the top broadcaster and a unit of News Corp’s Star India.

Advertisers were supporting the broadcasters’ stand, he said, despite declining viewership for general entertainment channels, which account for about 35 percent of TV advertising revenue.

Television makes up more than 40 percent of advertising revenue in India, which is estimated at about $5.2 billion for 2008, according to research firm Media Partners Asia.

“A long-running dispute will have an adverse impact on ratings and advertising,” said Vivek Couto, executive director at MPA in Hong Kong.

Already, profits of broadcasters, who include such global names as Sony Entertainment, NBC Universal, Viacom and Turner International, are under severe pressure from growing competition, rising production and distribution costs, moderating ad revenue and caps on subscriber revenues.

For Amrut Mota, a homemaker, the crisis has hit home.

“The TV is my way to spend time ... now I am going for walks, doing yoga, going shopping and seeing friends to kill time,” said Mota, who would stay up till 11 p.m. watching her favorite soaps.

“There’s no fun in watching repeats.”

Reporting by Rina Chandran; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Miral Fahmy

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