The Digitisation Bonanza

Written by Shashi Arora | Updated: Feb 26 2013, 09:05am hrs
I often wonder whether any of us seriously realise the impact television makes on our daily lives!

TV, to a great extent, governs the choices we make in life, be it the next dandruff-free shampoo, the healthiest butter or the most effective anti-ageing cream. Televisions unmatched reach, mass popularity and strong visual impact makes it one of the most popular medium ever for advertising and brand engagement. Even as a single channel Doordarshan defined consumer preferences in the 80s. Later, the cable TV of the 90s with its 100-plus channels offered multiple choices to the viewers for the first time in the history of Indian TV. And today, as our choice of products and brands multiplies manifold times, the humble cable-powered television too is graduating to an entertainment medium that provides an enhanced viewing pleasure offering better picture clarity and much wider content.

According to some estimates, by end of 2013, half the worlds TV sets (approximately 636 million households) will receive digital TV signals, and India is expected to emerge as the largest direct-to-home (DTH) market in the world touching 100 million subscribers by 2018. Digitisation has, indeed, provided the much-needed impetus to the cable and satellite industry, and provided customers a wider choice of channels, enhanced viewing pleasure, and an interactive experience all integrated in a single screen. As the industry rolls out the digitisation agenda, it has spun a revolution that transcends the third screen to an infotainment platform from a pure entertainment one, and opens avenues for marketers to micro-target their customers with well-defined preferences and consumption patterns.

While the customer gets a wider choice of content and a preferential set of channels, the digital onset has concurrently opened a new, innovative avenue for brands to engage with their market audiences. The now-aborted release of the movie Vishwaroopam by Kamal Haasan on the DTH platform alongside its theatrical release was one such innovation that would surely see light of the day someday in some form or the other. The concept, first of its kind in India, opens up a new era for DTH, television and the entertainment industry. It opens up opportunity for other film producers to release their films, especially small-budget or niche films on DTH targeting well-defined, vernacular, and/or geographically-segregated audiences.

Digitisation will help drive away the current sample size based TRP system to a more accurate television audience measurement (TAM) rating, and advertisers would be able to rely more on the viewing pattern of the audience in the future. Apparently, an audience measurement system linked to DTH set-top boxes that receive live viewing info using a 3G dongle attached to the set-top box has already been test-piloted and is awaiting commercial rollout. Such a transparent, reliable measurement system can remove any ambiguity in the channel-viewing pattern of the targeted audience while generating more granular data in the form of state-wise, urban-rural, metro-non metro viewing patterns and generating new information on TV viewing time, day-part viewing analysis, etc.

The default channel or the landing page of a DTH set-top box offers a highly effective, new-age medium for advertisers aiming to grab eyeballs and reach out to a wider audience cutting across demographic, geographic barriers. Every customer who switches on the set-top box spends the initial few minutes on the loading channel and the advertiser gets the viewers undivided attention in those few moments. Live streaming of a new soap opera, trailer of a Bollywood movie or highlights of an awards ceremony are some more uses this medium can be used for in days to come.

DTH players, in a bid to differentiate their product offerings from digital cable, are now focusing on customised interactive services on their platforms. Going forward, these interactive services can be used for brand communication aimed at the already segmented TV audience. Pay Per View (PPV) movies is another unique concept ushered in by the DTH operators. While on one hand it plays a pivotal role in encouraging consumption of legal (non-pirated), censor-approved content amongst Indian movie goers, it simultaneously offers an additional communication platform for sponsors and advertisers. Going forward, it may not be too difficult to imagine vernacular movies too being carried on PPV enabling regional advertisers to claim a slice of this pie.

Indias growing affluence has changed the TV viewing dynamics with most households now having more than one television set, one for the living room and one for the kids room. This has brought in a slew of niche channels that are targeted at specific consumer segments such as teenagers, kids, golf enthusiasts, food/ cookery channels, travel addicts, etc. Digitisation would allow these niche channels to flourish and help cater to specific demands of these consumer segments in a more meaningful way for advertisers. The changing affluence levels also mean that an overwhelming majority of TV sets sold today are high-definition (HD) televisions. With this proliferation of HD television sets, availability of 20-odd HD channels, and a near 2-million HD signal receivers in the market, this high-end consumer base, that was hitherto only accessible through elite fashion magazines or through direct marketing efforts, can now be be tapped by high-street luxury brands.

While the avenues and opportunities opened up by digitisation for marketers are multifarious, many of these are new, innovative and, as yet, untested. However, thats exactly the juncture from where the fun of marketing and brand advertising commences!

The author is CEO, DTH/media, Bharti Airtel