Regional cable TV has evolved into a strategic and sophisticated marketing option that is not only effective but delivers tremendous value for money
By Sharad Alwe
As marketers draw up advertising plans, what’s often under-represented is cable TV – especially the regional variety. The consumer preference for it and its return on investment is not always understood. Today, if 5% of the monthly TV advertising budget can deliver more than 15% of unique homes in India, cable TV is worth exploring for marketers looking to optimise media planning.
To understand why cable TV – especially its regional component – makes sense for advertisers, we must go back to the New Tariff Order (NTO) 1.0 introduced by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
It raised eyebrows because of its costlier schemes, but it enabled consumers to subscribe to only the channels they wanted. It was implemented to reduce monthly household subscription costs but it also created a gap between marketers and consumers, restricting brand reach and return on investment.
To analyse its implications, we leveraged more than 25 years of expertise and on-ground relationships to connect with multi-service operators across India for data on 50 lakh homes. We found:
- From 600+ channels pre-NTO, the average dropped to 130 channels per household
- Over a 75% drop in channel count per household
- The top selected categories were general entertainment channels (GECs), movies and news
- Subscriptions shrank more than 50% for GECs and 55% for movie channels
Suddenly, TV households have been dynamised because every neighbourhood has a unique channel mix. The attempt to make consumption linear through per-channel pricing was unreasonable given the diversity of India, its population and choices.
In such a scenario, if an advertiser makes a regular satellite TV plan, it would be complicated for measurement agencies to garner actual reach as the channels’ base universe itself has plummeted. They will face challenges while factoring in the dynamics across 197 million unique TV households, finding out channel availability or subscription across them, and other uncertainties.
New challenges for media planners and advertisers
With NTO implementation, 100% reach among the target audience is a concern for advertisers. This is nightmarish for planners, impacting campaign deliveries and market responses. As channel availability dropped across households, the focus shifted towards channel availability over viewership or reach. All this changed the on-ground market dynamics by:
- Creating ambiguity among advertisers and planners, and making measurement tricky
- Creating a tussle for commercial time on leading channels and shows among top advertisers
- Adding to the struggles of mid-level and lower level advertisers
- Raising hurdles in the communication reaching the maximum number of unique households
- Raising the cost of advertising for top channels due to their consumer content affinity
The rise of regional content
The churn in the landscape has resulted in regional genres and content rising to the top. More than 70% of the country does not live in metros. The non-metro consumers’ top priority is their preferred regional channels followed by topical channels based on big-ticket shows/event/properties. This validated the argument that people prefer channels on which content drives relevance and relatability.
The many implications of the pandemic
COVID-19 has made the churn more intense, restricting brand reach and mapping India into green, orange and red zones – based on the virus’ incidence – with unique regulations across each. National and state-level media planning has been impacted due to the cost and brand communication spillage, prompting advertisers and media planners to adopt reach-focused planning more meticulously.
So, brands have a choice to make. With the uncertainty swirling around consumer homes, channel subscriptions and measurement, what is the way ahead? Reach-based advertising is an effective solution. If a platform or medium can add to a set of unique households in the marketer’s plan, then it’s viable. If it delivers these unique households at minimal cost and spillage, then it’s a must.
What advertisers need
With uncertainties and geographical challenges emerging, it is imperative that brands and advertisers:
- Deliver geotargeted communication due to the strict COVID-19 restrictions
- Deliver regional, relevant and relatable content
- Ensure 100% availability/reach/presence
- Add unique households to media plans, ensuring maximum brand communication exposure
Regional, the right choice
Regional cable TV can provide many of the answers to the questions raised above.
Today, if advertisers want to plan campaigns for regional or media-dark markets, regional cable ensures an average of 7-15 lakh additional unique households more than satellite TV.
For example, most brands prefer regional cable TV for strong markets like the North-East and Assam (NESA) circle – mainly due to current satellite offerings being restricted to Assam. Regional cable has unique channel offerings across all eight north-eastern states and adds 5-7 lakh unique households’ connectivity over regular plans.
The catch, however, is that current measurement numbers for NESA are derived from samples within a single district, Guwahati, misrepresenting eight states and more than 80 districts. So, when marketers look for a regional connect, they must go beyond viewership to look at regional cable TV, which offers 100 channels for NESA and a reach of more than 30 lakh.
In media-dark Uttar Pradesh, primarily driven by Hindi-speaking market channels, cable TV still delivers a reach of more than 10 lakh unique households. In established regional satellite markets like Maharashtra and West Bengal, cable TV adds 5 lakh unique homes.
For brands to connect with their audiences efficiently, it’s vital for them to reach regional households. This is where regional cable and a narrowcast platform can help them customise communication plans efficiently and cost effectively.
A narrowcast platform provides marketers and media planners with:
- A default set of channels with fresh, regional, relevant and relatable content
- 100% availability across the cable TV universe
- More than 60% of TV homes across India
- Free-to-air channels from inception
So, why the scepticism?
Marketers or planners are uncertain about cable TV, primarily because of non-measurement which also reflects in mediums like outdoor, cinema and activation where the real measurement of success or response is challenging to arrive at.
How cable TV has evolved
From essentially beaming movies only, regional cable TV has emerged as a full-fledged network with multi-genre offerings.
The 275 hyper-local news channels, which have their own production and reporting teams, provide a unique service to districts and communities, especially during such times when on-the-spot information is vital. The content is locally relevant and available in the local language.
With more than 60% reach among TV homes pan-India, this platform also offers prime set-top box solutions like Bootup, EPG, Volume and Menu Bar. These solutions are applicable across all subscribed channels, are set-top box-centric and channel-agnostic.
Given what it offers in terms of targeting, relevance and – most important – reach, it’s about time media planners understood the value of cable TV for their clients. It has evolved into a strategic and sophisticated marketing option that is not only effective but delivers tremendous value for money. As consumer preference gets tougher to retain and marketing budgets come under tremendous pressure, there couldn’t be a better solution for advertisers.
The author is co-founder and CEO of Update Geotarget.