Fight for eyeballs

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Published: November 18, 2014 1:27:28 AM

With the young urban Indian hooked onto online videos, television is scrambling to keep its flock together. From catch-up programmes for loyal viewers to add-on digital videos to channel apps and creating branded content online, broadcasters are looking at ways to re-build themselves as holistic media brands

PURVI Banerjee is a senior research executive with a top multinational company in Mumbai. Her long working hours ensure that she is unable to watch her favourite show Kumkum Bhagya at 9pm on Zee TV at least twice a week, if not more. Meanwhile, Pihu Banerjee, Purvi’s younger sister and a student of architecture in Kolkata, always ends up missing the first 15 minutes of her favourite show Tumi Asbe Bole on Star Jalsha at 7 pm despite her skipping the day’s last lecture so as to reach home before the show starts. So, what do the sisters do? While the older sister downloads the episodes of her favourite show for a weekend desktop relay marathon, the younger one watches the parts of the show she has missed on her tablet on her way to college.

Clearly, television content is no longer being consumed only within the four walls of the viewer’s living room. With internet penetration rising and smartphones becoming more ubiquitous in the country, the ecosystem for entertainment content in India is going through a massive churn. While the television screen continues to remain one of the primary modes of communication reaching out to 60% of the population, online videos are witnessing a steady surge in consumption even as internet penetration in India currently stands at about 16%. Take Coke Studio, for example. While the latest season of the show on MTV received lukewarm response on TV, it went on to garner more than 54 million views on YouTube and across social media platforms.

Says Deepak Jolly, vice president – public affairs and communication, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, “The content ecosystem in India is growing at a rapid pace wherein the multi-screen culture is slowly getting integrated in consumption patterns across the country. Here, the mobile device is starting to become a primary screen for viewing long-form video, thanks to bigger and better screens, faster processors and connectivity, and evolving consumer behaviour. This is exciting news for an advertiser as it is a great supplementary channel to reach our consumers.”

No doubt the broadcast industry in India is much more established and mature by virtue of being around for a longer time as compared to the video content industry which is more nascent and has grown on the back of  increased penetration of social media and branded content. “But one cannot ignore the fact that the video content consumption in India is growing at a scorching pace with the number of consumers increasing 100% in the past two years. Facebook and YouTube have been the key platforms driving this trend.  There is a undeniable trend of people preferring to watching visual content over textual content online,” says Sanjay Menon, vice president and India marketing services lead, SapientNitro, an interactive marketing, creative design and technology services agency.

TV or video?
By 2018-end, India’s internet user base is expected to touch 494 million as against 938 million TV viewers. That works out to 53% of the total number of TV viewers in the country in 2018 compared to 27% in 2013. This clearly indicates that digital media will only be more important in the scheme of things with online videos expected to be at the nucleus of this growth. Indians today watch close to five billion videos every month. According to market estimates, currently TV viewing in India is at 119 minutes per day while web and mobile video viewing is at 28 minutes per day. The average time spent on online videos has grown by as much as 27% in 2014 with a viewer watching 68.7 videos for a total of 431.5 minutes per month. That’s the time a housewife spends on religiously watching a daily soap every day of the week for one full month.
Advertisers are keenly watching how this game plays out. Video content today stands to be a boon for advertisers who are looking at cost effective ways to engage with the consumer with a very targeted brand message. This is because not only can their return on investment from video be analysed in terms of platform, geography and time period at a very granular level unlike television, it is also a much cheaper investment platform when compared to TV. “Online video content offers interactivity to advertisers. Consumers who watch these videos have the option to click the online ads and interact with the brand by virtue of being onto internet. TV does not offer that,” points out Swati Nathani, co-founder, Team Pumpkin, a digital marketing firm.

A recent report from internet analytics company comScore reveals that online buyers are 64% more likely to buy a product after watching a video. Also, market research company Nielsen claims that over 60% of marketers believe that videos will dominate their communication strategy moving forward. With the rise of video sharing, brands are looking for one-stop partners who can help them tap this opportunity. So what does this portend for the broadcast industry? Could online videos pose a threat to Indian broadcasters?

“To a large extent, yes, but only if networks continue to live the fantasy of being television broadcasters in their current form and not work toward building themselves as a holistic media brand,” says Roopak Saluja, founder and CEO of The 120 Media Collective, a company that creates communications solutions and content.

The online video industry can be considered a frenemy of the broadcast industry. Channels can easily move deeper into their consumers’ lives by using the digital platform wisely. The western world seems to have understood this quite well. On October 15, US-based broadcaster HBO announced that it would launch a stand-alone HBO streaming service in 2015. Consumers will not require a cable connection to watch the channel and HBO, meanwhile, can exhibit the power to break away from the cable bundle. HBO says that the platform will supplement its existing television business and target the 10 million homes in the US that have high-speed broadband connections but do not have a cable or satellite television connection.

“Just like the West, networks in India too cannot ignore the adoption of online videos into their ecosystem anymore. Be it broadcast or online, both run on distribution mechanisms. While TV’s reach is much higher than online videos today, the latter is surely fast catching up,” says Puneet Johar, CEO, To The New, an end-to-end digital services network specialising in social, mobile analytics, content and knowledge.

Is TV ready?
While broadcasters in India are still taking baby steps when it comes to the adoption of the digital video ecosystem within their own network strategies, they are starting to recognise the strength of this medium. Consequently, a few have started to include digital videos in their overall content strategy. For instance, as part of the audition process for Star Plus’ music reality show, India’s Raw Star, aspirants were asked to upload an “entertaining, and performance packed” video of their performances on either the India’s Raw Star mobile app, WAP site or on the website. The channel also released a special audition tutorial video with mentor-judge Yo Yo Honey Singh explaining the process of uploading an audition entry.

Says a top Star executive who did not wish to be named, “We are taking small steps as of now as we have realised that in the virtual world, the speed of consumption is very fast. So if we upload one episode from a popular series this week and the second episode next week, it would lead to development of resentment amongst viewers, therefore the idea of releasing smaller duration clips of 2-5 minutes now so that a consumer can sample the content.”

Suveer Bajaj, co-founder and director—media operations, FoxyMoron, a full service digital agency, says Indian broadcasters are beginning to pick up ideas from the digital platform and re-create those ideas into 22-30-minute television capsules. For instance, Pepsi MTV Indies, the indie pop channel from the MTV stable, launched a show in August called The List with stand-up comedian Varun Thakur as the presenter. The show has a comic take on videos doing the rounds on the internet and aims to bring the ‘many stupid online videos’ to the masses. “MTV Indies adopted The List by comedian Varun Thakur which serves as the perfect example to depict what has been inspired by YouTube and then replicated on television,” he says.

Again, for its first anniversary, movie channel &Pictures from the Zee stable launched a three-minute video to showcase how it celebrated its fans’ birthdays which coincided with the channel’s anniversary date. “The video was long and would have eaten up considerable airtime. YouTube, therefore, was the perfect platform for them. The video also involved stand-up comedians Ashwin Mushran and Amogh Ranadive to create gags live out of tweets from the audiences to promote their application ‘Dil Se’,” says Harikrishnan Pillai, founder-director, TheSmallBigIdea, a digital marketing agency and the digital agency for &Pictures.

TV and its trials
When it comes to viewing of video content online in India, most of the consumption has primarily been for ‘catch-up’. This means that most of the content viewed online are TV programmes which were put up by the channels on a website or YouTube. Consequently, the emergence of platforms such as Star Player and Sony Liv. No wonder channels such as Sab TV, Set India, Zee TV, Star Plus and Colors are among the top10 YouTube channels in India compiled by SocialBlade. But things could be changing soon. “With the new rules that say that TV channels can have only 12 minutes of advertising in an hour, there are likely to be more ads on TV that will mention ‘Watch the rest on YouTube’. The rule could also lead to the growth of ‘second screen apps’ to shift users to digital platforms. Eventually therefore, channels should be able to build a formidable online base for advertisers to get the added exposure through the channel’s digital outreach,” says Pillai.

Agrees Eklavya Bhattacharya, director, head—digital media, MTV India. “Online wins  as it removes geographical boundaries. Anyone can gain an audience on the internet with fantastic content irrespective of where the content is being shot and uploaded. We are seeing a global pattern where content is becoming global. Good content will get consumed everywhere. And therefore, a lot of players (individuals, production houses and media houses) including us are now creating content specifically for the web audiences,” he says. For the record, MTV has partnered with various advertisers to create branded content for the online space. Nano Drive with MTV, The Look (a style show for hair care) and Chase the Monsoon Season 2 are some of the examples that stand as testimonies to the above.

Since advertisers are viewing mobile as a scalable medium to reach their target audiences, a few TV channels in India have begun exploring this platform. History TV18 launched a second screen app across mobile platforms earlier this year with which viewers were able to see their chats live on-air via a ticker which leads to increasing user engagement with the channel. “As part of our efforts to stay relevant to the way audiences consume content, the most recent app updates include new features like VOD (video on demand) and live streaming,” says Sangeetha Aiyer, vice-president and head of marketing, A+E Networks-TV18 JV. “Changes in consumption patterns are a reality and and that’s why we chose to premiere the multiple Emmy-award nominated show The World Wars on the History TV18 app, one week before its TV launch,” she adds.

History TV18 also provides its content in the form of short format videos for clients that can be shared online on their social media pages. Content can be customised and packaged to fit the needs of sponsors.

Gautam Anand, director of content and operations, YouTube Asia-Pacific says that a new business model for archived shows is on the rise now
with partners making their archived shows available on the web. Therefore, given India’s cultural and language diversity, YouTube houses over 20,000 hours of TV content in six different languages—Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati, and Punjabi. “Over the last couple of years we’ve seen the development of a virtuous cycle. Our users attracted great content partners and that content in turn attracted more users and partners. Now all of that has attracted the advertisers. And this only means greater revenue opportunities for our content partners,” he says.

When it comes to gauging viewership potential, TV still scores over online videos. And that’s because TV has reach. Consequently, channels which are mass in nature and have appointment viewing at their helm, mostly general entertainment channels, will continue to thrive for a longer period despite the digital video threat. Also, since unlike developed markets, many households in India are still crossing the poverty line and into the middle class, television viewership for these mass channels will continue to thrive for a considerable amount of time. “But what online videos could immediately cannabalise are channels which are premium and niche in nature (read English entertainment and lifestyle channels) wherein appointment viewing does not create much traction and the socioeconomic class for which the content is served is consuming similar content heavily online as well,” says FoxyMoron’s Bajaj.

Era of collaboration
However, whether it is for now or later, broadcasters will have to soon start collaborating with the online video culture if they plan to reap long-term benefits. To begin with, media networks and channels already own and have access to a large library of premium content. By packaging this content in an interesting format and making it available online, broadcasters can reach potential new viewers through this evolving platform and get them to sample this content online, which could ultimately drive greater traffic to the channel. Meanwhile, given the massive experience they hold in content creation and production, they could also start experimenting with the craft of designing original content for online videos. While advertisers have understood that the digital medium is effective across demographics and geographies, content still remains the king and a good product still forms the groundwork on which monetisation follows.

“There is an immediate need for broadcasters to change their mindset. Not many broadcasters or media channels have a three-year vision. People are chasing quarterly, half-yearly and annual targets. Broadcasters need to accept that digital is the future. Evolution of content consumption has created a modern breed of screenagers who are consuming content across various screens. As a broadcaster you need to ensure you are engaging with your audience across all screens and platforms,” says Bhattacharya.

To be fair, online video content is still in its early stage. Broadband availability remains a challenge for mass adoption. Accessing content on-the-go is now cheaper, but speed still remains a constraint. Therefore, television still seems to have the time to craft its strategy around the online video ecosystem. However, if it wants to maintain its lead, it will have to start now.

“Online video advertising offers a cost-effective mechanism for achieving reach, primarily for a younger demographic. As digital consumption grows and measurement systems improve, the gap between digital video reach and broadcasting reach will narrow. However, for the foreseeable future digital will continue to trade at a discount until advertisers are convinced that digital can deliver a similar impact to broadcast,” says Jehil Thakkar, partner and head of entertainment and media practice, KPMG India. According to him, within the next two to three years, broadcasters will have to ensure that a parallel digital feed of their live broadcast content is available on select platforms to ensure that they remain competitive. “Catch-up TV available over the internet for subscribers and a native app for the channel for a multitude of platforms that seamlessly recognizes the users between when they are at home watching TV or when they are outside the home on a digital device are ways in which they could monetise their property,” he says. Otherwise, loyal viewers like Purvi and Pihu could soon be lost to them.

“Broadcasters need to accept that digital is the future.  They have to ensure they are engaging with their audience across all screens and platforms.”
Eklavya bhattacharya
Director, Head – Digital Media, MTV India

“The mobile device is starting to become a primary screen for viewing long-form video. it is a great supplementary channel to reach our consumers.”
Deepak Jolly
VP-Public Affairs and Communication, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia

“We chose to premiere multiple emmy-award nominated show ‘the world wars’ on the history tv18 app, one week before its TV launch.”
Sangeetha Aiyer
VP & Head of Marketing, A+E Networks-TV18 JV

With the new rule of 12 minutes of ads in an hour on television, there are likely to be more ads on tv that will mention ‘watch the rest on youtube’.”
Harikrishnan Pillai
Founder-director, TheSmallBigIdea

Catch-up television on the net for subscribers and a native app for the channel are ways in which broadcasters could monetise their property”.
Jehil Thakkar
Partner & head of entertainment & media practice, KPMG India

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