Sam Balsara, a wise and thoughtful observer and commentator on the communications industry, speaking at the Subhas Ghosal Memorial Lecture a few weeks back...
Sam Balsara, a wise and thoughtful observer and commentator on the communications industry, speaking at the Subhas Ghosal Memorial Lecture a few weeks back, remarked that a generation had shrunk from about a decade to seven years or less. By that reckoning, we are now with the fourth ‘post-Doordarshan’ generation. What is the singular, defining variable that charts the evolution of Television during this post-90’s era? Choice.
Doordarshan was the very epitome of TINA (there is no alternative). If you desired audio-visual content, be it news, entertainment or education, DD was your solitary destination. It took a war to begin the long, and still continuing, transformation of television.
Operation Desert Storm, the war against Saddam Hussain’s Iraq regime, began with the bombing of Baghdad by Coalition forces on the night of January 17, 1991. With ghoulish fascination, we saw our black & white television screens light up with a hundred starbursts, almost like fireworks at Diwali. The horrors of the hapless victims in Iraq provided the trigger, a particularly unfortunate metaphor, given the circumstances, for the explosive growth (more unfortunate metaphor there) of the Indian television market.
Time passed. Liberalisation brought higher standards of living and literacy to hundreds of million Indians, and propelled the demand for more, better, diverse idioms of information and entertainment.
Supporting the investment to grow the supply side needed sensible revenue models that combined subscription and advertising. The former needed addressable and conditional signal distribution. The latter required trustworthy audience measurement that would enable placing fair value on broadcasters’ inventories.
In 2015, we have the benefit of both. Analog distribution is being rapidly replaced by digital, addressable systems that simultaneously expand choice and facilitate subscription. BARC has built an all-India viewership panel that, for the first time, picks up the huge viewership in rural India as well. Finally, the ubiquitous mobile has morphed into a very capable, personal content consumption screen.
In recent times we have seen a spate of launches in the ‘infotainment’ genre. Food, travel, fashion, gadgets and personal appliances; they are all getting their own content spaces. If broadcasters are venturing into such genres, catering to very narrowly defined interests, they do so recognising that the audiences are splintering around their personal preferences. They are emboldened by addressability and measurement that ensure monetisation — provided that viewers bestow their fickle attention on the offering.
More than 600 million Indians watch television. Less than 1000 channels currently broadcast to them. That is a channel for every 6 lakh Indians. Let us put that in perspective. Slovenia, a country of 2 million people, offers 43 channels giving an average of a channel for every 43,000 people. Remember that 97% of its population is from just one ethnic group, the Slovenes.
Our cultural and linguistic diversity, the ability to deliver content to personal screens (the mobile), addressability, measurement and continuing improvement of economic conditions for millions, coupled with a more investor-friendly, deregulating environment are a potent recipe for much more diversity and ever sharper content differentiation in India.
The author is principal, Provacateur Advisory