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India to have a healthy market for free-to-air channels

MUMBAI: As in all developed markets, India will also have a healthy market for free-to-air (FTA) channels. However, in order to effectively serve this market, the broadcasters need to understand the taste of these audiences and offer content that is tailor-made for them.

During a panel discussion on the topic ‘Free-to-air: Ready to take off?’ at the recently concluded TV.NXT event organised by afaqs.com!, the panelists discussed what the shape of the FTA market will be.

Bharat RangaZee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) chief creative officer Bharat Ranga stated that going forward the Indian market will be divided into three broad categories that are FTA, pay and premium segments. He also said that Freedish will offer pay channels going forward while multi-system operators (MSOs) will provide economy packages as part of their offering.

Media Content and Communications Services (MCCS) CEO Ashok Venkatramani alluded that FTA model is flawed as it is difficult to survive just on ad revenue. He said that subscription model is the key to create good content.

He also said that the cost of reaching incremental audience on Freedish is costly. Over and above that, the content created by the broadcaster doesn’t gel with the profile of a Freedish customer.

ashok venkatramani

Venkatramani echoed that the FTA model is unsustainable for a two-channel network unlike big networks like Star and Zee. “Do the one- or two-channel networks have the staying power to be there and build a model?” he asked.

Ranga, however, held that there is a market for FTA channels. He gave the example of Zee Anmol which was launched following a lot of research about the taste of the audience in those markets rather than just repeating content played on the flagship channel.

He also said that FTA channels will provide good opportunity to advertisers as these channels will be carried by the platforms without any disruption unlike pay channels that get switched off often whenever there is a dispute during the renewal of agreement.

Ranga pointed out that the FTA channel can act as a window for customers about Brand Zee. A customer will sample Zee content through Zee Anmol and then graduate to Zee TV as a pay customer.

“I would like to capture them at all stages,” he averred.

TarunReliance Broadcast Network Ltd (RBNL) CEO Tarun Katial said that there is a need to differentiate FTA channels from the mainstream pay channels. Advertisers, he said, are willing to pay delta to penetrate rural India and reach consumers in media-dark areas.

He also said that Freedish is a perfect distribution platform for broadcasters who want their channels to reach media-dark areas in the North, where media penetration is low. In terms of geo-targeting of consumers, he said that cable TV was in a much better position to do geo-targeting than Freedish.

Katial also said that it is essential to get both platform-wise and market-wise data. Giving the example of radio, he said that when RAM started providing market-wise data, listenership went up and so did the volume of advertising and rates. Radio stations in Mumbai and Delhi get far better rates than many national news channels, he pointed out.

LV KrishnanTAM Media Research CEO LV Krishnan said that there is ample scope for broadcasters to entertain Freedish customers as they have more time for content consumption due to absence of other media platforms that are there in urban markets.

He, however, noted that the downturn is the power outage. That can be resolved by linking dish manufacturing unit with inverter manufacturers to ensure regular supply of electricity, he suggested.

Sharing the findings of TAM’s research, Krishnan stated that five years ago 4.5 to 5 members of a family used to watch a movie during the primetime, which has dropped to 3.8 members; however, the repeat of the movie is watched by 1.5 members. The broadcasters, he said, are segmenting without forcing it on the subscribers.

RK Swamy Media Group SVP K Satyanarayana said that platform is immaterial as long as it allows advertisers to reach their target audience. He also asserted that Freedish provides 10 per cent incremental reach. There is much more scope to monetise it further, he added.