India’s changing television landscape

Sunder Aaron

There are telling signs that momentum in the global pay-TV sector is slowing down. Consumers are increasingly cutting the cord and saying goodbye to their pay-TV subscriptions in favour of online streaming services. According to informitv’s latest Multiscreen Index of 100 leading subscription television service providers, global pay-TV subscriptions had an overall loss of 2.09 million worldwide in the third quarter of 2019. With shifting consumer behaviour and a multitude of online entertainment platforms on offer, traditional pay-TV providers now face strong competition for viewers. In order to be profitable, they must first win the battle to stay relevant.

Despite these wider global trends, India is thriving. Already one of the world’s largest pay-TV markets, its pay-TV revenues are projected to rise by six percent CAGR to hit $15 billion by 2024, remaining the highest growth and most scalable pay-TV market in the APAC region according to a 2020 report by Media Partners Asia.

Currently at nearly 200 million pay-TV households, we expect the market to continue its growth to at least 250 million households over the next few years. Pay-TV and linear channels will continue to remain an important medium for India in the years to come but it doesn’t mean that broadcasters should be complacent. With increasing media fragmentation, it is crucial for traditional pay-TV providers to recognise and respond to audiences’ changing preferences and consumption habits, particularly the high-value and tech-savvy ‘Young India’ demographic.

Young India

India has a unique demographic that makes it stand out from the rest of the world. Over half of its 1.3 billion population are under the age of 25, making India the home to the largest cohort of young people in the world. Let’s be clear: this means India is a nation of about 700 million young people with ambitions, interests, demands and consumption all here in one magnificent market. This doesn’t make the audience homogenous or easy to address, but it is a group that will provide an engine of growth for media companies for years to come.

Raised in the digital era, this is a new generation of consumers who have never known what it is like to be without internet and smartphones. They are always-on and always-connected and expect their choice of digital content to be available on any device, whenever and wherever they are. We call this the “Third Age of TV”, which characterises the disruption in the TV industry brought by mobile and streaming technology. In India, the First Age was marked by the domination of government owned television, Doordarshan; the Second Age began when private cable and satellite television channels erupted in the mid-nineties.

They don’t just watch TV; this generation makes and consumes video content watching or streaming from platforms such as YouTube and TikTok on a daily basis, with more than 265 million and 200 million users respectively, making India the largest and fastest growing market for both platforms. It is clear to see why India is an incredibly valuable market to invest in, in large part driven by this tremendous demographic. In fact, a surprisingly substantial portion of the recent US$72 billion acquisition price paid by Disney for News Corp. was ascribed to the Star India business. By many accounts it was valued at more than US$10 billion!

Short-form content on the rise

Our propensity to multitask in today’s digital age is reshaping how we consume media, which is especially evident amongst young people. From reading a WhatsApp message on a phone, to writing a new email, and switching back to watching a friends’ Instagram stories – all while being on a conference call at work – this generation is always engaging with multiple forms of media simultaneously. So it comes as no surprise that the popularity of short, snackable content is growing amongst this demographic – largely driven by social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.

For pay-TV to continue to be relevant for the Indian market, broadcasters and operators need to adapt to these evolving consumption habits and ensure they are investing in the right content and formats. They must offer curated programming that best serves Young India’s tastes.

Many forward-thinking broadcasters are already investing in short-form content to give themselves a competitive advantage amid an increasingly crowded market. Tata Sky and Jio TV are recent examples of TV broadcasters in India that have taken these necessary steps, bringing expertly curated web-first content to its offerings. Another example is the launch of Watcho by Dish TV India, created specifically with Young Indians in mind and primarily focused on short-form content. Watcho, as well as Airtel Wynk, has recently added The Q India to its lineup. This has boosted its offering to more than 1,000 hours of short-form content, which includes original shows, movies and short films.

Demand for regional content

Despite India’s obvious size, its significance also lies in its diversity across cultures and languages. To cater for and resonate with Young India’s broad range of audiences, pay-TV providers will need to take a fresh and innovative approach and explore opportunities to collaborate with local content creators and influencers.

Some of the biggest influencers in India include Kanan Gill, who has quickly grown his following on YouTube with his intelligent humour; Tanmay Bhat, known for his entertaining Snapchat videos and for producing the comical success show All India Bakchod; and Shirley Setia, said to be the next Bollywood sensation with her well-loved musical covers.

As the pay-TV market becomes ever more intense, identifying and working with local talents to produce original content will not only help media and entertainment services differentiate themselves but also build loyalty and trust with viewers. They have the advantage of being able to take in cultural values and nuances of local languages.

Made for mobile

More content is being consumed than ever before, but the ways in which this content is consumed have changed – a direct response to evolving audience behaviour. To engage with Young India and seize the opportunities this demographic presents, service providers must meet them where they are – on their phones. The lives of these digital natives are interwoven with their smartphones; they are spending over one hour a day watching (primarily short-form) video content.

The popularity of bite-sized videos made for viewing on our phones is not just a phase but a rapidly growing trend. Content service providers are all vying for our short attention spans and Quibi, the mobile short-form video platform developed by movie mogul, Jeffrey Katzenberg, is betting big on this trend. Quibi believes that young consumers want to watch more premium short-form content on mobile screens. For media and entertainment services targeting young audiences, it is becoming increasingly clear that investing in mobile-first programming is a must for those who wish to deliver the right content in a format that is compatible with the viewing preferences of Young India.

Going forward, as India’s pay-TV market continues its impressive growth rate, broadcasters must continue to innovate and collaborate with local talents to deliver fresh and snackable content to maintain this trajectory. In doing so, it can capture the attention of Young India and help underpin the continued growth of India’s pay-TV industry. If you are any kind of media company, let alone a TV channel, broadcaster, or digital platform, and you are not yet in India, then you’ve really got to reevaluate your global priorities.

(Sunder Aaron is co-founder and general manager of Q India. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of TelevisionPost.com)

You may be interested