Traditional TV will need to reinvent itself to compete with OTT

MUMBAI: The over the top (OTT) platforms have posed a serious threat to traditional content distribution platforms in matured markets like the US. However, the general consensus among experts about the Indian market is that pay-TV and OTT will grow together as the market is huge and there are different segments to cater to. That said, the traditional will need to reinvent itself in order to compete with OTT.

The OTT vs TV was also a key point of discussion on the second day of FICCI Frames 2019. The topic of the panel discussion was ‘Dual Screen Addiction –Disruptive or Addictive! Will Broadcast and VoD Co-exist?’ Dissecting the issue threadbare were veterans from the media industry.

Star India president, head Hindi GEC Gaurav Banerjee said that he is in the business of curating stories and finding the best storytellers to make big, impactful stories. He feels that consumers and families should decide what stories they want to watch. There are also stories that one can watch alone. Also, some stories can run for hours but others just need 20 minutes. It is about consumers figuring what they want to watch and how. That is the world that companies like Star India is trying to create now, he stated.

He also noted that the advent of the VCR did not kill theatres. The Walkman did not kill radio. Streaming services will not kill TV. In Hindi Speaking Markets (HSM), TV penetration has still some room for growth as a large part of the country is still TV dark. They need stories and want entertainment and use it to make their lives better. It should not happen without a multi-generational conversation which is what TV can deliver.

For Banerjee’s company, the aim is to figure out what works best for the consumer whether it is TV or OTT. So the company created awareness that one does not need to wake up early to see a cricket series as one can watch it on Hotstar. Star’s focus area is to ensure consumers get to consume content at their convenience.

ZEE5 India CEO Tarun Katial said that monetisation is the key whether it’s TV or OTT. He does not think that digital streaming will end where it started from and we are just at the beginning. Segmentation and personalisation are what differentiates OTT from traditional broadcast. Users can discover content at your convenience and this will not go anywhere.

He said that there is TV the device, the platform, and content seen on TV like daily soaps. On OTT, TV type content gets consumed very heavily. If people watch a show on the large screen they will continue to do so as the large screen experience cannot be replicated on the mobile ever. Xiaomi, he said, has priced its 32 inch Smart TV lower than a premium phone. For him, the debate is not about content. It should be about linear versus video on demand (VoD).

Raj Nayak made the point that TV networks have to course correct to compete with digital content. Audiences are getting fragmented and audiences compare TV content with digital content. The tastes vis-à-vis the content are evolving. He noted that broadcasters have a play in OTT as well.

“I am a big believer that television is here to stay. For families in small towns in the evening, the television comes on. It is a habit-forming thing. Simultaneously, digital streaming is happening but a lot of people still watch this on the big screen. Devices are a play from where I watch. Linear content could be watched on a hand-held phone or vice versa.”

Hooq India MD Zulfiqar Khan noted that streaming services are disruption at its best. The TV has been a consumer-facing brand but not a consumer-facing business as there are intermediaries through which the delivered. Streaming services have a direct connection with consumers and there is direct knowledge of consumer habits through things like click through. It has challenged aspects of the linear business including the business model. Therefore, people have their foot on both sides like Star, Zee, and Sony.

At the session, it was noted that Indians still watch TV drama content on OTT but a small percent of OTT content is slightly racy thanks to personalisation. India wants to get a bit liberated and TV targeted the lowest common denominator.

Katial noted that sports and news which are live give TV an advantage. He said that Zee’s news channels do not get consumed on VoD but get consumed live.

Banerjee pointed out that the IPL 2018 aggregated audiences on OTT as well as TV. He also said that the belief that it is the shorter formats that work the best for digital has been proven wrong. He gave the example of a 10-year-old show that got a lot of viewership on Hotstar. He said that data generated by Star is throwing surprising results as opposed to the commonplace assumptions.

Network 18 COO, A+E Networks TV18 COO Avinash Kaul said that OTT’s advantage is in technology and the one on one relationship with the consumer. Advertising can evolve as will subscription. It is possible that content that works well on OTT will travel to TV and vice versa. He noted that OTT has benefitted content producers from a pricing perspective.

On the news front, he said that India has several districts and OTT can give news the chance to go hyperlocal. Each district could have three news channels competing with each other three years from now. In digital, one is no longer dependent on the cable operator to reach homes. So the cost of delivery comes down he noted. From a device, one can become an anchor. But the challenge is more from a regulation point of view. How does the regulation control news at a district level with the centralised ecosystem that is
there at the moment?

Netflix director partnerships Abhishek Nag said that now is a great time to build a subscription service in the country. He said that the service wants content creators to tell stories that are true to who and where they are. ‘Sacred Games’ worked as Mumbai was really well represented.

Vuclip country head Vishal Maheshwari said that television, as we know it, will go away. Television, he noted, is just a device or a platform to consume content. The way people consume content is changing and content consumption is going non-linear.

He further stated that television will also get challenged by things like interactivity and significantly more immersive experiences. The fundamental nature of television is going to change. He also said that advertisers advertise on content not on television and a tectonic change will happen.

At the same time, India is the only country where broadcasters are so well organised on their OTT businesses, Maheshwari stated.

Kaul countered that saying that credit must be given to broadcasters who have built a robust ad revenue model and subscription business worth tens of thousands of crores. But broadcasters can be accused of going slow on technology on how to upgrade themselves and customisation monetisation models, content delivery models. Return Path data can give better insights. OTT in this regard can serve as learning for broadcasters.

Nayak noted that there is no such thing as TV content and digital content. “Colors did ‘24’ a few years back can anyone say whether it is TV or digital? If tomorrow ‘Sacred Games’ plays on Colors Infinity it becomes TV content. Television he said is a box.” He agreed with Katial about the debate being about linear versus non-linear.

Katial noted that broadcasters created OTT as a catch-up TV. Now broadcasters with a great base can create premium content for OTT. But they were a little slow to create premium content for OTT. They did not go as fast in this area as Netflix did. Questions arose about whether India could create premium digital content. This is the only area where broadcasters can be accused of being a little slow.

On the monetisation front when it comes to advertising, Nayak said that digital players have devalued their product and programmatic advertising will only worsen things. It is a challenge and ad money will get even more fragmented and with players increasing things will get worse. He predicts that in OTT the number of players will shrink by 2022 as there will be no more than 10 players left. That is when the real value will be unlocked whether it is subscription and advertising.

Katial said that the aim when ZEE5 started was to get enough volume, velocity behind it and then monetise through advertising. India has different regions and so ZEE5 used the three Vs- voice, vernacular and video. This worked well as Zee had length and breadth of content to connect from Orissa to Kerala.

Banerjee noted that TV has a strong monetisation engine through a measurement system as you can transparently measure content. Advertisers know how much was watched and is watch time growing or coming down. This makes things easy to assess. But in digital as it has grown one has not thought about putting in measurement systems that are extremely robust.

Katial countered by saying that there are very robust attribution models though there is no one currency measurement system. Digital and Google, Facebook wouldn’t be growing as fast as they are if there wasn’t a good measurement. He gave the example of HUL saying that it does not put so much money behind unmeasured advertising.

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