The last decade belonged to television in India. No, our newspapers did not lose circulation, readership or advertising revenue like their counterparts in the developed markets. On the contrary, most dailies, especially the vernacular ones, added new editions and increased print orders. But television ruled the decade in terms of sheer channel proliferation, reach, content and distribution. In short, it was television’s turning point.
During the period, NDTV Imagine (owned by NDTV Networks Plc) bought back NBC Universal’s 26% stake in the company that operated its non-news business, including the Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC). Wire service Reuters, too, sold its 25% share in Times Global Broadcasting back to the promoter Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL) to exit the venture.
Holding ground: A newspaper stand in New Delhi. Though television ruled the decade, media expenditure on newspapers continued to remain marginally higher than on TV. Photo by Ankit Agrawal/Mint
In 2000, we had a choice of 50 channels. As we bid farewell to 2010, 581 private satellite channels can be viewed in India. This is in addition to 31 channels from state-owned Doordarshan. The data was collated by Amit Mitra’s TRP (television ratings point) committee appointed by the government to study matters linked to audience measurement.
Tipping Points (PDF)
Media Mughals (PDF)
The decade witnessed partnerships being formed and broken between Indian companies and global media conglomerates. Through Turner International, Time Warner inked a joint venture with Alva Brothers of Miditech for entry into India’s Hindi entertainment space. The project flopped. Later, the board of Time Warner Inc. approved the acquisition of NDTV Imagine Ltd by Turner Asia Pacific Ventures Inc.
Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd, the Viacom Inc. and Network18 Group joint venture, however, successfully launched the Hindi GEC Colors, which briefly even dislodged Star Plus, the market leader in the segment. Colors, now No. 2, succeeded in a market where Real, from Alva Brothers and Turner, and 9X, from Peter Mukerjea’s INX Media, didn’t make the cut.
For some, the game changer of the decade was wider distribution, both digital and analogue. Cable and satellite (C&S) homes have jumped from 25 million 10 years ago to 120 million today. Direct-to-home (DTH) operators such as Dish TV, Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV, Reliance BiG TV, Sun Direct and Videocon hooked an additional 30 million homes to their digital platforms in the last five years. Farokh Balsara, the media practice head at consultancy firm Ernst and Young (E&Y), believes that broadcasters have started earning between 5% and 10% of their revenue from distribution.
In developed markets, subscription contributes 30% to a broadcaster’s total revenue. This adds to the top line and the bottom line as well, he says.
Going beyond statistics, the single biggest facet of media that defined the decade was something intangible: It was the evolution of television as a great leveller where ordinary consumers/viewers found a voice and a face through countless reality shows.
The decade was a celebration of the common man on the small screen. Housewives from Gorakhpur to Jhansi shared screen space with Amitabh Bachchan on Kaun Banega Crorepati; others with singing and dancing skills enjoyed their brush with fame on talent shows. Viewers became participants, winning stardom, however fleeting, and money.
“Consumerism is not just about buying. It is about the assertion of individuality, and television recognized it,” says Satyajit Sen, chief executive officer at ZenithOptimedia, a specialist in buying media.
Since democracy means equal opportunity, television also moved away from metro-centric audiences and brought small-town India to the fore in its serials. For channels such as Star Plus and Sony, all roads led to tier I and tier II cities for research on viewer expectation.
Brand messages riding on the back of entertainment television, fuelled aspirations in such towns. E&Y came up with a report called The Dhoni Effect where the star cricketer became a metaphor for Ranchi (his hometown in Jharkhand) and explored how small towns look to consume. E&Y’s Balsara says that advertising revenue (in television and print) is shifting. It’s coming more and more from these small towns. According to him, this shift took place in the last decade.
While TV channels in regional languages such as Bengali, Marathi and Bhojpuri multiplied, also growing has been newspaper readership in Punjabi (28%), Marathi (12.6%) and Telugu (25%) in the last four years, according to round-two data from the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) of 2010. The IRS figures show that Hindi readers have grown 27% in the last five years. Readers of English dailies, meanwhile, grew 16% since 2005, although the numbers registered a marginal decline in the last three rounds.
Though television ruled the decade, media expenditure on newspapers continued to remain marginally higher than on TV. A study by media agency GroupM shows that TV earned Rs9,914 crore in 2010, while newspapers touched Rs10,363 crore. However, in its 2011 forecast, television revenue is set to overtake that from newspapers as it surges at 20%, compared with 7% for the more traditional medium.
The slower growth rate does not necessarily make print vulnerable since it is an under-served category. The reach of English dailies is 3.7%, while that of Hindi newspapers is 15%, according to IRS data. And foreign direct investment (FDI) that was thrown open in the last decade with a 26% cap, may attract strategic investors if the sector is further liberalized.
The decade saw two big newspaper launches in Mumbai, the bastion of The Times of India, with the entry of the Hindustan Times, published by HT Media Ltd, which runs Mint, and Daily News and Analysis (DNA).
However, the country’s biggest media property in the last decade was not a newspaper or a channel, according to advertising professionals. It was the Indian Premier League. In the upcoming season four, the cricket tournament is likely to draw advertising worth Rs1,300-1,500 crore. Zenith Optimedia’s Sen says it’s a distinct property as it reflects a young, vibrant, new economy. The property has got it all—eyeballs, passion, glamour, fans, money and public relations (PR).
The success of private radio took the industry by surprise. All India Radio’s turf was threatened as radio rose from a Rs100 crore media category to a Rs1,113 crore sector in 10 years. Auctions for FM stations pushed the private channel numbers up from 20 to 245. With bids for another 806 stations to be slotted soon, the category is poised for further growth. Of course, an increase in the FDI cap from the current 20% would help. The sector could also see consolidation if the government allows one company to own more than one frequency in a city.
The media growth story has been accompanied by episodes that have evoked controversy. Leaked phone taps of conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and some journalists sparked off a media ethics storm. Earlier in the decade, The Times of India’s Medianet division, offering a platform for PR releases, was the subject of debate. BCCL, the owner of The Times of India, also set up a private treaties, or ads-for-equity, division. Under this, BCCL took stakes in companies in exchange for advertising space.
Several newspapers and television channels, including HT Media, also launched similar outfits to drive the ads-for-equity business. Many of them later shut shop. A news channel head said that companies expected free coverage instead of routine advertising time on the channel. “They wanted to blur the lines between advertising and editorial and we were not prepared for that,” he said, giving reasons for the division’s early demise.
At the very least, the leaked phone taps have led to a debate on media malpractices with journalists embarking on a bout of soul-searching to cap a decade of bustling growth.