Why television matters

TV is watched by the rich and poor, by the daily office-goer as well as farmers, and offers enough choice for a young country


Community watching is in our DNA, and this is across urban and rural India. We love laughing, crying and celebrating together. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Community watching is in our DNA, and this is across urban and rural India. We love laughing, crying and celebrating together. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Nothing binds an Indian family together like a television set. Be it our men in blue at the crease, the latest Salman Khan blockbuster or Ekta Kapoor’s newest soap ruling the ratings charts, the Indian family loves to watch sports, films and soaps as one.

Community watching is in our DNA, and this is across urban and rural India. We love laughing, crying and celebrating together. Do you ever wonder, what is the average time people spend watching TV daily?

Across the world, average daily TV viewing is 3 hours 14 minutes. In developed markets such as Europe and the Middle East, the daily TV viewing average is as high as 3 hours 54 minutes.

As for Asia Pacific, at an average of 2 hours 32 minutes, daily viewing dips by 40 minutes. But not so in India. As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with rising disposable incomes, access to TV increasing and more and more channels coming up every day, India has an average daily viewing time of 3 hours 16 minutes.

Historically, TV has been on an upward trend in India over the years. From the days of only Doordarshan, we are a country of more than 800 channels today. From two channels in 1991 (DD National and DD 2), India grew to 50 channels by 1996 and 130 by 2004. This was around the time private channels emerged. In just five years, the number of channels had increased to 521, reflecting the growing strength of the small screen. This growth was all round: news, regional, music, lifestyle, food, travel, science, wildlife, fashion, films and, of course, English entertainment channels. There has been no looking back since. Today, there are around 826 channels across various genres covering all regions of India.

The journey so far has been very interesting: from the days of Chhaya Geet as our only source of film music on DD to around 45 music channels across Hindi, English and regional music. From waiting for the few quality English programmes such as Invisible Man to 11 English general entertainment channels to choose from, all with shows being aired the same day as in the US.

From one Magic Lamp on DD for kids to a genre that has not only grown to around 17 channels but has huge potential to grow more. Similarly, the regional language growth has been spectacular, with advertising support growing along with eyeballs, be it in Tamil, Bangla, Kannada or Marathi.

All of this indicates that viewership has been on an upward trend, and that is borne out by ratings. The two key components of TV ratings are reach (how many individuals TV reaches) and average time spent (TV viewing time per day). Currently, Indian television reaches an average of 615 million individuals every week. This, out of a total universe of 675 million (people in TV households), means 9 out of 10 people with access to TV are watching it every week. In comparison with the earlier years, urban TV reach has increased from 245 million individuals in 2013 to 300 million by 2016, an increase of 22%. If spliced to just the Hindi speaking urban audience, TV has reached 200 million individuals in 2016.

With increased choice, the time spent watching TV increased from 3 hours 15 minutes in 2013 to 3 hours 30 minutes in 2016 (all-India, urban); and commensurate with that, viewership, too, has increased from 9 billion (viewership in impressions; the actual number is gross impressions calculated at 30-minute intervals) three years ago to 11 billion in 2016, an increase of 22%.

In the Hindi-speaking markets (urban), the time spent watching TV increased from 3 hours 5 minutes in 2013 to 3 hours 20 minutes in 2016 and viewership increased from 6.2 billion in 2013 to 6.8 billion in 2016, an increase of around 10%.

One example that highlights the growing appeal of TV is the Indian Premier League. The popular cricket league reached 374 million people this year. It’s viewership increased 7.5%.

Another is blockbuster movie Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, which was watched by a record 70 million individuals, showing how much people love watching films on TV.

But this not all. There is a definite headroom for growth. Out of the 275 million households in India, only 153 million homes own a TV (that is, just 54% of the population). Urban penetration stands at 83%, while rural is as low as 40%. A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation tells us that even if urban penetration reaches 90% and rural penetration reaches 75% in the next two-to-three years, it will add an additional 65 million households with access to TV, which can translate into an additional 8 billion viewership, an increase of 37% from the current 21.5 billion viewership.

TV is the mass medium of choice for a country like India. It is watched by the rich and poor, by the daily office-goer as well as farmers across rural India. It offers enough choice for a young country, ensuring growth as a medium which binds the family together and remains the first screen of choice.

The author is CEO of BARC India. Follow him @parthodasgupta

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