New Delhi: At a time when Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are battling it out for mindshare in India’s urban homes, good old television viewership continues to grow, especially in the countryside.

Television viewership in rural India rose 10% between 2016 and 2018 while that in urban areas grew 4% over the same period, the Broadcast India 2018 Survey conducted by Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC) showed.

TV penetration rose from 99 million to 109 million in rural India, and from 20 million to 21 million in the mega cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru—during the period, the viewership monitoring agency said. The survey also shows a 6.9% increase in male TV viewers (from 401 million to 429 million) versus a 7.5% jump in female TV viewers (from 378 million to 407 million).

The viewership figures come at a time when many people have switched to online streaming. Ficci-EY’s media and entertainment industry report in 2017 estimates 481 million Internet users in India, with 186 million rural and 295 million urban users. The number of smartphones sold in the country by the end of December 2017 were 127 million while 250 million people viewed videos online in 2017 for news as well as entertainment. But obviously, TV isn’t going away in a hurry.

“One reason for the preference for TV is the size of the screen, sound and picture quality," said Abneesh Roy, an analyst with Edelweiss Securities. “Only if the household has one TV set does the phone come in," he said, adding that the advent of state broadcaster Doordarshan’s free-to-air direct-to-home platform DD Free Dish is hugely responsible for the continuing dependence on TV in rural areas. Apart from spending once on equipment such as a set-top box and a dish, Free Dish consumers do not need to pay any monthly subscription fee. Rural audiences are, therefore, hooked to the dated content on these channels.

“I think this data needs to be looked at in finer, nuanced, qualitative ways. For example, even if TV viewership is growing in absolute numbers, what is the kind of time spent and lapsed or how many daily active users there are and in which regions," said Sameer Nair, chief executive officer at content studio Applause Entertainment, which makes shows for video-streaming platforms. Nair added that television may be a staple in most homes but is also an ageing medium. “The television and digital media are already co-existing, it’s a matter of how much time people give to what," he said.

While Bihar and Jharkhand remain India’s lowest TV penetrated markets, growth since 2016 has been the highest in these two states at 24% (from a combined 6.5 million TV households to 8 million), followed by Assam, Sikkim and the north east at 20%. Like in 2016, south Indian states such as Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have the highest TV penetration at over 91%. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have also joined the list this year.

The BARC survey saw a rise in other indices too—the number of TV-owning individuals grew by 7.2% (from 779 million to 835 million) while the total number of TV homes in India increased by 7.5% (from 183 million to 197 million).

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