Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Are young Indians going from TV to online content?

TV demands a particular time schedule, which young people find difficult to adhere to

A quick dipstick survey by a young colleague among her friends yielded interesting information on the television consumption behaviour among the youth. The dipstick was conducted among 20-24-year-olds across Lucknow, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bareilly. Surprisingly, none of the young men and women contacted in this age group watch television. Among them were students as well as those who had just joined the workforce. One of the biggest reasons for not watching TV, they said, was that the platform demands a particular time schedule which these consumers find difficult to adhere to.

Clearly, it is not convenient for the young to watch linear TV. The lack of time to consume TV is also coupled with the absence of attractive programming. “There is no good content on TV," a few complained. So, they fulfil their entertainment and information needs by consuming content available online. Some admitted subscribing to over-the-top (OTT) video-streaming sites such as Hotstar and Amazon Prime.

Unfortunately, right now, there’s only anecdotal evidence on the declining interest among the youth in television. There are no statistics available that offer insights into the cord-cutting behaviour of Indians. Cord-cutting refers to cancelling or forgoing a pay television subscription in favour of an alternative internet-based service. Interestingly, most respondents in the dipstick survey said that their parents do own a television connection.

Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte India, explains that the young are moving away from TV but there may not be cord-cutting yet, as in a single TV household, these youngsters may still not be the decision makers. “However, these are the people who may not introduce the cord when they set up homes," he adds.

Manav Sethi, chief marketing officer at video-streaming app ALTBalaji, feels that India is going through a structural shift in entertainment and “cord" is being replaced by “VoD" (video on demand). He firmly believes that the young are moving away from TV. “It’s a sequential decline both in the US and India, especially, in India where content on broadcast is majority funded by ads and hence programming is aligned for mass viewership." Mihir Shah, vice-president at research firm Media Partners Asia, agrees: “With digitalization, television broadcasting was expected to witness more investments on production quality and content. However, BARC’s new TV measurement service is reshaping industry dynamics by adding rural audiences to TV ratings. In their quest to capture maximum eyeballs, broadcasters are increasingly operating on the lowest common denominator of content. In the process, urban audiences preferring niche TV content have suffered."

Sethi says that youngsters want to be entertained with stories made for them and consumed on devices, time and place of their choice. He expects OTT platforms to acquire scale around niches like sports, movies and English content and Hindi/Indian shows. On ALT, with 3 million subscribers for 21 shows, the average watch time is 30 minutes.

A recent report in ft.com noted how millennials are transforming the way the football World Cup is viewed. The youngsters are watching football but not necessarily on TV. Many are catching it on their mobiles, especially the matches being played during work hours.

Back home, the Indian Premier League saw 202 million viewers log on to video streaming platform Hotstar to watch the 11th edition of the T20 tournament—a 55.3% jump from that of last year. The final match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings saw a record 10.3 million viewers logging into Star India’s digital platform.

So, while OTT firms may be scaling up their subscriber base, Deloitte’s Thakkar says that since there’s very little cord-cutting, in the mid-term, India will be an “and" market and not an “or" market. This means that homes will have both cable/DTH as well as broadband connections. In an earlier interview to Mint, Tata Sky chief executive Harit Nagpal also said that India will remain an “and" market for a while. “We have OTT, we watch online but we have not given up our TV," he had said.

Feeling the heat of competition, cable and DTH firms are morphing into broadband companies. According to Nagpal, Tata Sky will be offering Amazon Prime, Hotstar and Netfix to its consumers. It will introduce a box that will be internet-ready—that is, it can receive signals both from the satellite and from broadband.

According to Media Partners Asia, as of end-2017, the installed base of digital media consoles including dongles and connected STBs (set-top boxes) stood at 0.7 million. While Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV stick have been early movers, pay-TV and telco operators aspiring to become gatekeepers of linear and online content are quickly joining the bandwagon. “In the next five years, India will have more than 10.8 million consumers accessing video content through connected STBs and dongles, equivalent to the number of active pay-TV HD subscribers today," says Shah.

Sethi says that in the short term, TV isn’t going anywhere but in the long term, OTT platforms will rewrite the rules across content creation, consumption and monetization.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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