Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Opinion | Upheaval marked entertainment and media sector

Going forward, the lines between TV and online streaming platforms will blur

The media and entertainment sector was in a flux in 2019 owing to several developments that had a deep impact on the industry. Notable among them were the implementation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai’s) new tariff order (NTO), the withdrawal of TV channels from DD Free Dish, the stake sale of Subhash Chandra’s family jewel—Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd—and the heating up of streaming wars.

Although Trai introduced the new cable TV pricing regime in December 2018, mandating that each channel be individually priced and subscribers only pay for the channels they want to see, after some deadline extensions, the rules came into effect from February this year. The move disrupted India’s television broadcasting sector, and probably backfired both for consumers and broadcasters. The consumer, who was paying a very low price for a large bouquet of channels, had to eventually pay more for less. And if you really wanted to pay very little, you had to forego a lot of TV channels.

This changed the topography of broadcasting and availability of channels in homes. To keep bills low, people who were watching four or five Hindi general entertainment channels had to choose two restricting consumer choice and discovery. It also affected the reach of a lot of channels that were being bundled with more popular channels. “2019 saw huge structural changes in the media industry. While cheap data and availability of mobile phones made content accessible to masses, the television distribution ecosystem went through seismic changes and channel availability scenarios changed substantially. So, both technology and regulation played a big role in these changes," said Partho Dasgupta, an industry veteran.

Media sector experts say NTO also pushed several television companies to withdraw their flanking channels (such as Star Utsav, Zee Anmol and Sony Pal, among others) from DD Free Dish, the free-to-air direct-to-home platform of Prasar Bharati, which auctions slots to private broadcasters. Broadcasters feared that after NTO, TV consumers could move to DD Free Dish rather than pay for entertainment on pay platforms. Not being present on DD Free Dish meant these entertainment options were lost to Free Dish consumers. Also, these channels which used to earn between 150-250 crore from advertising, thanks to the vast reach of Free Dish, lost their ad revenue. Consequently, Dangal, a little known free-to-air Hindi entertainment channel, emerged as the most watched, overtaking leaders Star Plus and Zee.

Consolidation also became the buzzword in broadcasting when Disney and Star started sharing resources in India earlier this year after Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. There may be further consolidation if reports about Sony Corp. and Mukesh Ambani-owned Network18 Media and Investments Ltd coming together are true. If indeed the deal goes through, it would transform the media and entertainment landscape by creating a multi-lingual and multi-genre broadcasting powerhouse. Faced with competition from behemoths Disney-Star and Sony-Reliance, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd could become a marginal player, given that the group’s founder, Subhash Chandra, has little stake left to strategize taking on such formidable rivals. Zee may eventually be a target for a global media firm. Clearly, broadcasting firms are forging alliances to take on tech firms such as Apple, Amazon and Netflix that have entered the content space.

Such consolidation will also affect the sports broadcasting sector as linear television and online streaming rights of premier sports properties will be keenly contested. Hotstar, Star’s video streaming brand for India which is the market leader, saw 25 million concurrent views for Cricket World Cup this year.

In fact, Hotstar takes us to the streaming wars, which may be heating up further with two developments: the launch of Apple’s video streaming service Apple TV Plus and the announcement by Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, to invest 3,000 crore on content in India between 2019 and 2020. There are more than 30 video streaming platforms in India. Earlier this year, Zee5 entered into a content alliance with another streaming platform ALTBalaji.

Going forward, the lines between TV and online streaming platforms will blur. It will be all about content—the pipes it comes through or the screens you watch it on won’t matter. Dasgupta believes that general entertainment is staple for viewers and will be watched either on TV or as catch-up content on online platforms. “But sports and regional content are the spaces to watch out for," he says.

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

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