Viewing on TV, digital doesn't have to be either-or question

Multi-screen viewing is on the rise and content creators must deal with it.

MUMBAI: For decades, television has been the platform that’s commanded the attention of the maximum number of people in India. However, thanks to cheap mobile data costs and smartphones, there has been a surge in digital video consumption, and audiences are fast changing the way they view content.

With viewers starting to divide their content consumption across TV and digital, it now makes sense for broadcasters to also spread their budgets across both mediums to reach more audiences.

To address this change, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has organised the Big Picture Summit 2020, where it deliberated upon India’s multi-screen obsession and what it means for content owners. The panel comprised Shemaroo Entertainment COO Kranti Gada, ministry of information and broadcasting additional secretary (broadcasting) & CVO Neerja Sekhar, ABP news CEO Avinash Pandey, Discovery India MD Megha Tata, and Boston Consulting Group MD & partner Vikash Jain.

Of late, and especially with the onset of Covid2019, broadcasters are pushing the digital agenda, realigning their content strategies, business models to cater to consumers’ interests; some fear this may be to the detriment of their traditional business, noted Gada. However, Tata, who has spent more than three decades in the media and entertainment industry, pointed out how every time a new platform emerges, talking heads pronounce the death of the previous one. Contrary to this perception, all mediums have stayed strong and grown – whether its print, radio, cinema, television, and now digital.

“We don’t have to be an either-or world all the platforms can co-exist. It is absolutely not an easy decision to make but yes we need to think about where we are putting our money. These are very difficult questions where there is no rule book. Our approach is that both need to survive,” said Tata.

She highlighted that unlike the west, where the death knell has been sounded on linear television, India has actually beaten the trend. This requires a fine balancing act on the part of broadcasters. Both the mediums are important – one is the business of today and the other is the business of tomorrow.

“During pandemic, there has been a huge growth in television consumption but at the same time OTT growth has been stupendous. We launched Discovery+ in the middle of the lockdown. The question is how do you balance this act. You have to protect our linear business that is funding your digital business because there is still time for digital business to reach profitability and monetisation status and TV has to play a key role in that,” she explained.

There’s no denying that streaming platforms have emerged as a major challenge to linear television, but the latter is a Rs 79,000 crore industry that has stood the test of time and is still going strong, claimed Sekhar. “We are seeing the convergence in infrastructure where wired broadband and wireless distribution are much in demand and both are giving better choices to consumers. We are seeing one content on different platforms with multiple screen options.”

She went on to say that the pandemic threw up major changes in viewership pattern, where family viewership has taken over. But one factor that has remained consistent is content. There has been a huge uptick in demand for entertainment, followed by localised or regional content. She also shared that during the lockdown, OTT content was watched double that of linear programming. But linear television remains primary as far as the consumer is concerned. “With the number of OTT players rising we don’t know how self-sustaining OTT platforms are going to be. Market will change, technology will change but content will be of utmost importance.”

The question that arises in a multiscreen world is how the business model changes. Television was largely advertising-driven whereas in digital, larger multinational companies take away 60 to 70 percent of the ad pie and then broadcasters grapple with what is remaining. There are other players also who are looking at the same ad pie. It is quite a challenging situation for broadcasters.

Pandey explained that the whole ecosystem has changed: a content is created then there is a distributor cable operator which downlinks the signal and sends it to the consumer. Based on the business model, whether you are a free channel or a paid channel, you get the subscription money which is shared by the DPO operators. Then the carriage fee is accordingly paid to some other person. Broadcasters are in control of their audience through a third party – BARC, which tells you what the consumer is watching, and the price is determined on that basis. Things work differently on digital – streaming platforms that serve the consumer on pull medium, where the viewer looks for his choice of content and consumes that; the entire push system of that content is now controlled by two companies.

“Streaming platforms decide what rate to sell and they give you the share. There is no value for the content that we are creating. If you look at two big content creators, they take your content and serve it to the consumers. They know the data and how to push their content and they will be the one who will take the share out of the advertising and give you some money,” he stated.  

Behind all this lies the platforms’ algorithm, which pushes the content, but no one knows what makes it tick. In Pandey’s view, the government will have to step in and see to it that all parties are treated fairly. At the end of the day, content creators need to get their due.

“Fortunately, we are seeing that in the European Union and Australia, creators are looking at getting good value for their content,” said Pandey, adding that he hopes that the day’s not far off for India, too.

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