Not many people outside parts of northern India may have heard about Dangal TV but it’s now India’s second-most-watched satellite channel.
That’s the new reality for the nation’s broadcast industry as changed tariff rules sent viewership rankings topsy-turvy. Little-known or low-ranked free channels have crept up the charts, while paid channels dropped, show data by the Broadcast Audience Research Council. Urban viewers are cutting the cord when cheaper data has made access to online movies and series on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime easier. That hurt the English entertainment genre the most. Rural audiences are happy with free-to-air stations.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India allowed subscribers to create their own bouquets and pay for whatever they want. That stemmed from the practice of creating packs by dumping unrelated satellite stations users may not want. The new rules were to come into effect in the New Year and broadcasters, cable TV operators and direct-to-home companies were given three more months to comply.
As of March, about 65 percent of 100 million cable subscribers and 35 percent of 67 million DTH users had chosen packs of their choice, according to a statement by TRAI. Consumers have to pay a minimum of Rs 130 a month for 100 free-to-air standard-definition channels. An additional Rs 20 gets 25 more SD free channels.
For pay channel bouquets or a single channel, viewers have to pay extra. Broadcasters can’t bundle pay channels with free, and high-definition with standard content.
For consumers who haven’t opted for the channels of their choice, cable and DTH operators created best-fit packs to ensure that the existing monthly bill remains the same or increases marginally. That’s contrary to the objective of the regulator which hoped freedom to choose channels will bring down the monthly bill for customers, according to executives in the broadcast and cable industry—they spoke to BloombergQuint on the condition of anonymity out of business concerns.
Broadcasters have no control and are at the mercy of cable operators, one of the people quoted earlier said. Cable operators make their own packs, not adhering to broadcaster packs and even refusing to offer a-la-carte channels if they see monthly billing has dropped, he said. In many cases, cable operators are not ready with the backend to offer consumers the choice, he said.
Still, pay TV channels have taken a hit, shows a comparison between week 52 data of 2018 and week 14 data of 2019 released by BARC. It’s based on 550 tracked channels and 40,000 metered households, and then extrapolated for India’s 197 million TV homes. The numbers threw up three key trends.
1. Clamour To Be Free To Air
Broadcasters are clamouring to be part of 100 free-to-air channels that a cable or DTH operator has to provide for a fixed fee. That ensures reach if not subscription revenue. All state-run Doordarshan channels should be part of the 100, and regional and free-to-air channels of all genres should have representation.
2. Big Blow From Free Dish
The other game-changer has been the role of state-owned DD Free Dish direct-to-home service. The change in pricing framework meant a lot of pay channels available for free on Free Dish had to be taken off. That changed rankings after March 31, with many regional channels getting higher viewership, according to BARC data. The cost of being available on Free Dish also doubled compared to a few years ago to close to Rs 8 crore.
3. Digital Disruption
The English entertainment genre in the top six cities has contracted. This comes when metro consumers are increasingly switching to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar. For example, the last season of Game of Thrones, one of the most watched television series globally, is first aired on Hotstar instead of a TV channel.
Channels moving off DD Free Dish after turning pay saw their viewership plummet. After Star Sports- 1 Hindi, free-to-air Dangal became the next most-watched channel. Along with Big Magic, it’s among the top 10 and benefited from being on the state-run DTH service. Sun TV comes next but lost 10 percent viewership, while impressions for other channels declined 10-20 percent. Of the Zee Group’s three channels in the top 10, only Zee TV remains.
The free-to-air DD News is the most-watched English news channel, replacing Republic TV. Also free-to-air, Republic TV lost close to 15 percent in viewership and is ranked second.
These channels are among the worst hit. The genre saw its viewership decline by 58 percent. That’s because 79 percent of their viewership comes from top six cities where customers are hooked to Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming apps.
English Business News
The niche segment, which was the first to migrate to digital platforms, saw its viewership tumble by 28 percent, with market leader CNBC-TV18 losing 50 percent since December-end. While most of the channels are pay, BTVI went free-to-air and it will become the only English business news channel available in the 100 offered free by cable operators.
Consumers have shown preference for free-to-air content, with the viewership of the top 10 Hindi general entertainment channels falling 16 percent. While Star Plus has been able to maintain its viewership, ranking fell because of emergence of channels such as Dangal and Big Magic.
The leader, Aaj Tak, retained the top position despite going pay. The viewership of top five channels in the genre rose 13.2 percent on the back of Republic Bharat, a free-to-air hindi news channel launched earlier this year. The category, among the most-watched during elections, has mostly free channels. That made News18 India reverse its decision of going pay—it’s now free-to-air.
The top five Hindi movie channels lost a third of their viewership. The is a highly competitive genre up against streaming platforms such as Zee5, Eros Now and Alt along with offerings by telecom operators in urban markets. Consumers prefer to watch free-to-air movie channels provided by local cable operators.―Bloomberg Quint