The numbers, the diversity and the sense of sameness. Those are the big insights from the Broadcast Audience Research Council’s or BARC’s year-end compendium, “What India Watched 2018.” Currently at 40,000 homes covering more than 180,000 individuals BARC is by the far the world’s largest audience measurement system tracking its second-largest TV market — India. A joint venture between advertisers, broadcasters and media agencies it keeps tabs on 595 channels by sifting through 7.5 petabytes of data. This gives the industry a currency that powers $5.7 billion of advertising and content spends. The Rs 74,000 crore Indian television business is the largest chunk of the media and entertainment industry (45 per cent) and impacts 4.5 million jobs. BARC’s insights then are critical to anyone tracking this business — advertisers, broadcasters, investors or content creators.
Take the first — the sheer numbers. India’s 197 million homes house 836 million TV viewers who watch everything from general entertainment channels (GECs) to films and sports in a largely single TV market. That is up from 790 million in 2016 when the last establishment survey, the study that updates the base number on which the sample is chosen, was done. Television viewership rose by 13 per cent in 2018 over 2017. Over 30 billion impressions, 75 new channels, 24,076 movies and 989 billion man minutes of TV viewing per week are the other big, bull-dozer like numbers that hit you. And for the over the top (OTT) enthusiasts here is a comparison — the 480 million Indians with broadband connections spend about 50 minutes a day watching VIDEO online. TV, on the other hand, averages 3 hours and 45 minutes and continues to grow. It reiterates what this column has maintained — the growth of online has been supplementary not cannibalistic.
The second takeaway is the one that always fascinates me — India’s diversity. The social reality of India’s 29 states and 22 key languages is so evident in our TV viewing habits. The biggest languages are Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and others. What is interesting is that the time spent on Tamil, Telugu or other GECs that cater to a smaller numbers of people compared to Hindi, is way higher than Hindi. Over 53 per cent of total TV viewership goes to GECs and a bulk of what people watch on them is drama — so fiction rules. That is what OTT trends show too.
After GECs movies dominate having risen from about 12 per cent of total viewership in 2010 to 24 per cent now. It underlines once again that movies are the fuel that drive both TV and OTT viewership — across male and female or urban and rural viewers.
Unfortunately, news remains the third most-watched genre at 7.2 per cent — the fall in the standards of news broadcasting simply seems to have attracted more people to it.
What I was really looking forward to was seeing a jump in sports viewership after all the noise about kabaddi, badminton, football et al. Over the decades, cricket has dominated both the broadcast business and the sporting ecosystem to the detriment of every other sport. Thankfully, kabaddi has become huge. It is second only to cricket and accounts for 15 per cent of total sports viewership. But the sports pie itself remains disappointing — it has inched from the two per cent it was at for years to three last year. There is now a variety of sports on TV in a variety of languages. Why then doesn’t it grow?
And that brings me to the third important thing. How things remain the same. These proportions, of GEC, FILMS, kids, sports etc, have remained roughly the same over the 18 years that I have been tracking this industry. GECs have always been roughly half of all viewing, kids five to six per cent. Films is the only genre that has shown exceptional growth. Twenty eight years after private television began, drama, films and news continue to drives viewership. In the 90s it was Tara and Amaanat now it is Naagin and Ishq Subhan Allah. That is true for OTT as well. Netflix saw a huge surge in subscriptions when it released its first Indian original, Sacred Games in June last year. We still look for a good story. Mostly we watch it on a GEC or on a movie channel. At time news channels offer that with their hyper-dramatised, frequently fictionalised version of events. But each and every time, it is our search for a story, for drama that drives us to a screen and keeps us there.―Business Standard