The year 2014 will go down in history as the year of bold steps. Whether it was the postponement of digitisation, the introduction of many a forward-thinking and hard-hitting paper and regulation by government regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the industry’s punts at experimenting with big ticket shows, the completion of the acquisition of the Network18 group by Reliance Industries and the departures that followed thereafter, the push by YouTube into creating a platform that could disrupt audiovisual content viewing, followed by the drive by broadcast networks to build their own independent digital platforms, the increasing importance of social media for television, the introduction of Reference Interconnect Offer (RIO) deals by Star India in a bid to force the industry to speed up digitisation, big 4K announcements by Videocon and Tata Sky, the rise and rise of Life OK and SabTV, or the slow descent of Sony (once amongst the top two Hindi general entertainment channels -GECs ) to the number sixth spot, the continuing stranglehold of Star Plus over the Hindi GEC viewer, the industry's total disillusionment with existing TV rating provider TAM India, and the swing towards the new industry-backed BARC, the news and niche TV channels' battle with the the government imposed advertising cap of 10+2 in the courts, the launch of three specialised Hindi general entertainment TV channels, a gradual increase in carriage fee payouts to the cable TV sector by smaller channel owners - all these and many were formed the highlights of the television business in 2014.
To start with, the government took a firm decision to push ahead the analogue cable TV sunset date to 2016, seeing the state of progress by India’s 60,000 cable TV operators and seven-odd so called national multi system operators (MSOs). Of course, digitisation delay led to a lot of carping by many in the trade, but then it was back to business as usual very quickly. For some, no change was more comfortable than having to reinvent thinking, processes, and also business models – which was proving painful. Those who had pressed their foot on digitisation’s accelerator eased off a bit as they had been given some breathing space.
The new government
2014 was the year of the big change, with the Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sweeping the ‘election of the century’ and coming to power. In the new government, the mantle of Information and Broadcasting Ministry was given to Prakash Javadekar, who in his five months tenure made numerous public appearances, making major announcements.
Before, the portfolio was passed on to Arun Jaitely in November, Javadekar had made some crucial changes, that of pushing the deadline for digitisation of phase III to December 2015 and of phase IV to December 2016. The move was done in order to help the indigenous set top box (STB) manufacturers’ boost their businesses as well as allow the MSOs and cable TV operators' enough time to do it right.
The year saw the tech savvy Prime Minister announcing his dream of seeing a ‘Digital India’, which was followed by numerous campaigns. It was also the year, when the Media and Entertainment sector envisaged of becoming a $100 billion industry by 2020.
Cable, DTH and Distribution
In the cable TV sector, while the tiff between the last mile owners (LMOs) and MSOs over ownership of consumers, billing and revenue share continued like in 2013, some unity could be seen amongst the MSOs with regards to voluntary digitisation after the I&B decided to push digitisation to a later date. The LMOs on the other hand united in several parts of the country to form cooperatives in a bid to get some financial muscle to be able to digitise apart from strengthening their customer base. The year saw not only Hinduja’s headend in the sky (HITS) project taking strides, a new model of distribution: Cable Virtual Network Operator (CVNO) too came up in a few cities like Mumbai and Kolkata.
Another major development towards the end of the year was the decision of Star India to apply the RIO deal approach with the MSOs. The move while aimed at bringing in addressability and packaging in the DAS markets, saw a number of MSOs coming up with either different packages or putting the network’s channels on a-la-carte.
With the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) not showing much signs of improvement, a number of MSOs have started shoring up their broadband offering to customers. The year also saw Den Networks launching its broadband service in Delhi, with plans of expansion in the coming year.
The direct to home (DTH) operators too were seen taking some bold steps with Dish TV launching a sub-brand Zing for the regional markets and Tata Sky and Videocon d2h announcing that they would be introducing 4K set top boxes in India. Not only this, DD Freedish too decided to seed MPEG4 STBs along with MPEG2 boxes in interior areas.
The icing on the cake was TRAI’s regulation on unbundling, which saw distribution giants, MediaPro and TheOneAlliance parting ways. A lot of other broadcasters too were seen setting up distribution initiatives of their own.
The 16th Lok Sabha elections were not only fought on the ground, but political parties laid siege to the airwaves as well. This general election was the first among many, where media was so extensively (and blatantly) used by political parties. Far from fighting shy of marketing themselves, the main players – Congress and BJP –spent nearly Rs 400 to Rs 500 crore each on publicity campaigns. An additional Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 crore was spent on related activities such as banners, hoardings, organisation of public meetings and transportation of key campaigners, among others. Not surprisingly, media agencies had estimated around 2 to 2.5 per cent of overall advertisement spends this year to come from elections.
The year also saw the growth of the e-commerce sector as they intensified their battle. As investments rolled in, the market spends increased to woo customers. And with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his maiden budget announcing that manufacturing units will be allowed to sell their products through retail including e-commerce platforms without any additional approval, paving a path for the foreign direct investment (FDI) in the manufacturing sector, the upsurge is expected to continue.
The first half of the year went in covering what seems the country’s biggest election. From exit polls to election result day, one thing was clear that it was a battle of individuals and not parties. And one man leading it all was none other than, BJP’s Narendra Modi.
The news channels went all out to outdo each other as far as presentation was concerned vis-a-vis live graphics and coverage. As per industry sources, the channels had earmarked Rs 1 crore to Rs 1.5 crore for the day, but spent a lot more. And with youth stepping out to vote, the channels went all out to social media to gather the pulse of the nation. Channels tied up with Microsoft and Google as well.
The second big thing, which shook the industry, was when India’s largest company Reliance Industries announced its takeover of India’s largest media companies–Network 18.
In May, RIL said it would invest about Rs 4,000 crore through Independent Media Trust, of which RIL is the sole beneficiary, to acquire 78 per cent stake in NW18 and about 9 per cent stake in TV18. Founder Raghav Bahl continues to be on the board as a non-executive director.
The announcement saw senior level exits from the network. The CEO, CFO, COO quit in the days after it. The network’s news channels too saw famous faces like Rajdeep Sardesai moving on.
The move did make many ask: Is this the death of media independence? But Reliance managers took quick initiative to assuage any such doubts, essentially keeping a hands-off approach from the news network.
The television industry saw two major appointments – Uday Shankar taking over as president of Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) and NP Singh being elevated as Multi Screen Media (MSM) CEO. Then his predecessor Man Jit Singh was given a US posting and global responsibility in Sony's home entertainment division.
As for the programming, the number one channel as per TAM TV ratings, Star Plus intensified its youth turn by launching shows like India’s Raw Star, Airlines and Everest.
Zee experimented with content through its new channel, Zindagi, with a slate of programming from across the border - Pakistan . A relief from daily melodramatic soaps got another boost as the country’s first genre-specific Hindi entertainment channel, Epic, finally got a nod from the MIB after more than a year-long wait. MSM too launched two new channels – Max2 and Sony Pal – to add a little more flavour to its pack.
As industry awaits Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to give out ratings, the body held roadshows across the country to share its updates with all constituents across the entire broadcast value chain, and, equally important, to receive feedback and suggestions.
The year saw India embracing a number of sports leagues apart from cricket, like football, tennis, kabaddi and basketball, that too in different formats. The Pro Kabaddi League, an initiative to revive India’s contact sports was a success and a surprise, not just on television but also at the stadiums, as Indian families cheered the country’s lost sport. Bud sadly enough, advertisers decided to play a wait and watch game and missed the bus. It was initiated by Mashal Sports and broadcaster Star Sports.
The Hero India Super League, an IPL styled football domestic tournament was a hit too, on television, social media and fans flocking to the stadiums. Conceptualised by Star Sports, IMG-Reliance and All India Football Federation (AIFF), it garnered a strong advertising support in its maiden year. While bigger brand like Hero, Puma and Amul came on board for the league as title and associate sponsors, individual franchises too drew support from brands. With advertising and sponsorships stakes high in the Indian Premier league (IPL), these formats have allowed brands with smaller advertising budgets to have a play in the sports television business.
While the industry did take some bold steps in the year, it hopes to reap the benefits in 2015.