?Aashish Mandhwani leads a life that’s as hectic and unstructured as only the life of someone who juggles band practice (he is lead guitarist with a rock band), guitar lessons (everyone’s got to earn a living) and doctoral research in Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, can be.
That means no time for what experts are beginning to call linear TV (or network TV that sticks to a certain schedule). It also means being on the move.
So, Mandhwani, who was an avid Walter White fan watched the series (that ended this month) on YouTube—at his convenience. And he watches cricket matches live online.
“Urban India is choosing not to be restricted by timings and location to view television. With mobile screens becoming larger and the availability of their favourite shows online, watching TV when it is convenient to them is gaining favour with the audiences. It’s an interesting phase for consumers in India with increasing ownership of smartphones and tablets,” said Prashant Singh, managing director (media) for India region at Nielsen.
Ajit Mohan, business head (digital media) at Star India Pvt. Ltd, said that the company is seeing “meaningful consumption happening across screens. If you look at where the consumer is watching content and his time spent, there is a clear shift”.
Mandhwani’s TV viewing habit (if it can be called that because, increasingly, there’s no TV involved), which indicates that at least some Indians are beginning to watch TV the way many people in the US and some parts of Europe do, hasn’t escaped the attention of Indian broadcasters who have long looked for a delivery model that is more addressable—which means that everyone who watches a channel or programme is accounted for, an important measurement for subscription as well as advertising revenue.
Nor has it escaped the attention of DTH (direct-to-home) companies that offer a delivery platform for broadcasters, and advertisers who are beginning to see an emerging alternative to television advertising. YouTube is around, and still very popular (both among viewers and broadcasters, many of whom have their own channels on the platform), but people are also beginning to use apps such as nexGTv and ZengaTV (both Androidapps where the viewers pay only if the channel being viewed charges a subscription fee); specific channel, even programme apps that have been created by broadcasters; or even services such as Dish Online or TV Everywhere launched by Dish TV India Ltd (part of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd) and Tata Sky Ltd, respectively.
Salil Kapoor, chief operating officer at Dish TV, said that customers today are “itching to change the notion of fixed time, fixed screen consumption to anytime, anywhere. This is the premise with which we have started Dish Online services”.
“We have realized that control has shifted into the hands of the consumer, be it in the choice of channels made possible by à la carte menu or the time spent on viewing this content, which is no longer controlled by the broadcaster, thanks to the digital video recording devices. More recently, the screen on which they consume content is also changing,” added Vikram Mehra, chief commercial officer at Tata Sky. The company is a joint venture between Tata group and News Corp.’s Star India and claims to have 11.5 million DTH subscribers in India.
The trend may be driven by India’s predominantly single television households. When members of the same family want to watch different programmes, the need gap is filled by big-screen mobile phones and tablets, according to Jai Lala, principal partner at Mindshare, a media buying agency. “In the future, this consumption will multiply manifold. There will be content created only for digital screens as opposed to one which is being edited to suit digital platforms,” added Lala.
To be sure, Indians are already spending 19 billion minutes watching miscellaneous videos online every month, according to data from GroupM, the media agency of WPP Group. The total video viewers online have grown from 47 million to 58 million between August 2012 and August 2013 as per data from comScore Inc., a digital research and marketing agency. Smartphone users in particular spend anywhere between 84 minutes to 114 minutes per month on video apps like YouTube, and nexGTv across different age groups as per data from Nielsen Informate Mobile Insights.
Online viewing and apps also allow broadcasters to tap the power of social media. According to Raj Nayak, chief executive of Colors, run by Viacom18, people see, share, blog and tweet about content while watching television. “They are eager to engage with their favourite shows and characters. We realized this behaviour and these applications serve as great conversation starters and opinion builders,” he added. The medium also allows companies to play up bonus content. Colors, for instance, offers a 24x7 live feed online from the Bigg Boss house where the reality show participants live. “Besides we give out three exclusive videos everyday to our consumers—the idea here is to feed as much content as possible to the diehard Bigg Boss fan,” Nayak said. Bigg Boss is a reality show modelled after the popular international show Big Brother where contestants are sequestered in a house and nominate, every week, two from among themselves for eviction.
An August report by sonyliv.com, the online platform of Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd, shows that 53% of viewers consume video content on their mobile phones while 32% watch it online using laptops or computers and 15% access this content on their tablets.
“Yes, people have started to consume content across devices. We see that shorter episodes with an average duration of 16 minutes get more traction than full-length episodes,” said Nitesh Kriplani, executive vice-president (new media, business development and digital/syndication) at Sony Entertainment Network. Even digital video recording devices (DVRs) have gained traction in India over the last one year. For Dish TV, the sale of DVRs has gone up by 50% over the last year, said the company declining to share absolute numbers. Even for Tata Sky, a “sizebale chunk of sales” is coming through the sale of these recording devices, said Mehra. The price difference between a regular set-top box and a DVR is also narrowing—on an average the DVR costs Rs.800 more than a regular box compared with a price difference of a couple of thousand rupees earlier, according to media industry estimates.
While in developed markets like the US, time spent on digital media has surpassed time spent on television, experts say India is still four-five years away from reaching this tipping point.
“Definitely there is a convergence taking place between online and offline, and people are consuming content on their mobiles and tablets. However, this traction is still at a nascent stage. Bandwidth speeds is a major issue. Both telecom and IT infrastructure needs to come up to speed for larger consumer interface to take place,” said Kanika Mathur, managing director at Razorfish, a digital marketing agency. There are 750 million TV viewers in India, the Internet penetration is still 125 million and smartphone penetration is around 70 million, said Colors’ Nayak. “So we are still some time away from these services from picking up. Having said that, the double-digit year-on-year growth numbers are very exciting. As the penetration grows, we expect these numbers to swell and start contributing to viewership and revenues,” he added.