Punit Goenka, Uday Shankar and Aroon Purie on the changes that the TV broadcast media is undergoing and what it means for the business.
Consider the scenario. Today, half of the 160 million TV-watching homes are digital while 65 per cent of the national TV time is spent on five big networks. More than 100 million viewers are watching television on a device other than a TV set.
Much of this is changing the way business is done, shows are being made and news is being played out. At afaqs! TV.NXT 2014, columnist and writer Vanita Kohli-Khandekar talks to the three biggies of the industry - Punit Goenka (managing director and CEO, Zee Entertainment Enterprises), Uday Shankar (CEO, Star India) and Aroon Purie (founding chairman and editor-in-chief, India Today Group) on what these changes mean for the business and the industry.
Kohli-Khandekar began the discussions by pointing out how just two decades ago, one used to wait for Sunday evenings for a film on Doordarshan. Today, when people crib about what is being shown on TV, they do not realise that they are sitting on 850 channels, a huge amount of variety and choice and an industry, which is around $8 billion now.
Shankar agrees that the industry has grown tremendously and has done remarkable work on the creative as well as business side. The biggest challenge, however, would be - where do you go from here? "I don't think we even have clarity on what's happening internally. Each of these companies, be it big players or small, need to reinvent themselves," said Shankar.
According to him, people are already spending around 2-3 hours in front of TV sets and that number is not going to grow because of physical limitations. Therefore, broadcasters need to start delivering content through wireless and online streams, at the consumer's convenience.
Another startling factor he highlighted was monetisation. The total number of advertisers on TV continues to be 7,500. Every year, 100-odd new ones come in but 100 drop out also. "There is only so much money that you can get from this pool of advertisers. How do you break into the next universe of advertisers? Either you get advertisers for other platforms or get those brands who are not in this list."
Also, the model of sitting in Mumbai or Delhi and delivering to the rest of the country (as in the case of news channel) will not work for too long. "You need to decentralise but it's not happening right now. Much as we are singing praises to digitisation, it has not really progressed as it should have and even in the area where digital distribution has started happening, the digital business models are not evolving. Those are the challenges," Shankar noted.
An angry Poorie felt that many opportunities have been missed. According to him, the regulatory authorities are destroying the broadcast industry. "They have not seen the digital revolution through, the way they should have, making a complete mess. A large portion of the subscription income must come to the broadcaster but it doesn't come to us and we still pay carriage fees. News channels with very small revenue pay the same carriage fees as large broadcasters and it kills the industry. It also prevents you from decentralising, get into regional channels or other markets. Those markets may not have the kind of advertising money needed to support these channels but if you have the subscription revenue, there will be far more sustainable system," he said.
When questioned if the advent of online platforms is hitting news adversely, Purie said, "Breaking news is no longer breaking news. It doesn't sell that much on TV now. Most people get breaking news on their mobile phones and on websites. That's why you see many TV channels going towards opinions."
With so much happening in the industry, reinvention is the key. Goenka believes that broadcasters are sharing more or less the same thing and hence the need to reinvent is there. "While TV reaches 850 million people, the peak viewership is just 22 per cent. We are reinventing to create newer genres, categories and that's where, at Zee, we are trying to do which near future will serve us."
He too believes that digitisation is flawed, but hoped that it will get fixed and that broadcasters would start seeing some growth. "Journalists file stories across platforms and that's the future. Having said that, customisation for various platforms is essential. We should not look at this from cost point of view but as opportunity to create content," argued Poorie.
As chairman of the newly constituted BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council), Goenka declared that BARC has to increase its panel to 50,000 homes eventually. "It will give broader coverage and a more in-depth view into the existing homes. How do you create thinner slices of audiences? When we target an audience that is as small as 5 or 10 million people, we can create content that is specific to these people. That's the benefit that BARC will bring for content creators."