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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Who’s Afraid of Sensible TV?

One of the earliest television entrepreneurs of India,and now the managing director of Disney UTV,Ronnie Screwvala,on what’s broke with the industry and how to fix it.

Written by Ronnie Screwvala | New Delhi |
October 21, 2012 1:44:03 am

It’s been over two decades since we gave up the privilege of being entertained by a single terrestrial channel and satellite invasion changed our TV-viewing habits.

It’s been over two decades since we gave up the privilege of being entertained by a single terrestrial channel and satellite invasion changed our TV-viewing habits. I still remember the days when one had to “concept sell” a remote control and the idea of a second channel; from that cable TV was born. The first tipping point came in the 1990s — with the start of satellite TV. The viewer has not looked back since then. The “click generation” brought with it a differentiated viewership pattern,which created the need for content that went beyond the regular.

Previously,India’s ruling elite had a dual and somewhat contradictory view of broadcasting. On the one hand,politicians considered it too powerful a force to be left to the private sector,especially in the years after independence,when the nation’s unity and secularism were considered vulnerable. On the other hand,television was seen as too frivolous to merit much investment at a time when politicians were focused on turning India into an industrial power.

In India,we tend to leapfrog in everything. Everything that happened in the rest of the world over 10-15 years has happened here in two years. From a multitude of channels to content spanning the entire spectrum of genres,to the proliferation of DTH,television too has evolved here in a short span of time.

The mantra in this sphere is that whatever may be the revenue model — ad-funded,subscription or a combination — the key to sustainable revenue streams lies in providing content that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. A cliché,but content is truly king.

Unfortunately,content has seen little change and even lesser innovation. One can argue that from soap operas we have moved to reality shows and more. But in 20 years that can hardly be termed innovation. The problem is the high (80 per cent) dependence on revenues,which forces programming for the broadest common denominator and allows zero experimentation. This may change going forward.

The TV distribution market,at 146 million households,is already the third largest in the world,with pay TV penetration at 80 per cent — much higher than in most other countries. But the industry is only valued at Rs 20,000 crore as India has the cheapest pay TV service in the world.

My view is that the introduction of the digital addressable system (DAS) would be the second tipping point for the Indian TV broadcast industry. Households used to paying Rs 150 a month as their cable bill for over 500 channels will be obliged to pay more and therefore will become more discerning in their choice. Moving forward,this will automatically mean that launching a platform or a channel will be the easiest part of the story. Competing well and sustaining the business will be the biggest challenge in the coming years. It won’t be about the dozens of new stations springing up. It will be about innovativeness of programming,about audience engagement and freshness of thought.

In the last few years,particularly with the growth of non-classical media and experiential marketing disciplines,it has become fashionable to talk about the reducing effectiveness of TV. I believe that if anything,TV will become even more important in the future. The future will be about visual engagement led by personalisation. The way consumers watch TV will change,and the way we will use TV both in its traditional box format as well as through other screens,will change.

It’s a $13 billion (approx Rs 70,000 crore) media and entertainment space (excluding print which is over a 100 years old) and it is set to be a $100 billion industry by 2022. But unless we get three or four big things right,it will be but a “vision statement”.

The possible gamechangers: completely disruptive creativity and content,plus broadband in 100 million homes. But this industry needs to act in unison and look to grow the market first — at present,I would say the cup is 13 per cent full and 87 per cent empty.

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