The growth of digital broadcasting means that time has eventually arrived for the television industry to remain busy, with companies eyeing niche audiences. Last year, 67 channels were added, bringing the total to 626, and 264 applications for channel licenses are pending with the information and broadcasting ministry. Every year more and more niche channels are coming to Indian televisions targeting to catch regional market. “Digitisation improves the quality of delivery of the channels,” says M.G. Azhar, Chief Operating Officer of DEN Networks, the leading multi-system operator in the National Capital Region. “The real viewership of the channels will be clear for all.” The industry expects growth in not only advertisement revenue but also in segments that currently account for less than one per cent of viewership.
BARC rating helps niche channels to expand
BARC India has always attracted mixed reactions from the industry despite all efforts by the measurement body to make transactions smooth. It is true that each genre has its own set of challenges, but niche channels are for long complaining about the contraction of viewership after sample expansion.
Niche channels have questioned their representation in the expanded BARC universe. In the wake of a lot of senior members of the broadcasting industry pointing at the fluctuations and instability of BARC data after inclusion of rural data, especially the niche players.
It must be noted that the earlier TAM system and BARC system are different measurements with two methodologies and the numbers shouldn’t be compared. What is notable is that even in TAM, over a period of 10 years, the percentage of English genre viewership compared to total TV viewership dwindled from 2 to 0.9 per cent.
The recent data from BARC India shows that the English Entertainment channels (EEC) and English movie channels have grown with respect to total TV in December 2015 vs December 2016. The English movie genre (EMC) was 0.43 per cent of the total TV viewership (90.478 million Impressions out of the total 21068.373 million Impressions) in December 2015, while the genre grew to 0.45 per cent (106.318 million Impressions out of the total 23889.022 million Impressions) in December 2016. Similarly, for the EEC genre, it was 0.03 per cent of the total TV viewership (7.216 million Impressions out of the total 21068.373 million Impressions) in December 2015, while the genre was 0.03 per cent (7.671 million Impressions out of the total 23889.022 million Impressions) in December 2016. The data is mapped at 4+ NCCS All India market).
As niche as it gets
Infotainment channels in the space of food, lifestyle and travel have mushroomed over the years and more are being added to the pie. How sustainable are they?
Infotainment took its baby steps in India back in 1995 with the launch of Discovery. Twenty years on, this niche genre has established a footing— somewhat—in the larger Indian television pie, albeit at 1.75%. According to the FICCI-KPMG M&E report 2015, the genre enjoys a viewership share of 1.3%, higher than the 0.9% of English Entertainment and 0.1% of English News, while its AdEx share stands at 2%. Certainly, there’s potential for growth but it’s a space largely dominated by channels that belong to international networks. Perhaps it is this opportunity that Subhash Chandra, chairman, ZEEL & Essel Group, spotted when he announced the launch of five new infotainment channels in India under Essel Group’s Living Entertainment brand.
Living Foodz, an international food and lifestyle channel, launched on September 11, 2015. Z Living, with a focus on health and entertainment, launched in early 2016 followed by Living Homez in the second half of 2017. Elaborating further, Piyush Sharma, CEO, Zee Living—India APAC says, “Infotainment in India is still quite under-penetrated and under-leveraged as compared to other evolved markets around the world.” It’s no surprise then that we have a long way to go in terms of consumer penetration and participation from advertisers.
Broadcasters bet big on niche channels, HD content
Encouraged by a drop in operating costs and changing audience tastes, Indian television broadcasters are looking to flood the airwaves with an assortment of channels featuring specialized content—from health and lifestyle to the secret lives of serial killers.
Unlike Hindi general entertainment channels (GEC) that have dominated Indian television for years with programmes tailored to varied audiences tastes, these niche channels will target specific viewership profiles.
With ongoing digitisation, television broadcasters are betting big on new channel launches aimed at niche audiences. Also, with the 12-minute cap on advertisements kicking in, industry stakeholders are looking for ways to make up for the reduced ad inventory. Most broadcasters are yet to see an increase in subscription revenues, except for hi-definition (HD) channels.
Speaking on the sidelines of the recently concluded CII Big Pictures Summit, Sanjay Gupta, Chief Operating Officer, Star India, said, “We already have one and half million HD subscribers in the country. I think we are seeing a serious change in subscription revenues on HD. People are willing to pay for HD content,” he said. Gupta said, “With digitisation kicking in, people can access more channels, but the content being offered is still not differentiated. So, players are trying to offer differentiated content, as they look at addressing niche segments, and that’s the unlocking of digitisation as it sets in.”
Going niche is the future
Babies, cars, food and fashion — Indians are now waking up to a plethora of television channels catering to their individual needs. With more access to direct-to-home services and high-definition television, niche TV channels are finding a place in a market dominated by soap operas and reality series. Advertisers looking for targeted audiences are helping too.
“Niche channels are part of a coalition strategy for both subscription and advertising revenues,” said Rajesh Jain of consultancy firm KPMG. “Advertising becomes important because of restrictions by government of India in terms of subscription caps per channel, so we will see a mix of both”, he adds. While penetration of niche channels in India is a mere 1.6% compared to 16% in Singapore, channels with English-language programming are becoming the first choice for many upwardly mobile Indians.
“If you map what is happening to India outside of the television space, you will see that our aspirations and ambitions have grown exponentially,” said Rajiv Bakshi, former vice president of marketing for Discovery Networks Asia Pacific. “Channels which have content that match these aspirations, will do well.”
Niche channels provide a more cost-effective medium for advertisers looking to target a select group of audiences, said a KPMG report. “As long as channels replicate one another, the audience and hence revenue will always fragment,” said Punitha Arumugam of Madison Media, a media-buying firm. At the same time, with most Indian families owning just one television set, niche channels may still find it tough to dominate the market. “While single TV homes do pose a challenge for niche channels, we look at it as a growth opportunity,” said Bakshi. “People have changed in terms of likes and dislikes.”