Viewers lap up sports and news TV channels despite new tariff order

Besides sports, news and marquee TV properties, viewers made a choice when it came to their daily dose of general entertainment too
The year 2019 saw growth in viewership for marquee television properties despite the sector regulator bringing in a new tariff order (NTO), data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) shows. 

News and sports, in particular, grabbed attention, with consumption being high during the year for these genres. Industry sources say the trend can continue into the New Year with the T20 World Cup, Delhi elections and National Population Register implementation on the cards. 

Romil Ramgarhia, chief operating officer at BARC India, says, “2019 saw big-ticket sports events like the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Cricket World Cup. But the year was also dotted with several news events like the general election results, Pulwama terror attack and the abrogation of Article 370.”

He says IPL viewership, too, grows despite the NTO being in full force, the same holding true for Bigg Boss and Kaun Banega Crorepati later in the year. 

The 12th edition of the IPL, an annual tournament played between March and May, just when the NTO was being implemented, saw an 11 per cent jump in terms of viewer impressions. 

According to BARC data, compared to 14.2 billion impressions for IPL 2018, the 2019 season had 15.8 billion impressions. One of the key reasons behind this growth was perhaps that the tournament was telecast in eight different languages.

Similarly, key news events saw huge viewership — 4.9 billion impressions during the Pulwama and Balakot attacks — surpassed the 4.8 billion impressions during the general elections (see chart).

TV viewership witnessed growth in 2019 for such events despite the NTO implementation and pricing changes,” Ramgarhia said. 

On a year-on-year basis, KBC and Big Boss saw 9 per cent and 4 per cent growth, respectively, in terms of viewership.

Besides sports, news and marquee TV properties, viewers made a choice when it came to their daily dose of general entertainment too. Instead of watching four to five general entertainment channels (GECs), people opted for two to three GECs, a choice they are expected to stick to in 2020, BARC says. 

“Time spent on the existing channels subscribed has gone up which is good for advertisers and broadcasters indicating they have a loyal audience. But the number of channels watched has reduced,” Ramgharia says.

Broadcasters admit there has been a loss of 12-15 million subscribers after the NTO came into effect last year. At the same time, consumers had to be educated about the changes in the tariff regime, a tall task, experts say. 

NP Singh, managing director and CEO, Sony Pictures Networks India and also the president of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, an apex industry body, say the collective cost to the industry is over Rs 1,000 crore to communicate the price changes to consumers.

However, awareness and adoption rates of the new tariff regime is high despite the complex nature of subject, experts say. 

Sudhanshu Vats, group chief executive officer and MD, Viacom18 and vice-president IBF, says about 94 per cent of Indians are aware of the NTO. “The month-on-month churn in the industry shows people are continuously fine-tuning their choices,” he says. 

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which is the sector regulator, has now made amendments to its February 2019 tariff order. The regulator has limited discounting of channel bouquets to 33 per cent besides bringing down the maximum retail price of any channel to be included in the bouquet to Rs 12 from Rs 19 earlier.

Broadcasters are irked by the frequent changes in tariff and are planning to move court this week to seek a stay on the amendments.

How this battle pans out will definitely have an impact on viewership patterns, say analysts.

“The major events of 2019 did not see much of an impact as consumers adapted fast to the new tariff regime. However, with the new amendments, there would be an impact on content creation and even on small and niche channels,” says a Mumbai-based analyst. 

“With broadcasters’ revenues getting hit, there is an obvious impact on content creation and acquisition. Sports and marquee properties are expensive titles. If viewership of such events tend to shift towards over the top (OTT) platforms, or viewers may subscribe for the channel only during the specific event, acquisition of such titles may not remain a profitable proposition,” he says.




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