Viewership trends reveal the power of free platforms, regional content

Indians spent over four hours and fifteen minutes a day watching TV during the lockdown compared to three hours and forty minutes before Covid-19
Kalanithi Maran’s Sun TV is the most watched channel in India for the last three years. But DD National pushed it down to number two during the lockdown when it aired an old favourite, Ramayana. 

Indore-based Enterr10’s Dangal TV and Zee’s Big Magic are among ten free-to-air channels that bring in a mammoth 63 per cent of all TV viewing in India. 

That and more is what Broadcast Audience Research Council or BARC data, crunched for Business Standard shows. It showcases the quirks of the Indian TV viewer, emphasises the crazy diversity of this market and underlines why TV remains the largest medium in India. 

At 836 million, TV reaches more people than newspapers (390 million) or broadband internet (625 million). Indians spent over four hours and fifteen minutes a day watching TV during the lockdown compared to three hours and forty minutes before Covid-19. At Rs 78,700 crore or over 43 per cent it forms the single largest chunk of the Rs 1,82,200 crore Indian media and entertainment industry. 

What are the two big stories emerging from the data?  

One, is the sheer size of the free-to-air market. Almost 63 per cent of all TV viewed in India came from ten free-to-air channels. Though it fell to about 53 per cent during the lockdown it represents the single largest cluster of television viewers. And Dangal TV is the most watched channel in this market of roughly 240 million viewers, largely in the Hindi belt. That is not all. Dangal TV is the third most watched channel across genres (news, films, GEC et al), languages and geographies in India. 

For many who believe that TV is dead, this tells you a different story. One which blends well with the 316 million people the country’s largest (free) OTT, YouTube India, reaches. It made an estimated Rs 2,000 crore in advertising last year. Add the Rs 3,000 crore that free-to-air channels got and you have a large, rather under-served market. That explains the recent entry of ShemarooTV, a free-to-air channel. 

Two, is the power of the Tamil market dominated by Sun TV and the Telugu one ruled by Star Maa. They are smaller than Hindi in audience size yet they make it on the list of the top ten channels in India. This is because against a national average of 66 per cent, cable penetration in the five Southern states is 95 per cent. And unlike in the Hindi belt there is no electricity problem. The sampling then is robust and data gets captured. Also this is a huge, entertainment loving audience. Note that roughly half the total TV viewing goes to languages other than Hindi – particularly Telugu, Tamil, Marathi and Bangla.  

A sweet aside? Normally kids’ channels rarely feature in the top ten. But Nickelodeon, a kids channels had jumped to number 9, thanks to the hours of TV that kids are watching during the lockdown. 

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