While analogue cable TV distribution remains the widest means to pipe TV channels into Indian households, this platform’s bandwidth (or the lack of it) continues to a big limitation. With more than 650 channels wanting to be available, today only about 90-95 channels can be piped in the living rooms of ever-growing TV viewers. This, over the last decade gave birth to carriage fees – a fee charged by cable companies to TV channels to include their channels on the operator’s feed.
This current landscape of analogue TV distribution is about to change dramatically in the next couple of years. The cable digitalisation that is underway at this point will see more and more cable homes getting close to 500 TV channels.
Four metros are set to go digital in phase I. With this development, while the present limitations and stumbling blocks will start crumbling, new factors and issues are likely to emerge. If better, greater and cheaper availability will help TV channels increase their potential viewership, a dramatic increase in choice to viewers will see a deep impact on viewership.
Let's look at the new distribution factors that will consume and shape the TV landscape in the coming days as DAS rises and analogue sunsets in major markets.
Factor 1: Viewer selection
DAS will give the viewer an option of 500 channels against the current 90-95 channels. How will the viewer deal with this choice? More fragmentation? Confusion on which channels to buy, watch? The distance between ‘channels received’ to ‘channels viewed’ is expected to widen leading to gains and losses between channels.
Viewers will also for the first time get the power to decide which channel to take and which to ignore. Would viewers be happy with the Free-To-Air (FTA) channels only or will they enthusiastically buy packs for pay TV channels? How many will graduate to adding more pay channels and/or packs beyond the base pack? How many subscribers will add a la carte channels versus evaluating packs/plans introduced by operators?
Factor 2: Structural changes to the offering
One critical factor in the new digital regime is going to be the structure of the cable TV service. That cable operators will design channel packs based on the needs and intricacies of their constituencies is a given. What remains to be seen is consumer responses to those offerings. And which channel is in which pack will be a million dollar question. If a moderately popular channel is lumped into a 'not so popular' pack, it will have a direct impact on its viewership. So, what was earlier the need to be on a frequency band will now get replaced with the desire to be on the right pack. With the policy document on interconnection and pricing squarely putting the pack structure and EPG number discretion with the operators, channels will be curiously watching the pack design practices take shape within the market.
Factor 3: Unconventional offerings
Digital as a platform opens many other options to provide content. This will disintegrate viewership across such medium. For e.g. viewer will then have an option to access content available on TV through mobile devices such as cell phones, tablets and boxes, allowing watching content while on the move in the car via internet. This will certainly, if not to a large extent, eat up into the traditional way of watching TV at home.Today this being miniscule is not monitored but in the digital era this will be quite a force to reckon with and measuring such media will be of great importance from the viewership perspective.
Factor 4: EPG
World over, the placement of the channel (in terms of channel number) in the digital scenario has been of enormous strategic importance. Ample research has been done in these countries to see how placement of the channel affect the viewership. Here it has been noticed that the EPG number and the ease (or difficulty) of getting to a particular channel on an operator’s set top box can make a huge difference to the viewership of the channel.
And once the user finds the channel, the quality of the EPG content, its accuracy becomes a gauge of the channel’s experience. A digital viewer is known to scoff at subscribing to a pay channel (or renewing subscription) if the EPG for that channel is routinely incorrect and misleading.
Factors beyond distribution
Besides these factors which are related to distribution, there are a host of others that will determine a channel’s success such as a channel’s marketing, viewer perceptions, event based subscription and pricing. Needless to mention, this transformation of the TV business into a highly competitive sector will see and need a lot of new blood entering into the industry from developed sectors such as Telecom FMCG, etc. The information systems within the sector will also need to undergo a dramatic change on account of these changes, especially for doing a lot of causality analysis of what’s working and what’s not – across markets, operators, bouquets, packs, etc.
TV Street Maps (TSM) is investing resource, time and intelligence in R&D. During this period of market flux, TSM is doing a host of R&D projects to ensure that the TV industry’s ever growing need for information from the ground is addressed.
This author is Executive Vice President, Whats On India and Business Head, TV Street Maps