Industry watchers have often described the Indian broadcasting industry as hypercompetitive, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog and a whole list of words and phrases that assert that this was not a place for friends or where people could work together as an industry. For years, broadcasting suffered, others prospered.
Other similar-sized mediums, there is only Print in India actually, were not such. For instance, when Hindustan Times was entering Mumbai, The Times of India carried HT ads – a practice seen even today on special occasions. And HT allowed TOI to use the HT press. The two even formed a joint venture once to launch a metro newspaper. In fact, the industry has seen many print players join hands for sales, distribution and other alliances.
Even though print, too, had multiplicity of choices, and hence fragmentation (a Mumbai campaign doesn’t any longer need to depend on TOI alone), print is one industry that has allowed itself to grow. Print ad rates have grown steadily over the years, and television has kept complaining that television ad rates are taking the industry on a reverse path.
But broadcasting is changing. And a lot of credit can be given to leaders like Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India, and Punit Goenka, MD, Zee Group.
Shankar and Goenka lead teams that are competing with each other violently and fiercely, on a minute-to-minute basis. But that has not come in the way of these leaders uniting the industry. The distribution deal is a more obvious example and as we have said in our earlier reports, it will have a significant impact on the Indian television industry. People can talk cartelisation and competition commission and so on, and sometimes I wonder how much of that will really be relevant. We will know soon enough, but one thing is clear – STAR and Zee are aware of the behemoths they are, and what they can achieve of their individual strengths. Now they are out to find out what they can achieve when they join forces.
Very good for the industry, but not very good for some too...
Take the example of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). BARC may have begun as an idea with equal share of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), but today, the AAAI has fallen out of the equation – and it is not necessary that ISA completely agrees with that. But IBF has taken a stand – ratings matter the most to broadcasters, so they will lead that charter.
Earlier this month, broadcasters once again got together for self-regulation of non-news content, another area where various television CEOs told us that it won’t work in non-news, since competition is too heated. But all broadcasters came on the same page. Not that this unity had any effect on the business aspect of television, even though it makes a huge difference on any conversation of content regulation, but this was another indicator that broadcasting is changing.
For years and years, people such as me, have heard non-stop complaints on the menace that distribution in India had become – under-declaration, cable piracy, unheard of carriage fees and what not. The big solution is digitisation, but that seems to be taking its own time. STAR and Zee are not waiting for market forces to come in play for digitisation in distribution. They want to be the change.
But as they say, the game has just begun. Knowingly or unknowingly, Zee and STAR have begun a story that can truly be a turning point for the Indian broadcasting industry; that can be a starting page, where television players stopped complaining about piracy and low ad rates and did something about it. But it requires them to stand united, and add more players from the industry to push the agenda forward, to believe and to want to make a difference.
Broadcasting is definitely changing, but how long can it maintain the right tempo? For how long can leaders be able to focus on their individual businesses and on the industry at the same time? Goenka and Shankar are leading the industry today, with a vision of tomorrow, but how do they ensure the industry follows that vision too? As I said, it is only a beginning, but as a believer in the Indian broadcasting industry, I am optimistic on the story ahead...