Broadcast industry scrambles for answers as overall TV viewership declines

Experts say the all India TV reach has dropped from a peak of 94% in 2018 to 82% in 2022

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jul 18, 2022 8:26 AM  | 9 min read

Already saddled with slower subscription revenue growth and sluggishness in the ad market, the TV broadcasting sector is facing another major challenge. Media experts say the overall TV viewership has been on a decline due to a combination of factors, including distribution-related issues and the changes in the media landscape.

Media research company Ormax Media's Founder & CEO Shailesh Kapoor asserted that the overall TV reach has seen a significant decline in the last few years even as the time spent by audiences on viewing TV content has remained steady. Quoting the data put out by Broadcasters Audience Research Council (BARC) India, Kapoor said that the All India TV reach has dropped from a peak of 94% in 2018 to 82% in 2022.

According to Zenith SVP & National Head-Media Buying Ramsai Panchapakesan, the overall TV viewership, excluding news and sports, has seen a 12-14% dip in urban markets for 30+ TG. Ramsai said that the viewership is for the first quarter of the calendar year 2022 vs Q1 CY 2021.

Wavemaker India Chief Client Officer & Office Head – North & East Mansi Datta said both the reach and time spent have seen a drop. She also stated that certain genres have got impacted more than others. “Viewership is a composite measure of both reach and time spent. There is a drop in viewership as seen across audiences ranging anywhere between 5 % and 10%. This is a combination of drop in reach as well as time spent. It's seen across genres including GEC, and regional but has been felt more acutely by the movie genre. Interestingly, the kids' genre is the one that’s safe from all the troughs being experienced in other genres."

e4m is awaiting a response from BARC India on the issue. 

Why is viewership dropping?

The BARC data being cited by Kapoor, and Panchapakesan is affirmed by DDB Mudra Group Country Head & Managing Partner – Integrated Media Rammohan Sundaram and Dentsu India-owned Amplifi Group Trading Director Sujata Dwibedy.

"Yes, it is true that there has been a drop in the ratings with the 30+ TG, however, what we fail to understand is the demographic reality of India. Nearly 65% of India’s population is below the age of 35 and 70% of this audience is below the age of 30. So with a shrinking 30+ story, it is bound to happen. We also conveniently forget that devices now are multifold and not just monopolistic to television when it comes to audiovisual," Sundaram said.

He also believes that the changing demography and the advent of cheap internet have led to a shift in audiences from TV to digital. He stated that the consumption of content on Smart TV is not getting captured by the rating agencies. Unified measurement is the need of the hour, he asserted.

"An entire generation of audiences have missed the TV bus in India and fast-tracked to digital consumption where the device could be anything, a mobile, a pad or a TV. The nature of broadcast has changed and hence until we have a unified measuring mechanism, the drop will only further increase. This does not mean the relevance of TV has diminished, there is still a huge growth opportunity for C&S in India and your TV has become smarter but the measuring mechanism is still living in the past," he asserted.

Dwibedy noted that TV viewership has seen a decline in some genres while some regional markets have also seen an increase. "The drop may be just a behavioral shift to catch up TV or OTT through connected TV for the same content but since there is no single measurement metric, we are not able to quantify it," she noted.

Elucidating further, she said that the drop among the 30+ audience could be for multiple reasons like 1) platform-agnostic viewing, and 2) On-demand consumption. "Considering office work hours and travel are back, people are caught up at work and do not have the opportunity to view an appointed time on TV unless it is a one-time big watch. Another big reason for the drop is that the TV viewing GRPs were always driven by women, and now women too are glued onto their shows on OTT on mobile & connected TV"

Dutta noted that the DTH segment in India is seeing a flight of customers to VOD/OTT platforms. According to her, this could be one of the reasons for the drop in viewership. "In terms of reach of TV households, there’s a possibility of reduction in the DTH households. These households are the ones that might have shifted over the fold onto connected TV space. The estimates of connected TV households are anywhere from approximately 15-20 mn households. And this move sees a rise in the viewership of VOD\OTT platforms.

Reach has seen readjustment due to NTO

A senior broadcast industry professional contended that the situation is not as alarming as it is being made out to be. "BARC has somehow brought down the reach of the TV industry while the ground situation is totally different. TV viewing has not seen any major impact. The total TV reach and time spent had hit a peak during the Covid-19 since people were spending a lot of time at home due to the lockdown. The working class population had also moved to their native place so the TV viewership in rural areas had also seen an increase. Now that normalcy has returned, TV viewing has also settled to a normal level. TV viewership was bound to see a dip after hitting a peak during Covid-19. I would say the TV viewership has got rationalised," he expounded.

The professional said that the ground-level changes brought about by the New Tariff Order (NTO) could be one of the reasons for the drop in reach of certain genres. He added that this is not a cause for worry as TV channels have attained real reach post the implementation of NTO.

"Pre-NTO, consumers were getting all the channels in a bouquet so a lot of long-tail channels also got sampled by viewers due to which the reach of these channels witnessed an increase. Even if someone watched a channel for a minute, their reach went up. But advertisers were not buying that reach and neither were they paying for that incremental reach. Post NTO, people started taking packages of their own choice due to which the reach of some of the channels saw a decline. The reach that we see today is the real reach because consumers have exercised their choice and they are more engaged today. So the reach has just seen a readjustment," he added.

How big is the drop in TV viewership?

Kapoor noted that the average weekly reach in 2017 used to be around 91% but now it is hovering around 83-84%. This, he said, means that a section of viewers is not tuning into TV frequently. "These viewers are still connected but for some reason, they have stopped watching or are watching TV very less. There is a dip in reach which will then result in a dip in viewership," he said.

The Ormax Media chief also said that the drop in reach and viewership is across urban and rural markets. "In rural areas, reach was around 90% in 2018 now it is around 82-82% in 2022. The dip is across the board which suggests that there are distribution-related changes in terms of NTO and the kind of channels being available in some of the retail packs," he added.

Kapoor also revealed that the reach for All India U+R markets has consistently been 90-92% with the peak reach being 93-94% in certain weeks in 2018. The drop started after NTO was implemented and from 2022 onwards due to the impact of the pandemic.

Ruling out the impact of OTT on TV viewership decline, Kapoor said that the urban markets would have been badly hit had the dip been mainly because of the streaming services.

Zenith's Panchapakesan stated that the overall viewership has dropped, however, the absolute viewership is not declining. He also noted that the universe size in 2021 remains the same as in 2020.

"In the last four months of 2022, the overall TV viewership has declined by 12 to 14% in the prime time for 30+ age group, All India Urban markets compared to the first quarter of the calendar year 2021. It excludes news and sports channels. Since news viewership was not there in Q1 of 2022, I have excluded the genre from the latest analysis. Almost 80% of the ad revenue comes from All India urban markets, the remaining 20% would be FTA and rural markets," he stated.

Will viewership drop have an impact on ad revenue?

Panchapakesan believes that the TV broadcasters will hold on to their ad revenue despite the drop in overall viewership as the demand has outstripped supply. "Today, the demand has gone up while the supply has reduced. Broadcasters will continue to command their price. They will not go down on revenue because it's a seller's market. Also, we look at data from a longer period of time. Once we see a declining trend that's when we start looking at the demand-supply metrics. That's when we start allocating ad spends by medium," he said.

Concurring with Panchapakesan, Dwibedy said that the decline in TV viewership doesn't necessarily mean that the ad monies will shift to digital, which has its own set of challenges.

"There are challenges we would see on digital too if the measurement issue is not solved soon. We do know that digital will grow, but TV is one of the largest media, which has a completely established measurement system and tracking, so the big bucks would still be parked on TV. There could be a need for recalibration of benchmarks in the given times, but TV may still grow in the next couple of years. This is a proven shift in countries where the Cookieless world is a reality," she contended.

Wavemaker's Dutta stated that the TV medium still delivers the highest reach compared to digital. "TV viewership reaches out to 896 mln individuals. It’s still the medium that delivers the highest reach. Even if the viewership is dropping, the gap between TV and digital is still there. The rise in digital monies is more of a shift from print medium to additional monies being pumped into the digital media. The last 5 years have seen a flip of print spends into digital media. What’s to be noted is that digital is growing at the fastest pace."

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