Overall television viewership, which is a composite measure of reach and time spent, on an average, is seeing a 10-12% drop with the Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) experiencing a steep decline of 20-30%, according to media buyers and broadcast TV executives. The decline in viewership in May 2022 is apparent when compared to viewership between pre-Covid period in early 2020. During the lockdown in 2020 there was a surge in TV consumption as peopled were confined at home.
The dip is visible in the English language and infotainment channels category genres as their audiences have moved to over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms. Hindi GECs (general entertainment channels) have seen a drop as women and family audiences discover the pleasure of watching their favourite shows on streaming platforms at a time of their convenience as opposed to appointment viewing on linear television. OTT platforms such as Voot, SonyLIV and Disney+Hotstar, owned by broadcast companies, also stream their TV channels online.
“Television viewership has seen a lot of ups and downs in the past two years but one big change since 2019 has been the rise of OTT and the increase in connected TV sets especially in urban homes,” said Netra Dhaboo, senior general manager, research and strategy, broadcast, IN10 Media Network that owns television channels like Epic, ShowBox, Filamchi, Gubbare and Ishara. Dhaboo said that there is no mechanism to quantify the shift to connected television but broadcasters can assume viewers are consuming catch-up content instead of watching daily shows at appointed hours.
A senior executive at a broadcast network pointed out that the exit of leading broadcasters like Star India, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI), Viacom18 and Zee Entertainment from free-to-air direct-to-home (DTH) platform DD Free Dish has aggravated the decline of Hindi GECs. “Plus, even women audiences are now choosing to watch their daily shows as per convenience instead of making time from their busy schedules,” the person said.
Broadcast networks Star, Sony, Zee and Viacom18 did not respond to Mint’s queries on change in viewership. Queries sent to television viewership measurement firm Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India did not elicit a response either.
To be sure, the total active subscriber base of the four private direct-to-home (DTH) operators, Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV, Dish TV, and Sun Direct, has decreased from 68.89 million in September 2021 to 68.52 million in December 2021, according to a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) report. Mansi Datta, chief client officer and office head — north and east, at media agency Wavemaker India said in terms of reach of TV households, there’s a reduction in the DTH (direct-to-home) base. “These households are the ones that might have shifted to the connected TV space. The estimates of connected TV households are approximately 15-20 million. And this shift sees a rise in the viewership of OTT platforms,” Datta said.
While television households will continue to grow at 1% till 2025, Megha Ahuja, vice-president, digital media planning at media agency Carat India, too, said she expects the growth to be driven by connected TVs which could cross 40 million by 2025 and free television which could cross 50 million, thereby stressing the core pay television market. “Reality television ratings were on average lower than previous years, as impact properties failed to deliver. Hindi movie channel viewership was down due to fewer new film releases,” Ahuja said.
To be sure, the news genre is facing a big challenge too. Resumption of ratings for BARC in March after a 17-month gap, based on a four-week rolling average, has not augured well for the genre. For starters, after Covid lockdown peak of 20%, the share of news currently at 6% is lower than the pre-Covid level of 7.5-8% TV network executives said that they have issues with BARC data. “There seems to be a systemic ratings issue because we’re not seeing any peaks even with topical events like Gyanvapi mosque issue or the counting day during elections, which should have ordinarily shown a 10-20% rise. The current rolled data cannot be compared to the previously unrolled weekly data but the idea which was to limit manipulation, has not been achieved,” said a senior executive at a news network, declining to be named.