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Discussion must shift to future of content, instead of future of TV, say industry biggies

On day two of Ficci Frames 2018, a panel comprising Ajit Mohan, Raj Nayak, MK Anand, Anuj Gandhi, Ashish Pherwani, Amit Khanna and Partho Dasgupta discussed the future of TV. The session was moderated by Paritosh Joshi

Discussing the future of television in the increasingly digitised world, Ficci Frames 2018 had an important panel discussion titled “The Future of TV” on day two of the convention.

Among the panellists were Ajit Mohan, CEO, Novi Digital, Raj Nayak, COO, Viacom18, MK Anand, MD and CEO, Times Network, Anuj Gandhi, CEO, Indiacast, Ashish Pherwani, Partner EY, industry veteran Amit Khanna and Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC India. The session was moderated by Paritosh Joshi, Principal Provocateur Advisory.

Dasgupta started off his keynote address on the growth of television. Mentioning numbers like 97% of the country is still single TV market and that rural still has only 52% penetration, he put the spotlight on the scope of growth, which is largely coming from rural. “The future of India depends on the choices of the urban and rural population. While the rural crowd likes watching daily soaps and sports like wrestling, the urban crowd is attracted towards talent search, reality shows and only one major sport – cricket. In spite of different choices, what stays common for both the classes is likeability towards drama. High drama content in television gives high TRP ratings,” he said.

Speaking on how he perceives the future of television, Mohan stressed on the kind of stories that may attract the consumer. Heading one of the oldest and successful OTT platforms, Hotstar, Mohan shared his observations on how TV and content is growing in the country. He said, “We can put this notion to bed that on digital, people will look for fundamentally different content than what has been working on TV. What has clearly happened is that people will gravitate towards long form stories that have been the bedrock of TV. The opportunity to consume content not in a linear fashion has not changed what consumers are looking for. It looks a lot like the present. It's about high quality stories and content. Platforms are relying on both ads and subscription. Advertisers are paying a premium when there is greater consciousness about what kind of consumers they are reaching. The economics is majorly reliant on advertising and rich content.”

Moderator Joshi then moved on to ask for a point of view from Nayak, who heads one of the leading entertainment networks. Joshi said, “How has the interaction with advertisers changed in the new paradigm of viewership numbers and introduction of BARC India?”

Nayak started his answer by first reiterating what Dasgupta had said, that ‘the future of TV is very bright.’ Nayak added, “The two myths – that youth don't watch TV and that people watch short format – have been broken. 90% of people watch content on TV sets in the US, whether on cable or digital is another game. Speaking to one of the manufacturers, I got to know that TV sets below 32 inch comprise 40% of the market. Large TV sets are 20% and very large is 9%. Smart TVs in 2017 were 27%, and they're expected to grow by 35% in 2018.”

After this, Nayak answered Joshi’s question by saying, “On ratings and monetisation, it is still a supply-demand scenario. At the end of the day, the pricing of the inventory is left at the hands of the broadcasters. The supply will increase as more channels will be launched. There will be fragmentation. The advertising rupee will stretch that much more. As a broadcaster, I am happy because my content is reaching to more people today. The linear watching on Jio TV is exploding, with 90% of viewership coming from live TV. Three crore subscribers are being added every month, I'm told. The way I look at it, the content we create will have more and more touch points reaching more people and then the opportunity to monetise much more.”

Joshi, then, moved on to Gandhi to ask him the importance of distribution and the role that it will play in the future of TV. Joshi asked Gandhi, “There was a catchphrase ‘If content is king, then distribution is god.’ Has a new phrase been coined in the changing times?”

Gandhi replied, “We have external forces which are now defining a lot of these definitions. Consumer is the king and the god. Whether it is long form, short form, you watch it on TV, OTT, WhatsApp or Facebook, the reality is that the power is shifting to the consumers. 50% of the data pipe is video.”

Nayak said, “If distribution is king; content is queen, you can choose which one is more important.”

Anand, on the other hand, gave a perspective from the broadcasters’ side. He said, “A very basic business is that the easy of doing broadcast business in India has improved a lot, with the advent of better technology, capture equipment, satellite bandwidth for communication and internally. Overall, the ability to churn out a channel and take it to the critical mass level is so much simpler in 2017-18 than 2014-15. Last year at this time, we turned around a channel called Mirror Now, which would have taken 2-2.5 years. We've done a lot of trimming, of frills and accessories. It's easier to start a stream, and give it shoulder content. Monetisation hasn’t been easy in the last two years, with demonetisation and GST. In the last three to four years, we're able to deliver double the number of channels.”

Khanna pointed out a couple of striking changes that he thinks will reflect in the industry in the next one to two years. “The pace of change has increased. It is not about distribution today. It is more about accessibility. The connectivity will change the pattern of content consumption. Also, the average time spent on mobile device has increased tremendously. The commute time has increased in the urban and semi-urban cities, which also boosts time on mobile phones. When we say hanging out, it is a very urban thing. Thirdly, it globally believed that whenever a change is implemented, it takes three years for that change to reflect in the societal behaviour in consumption. Those three years after digital in India culminate in 2018 and we will see this social behavioural change reflecting in the next two years.”

One of the members in the audience raised a question about how can Rs 300 per month for 500 TV channels fight with Rs 500 per month worth Netflix for subscription revenues. People are watching OTT over TV. To this, Dasgupta suggested, “Don't categorise TV as TV that you knew. Don't over analyse on these things. Treat it as content and that it will be consumed when it is good enough.”

Anand too replied, “In the US, when Netflix came, the market was charging USD 70-100 for the cable ARPU home and Netflix came in at USD 10. It was captive and already run content. Here you're talking about a USD 5 ARPU, and it's not easy. If you compare India with Bharat, the ARPU is around USD 2.70.”

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