As the country moves towards complete digitisation of cable television, the viewership patterns and advertising might see new trends. In the digitisation process, a section of cable TV households often go into a dark period for some time. However, there has been a long standing debate if broadcasters keep on feeding illegal analogue connections to boost viewership.
The Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) has decided to get rid of this doubt by putting an end to measuring viewership of analogue homes. While there is no confirmation on the exact numbers in the BARC sample, it was learnt that it is largely in proportion to the overall analogue homes in the country.
Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC India said, “According to our recent BI 2016 findings, 42 per cent of homes were analogue as on March 2016. However, this proportion reduced significantly in the last 12 months.”
The country is rapidly pacing towards complete digitisation despite a few hiccups in some pockets of the country. Tamil Nadu is facing some issues and it might take some more time before it is completely digitised and so are a few other states such as West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, for its sheer size.
Dasgupta feels, “BARC India has a certain number of analogue homes in its panel on the basis of revised Universe Estimate we rolled out in February this year. The government order to switch off analogue signals on March 31 has had an impact on viewership that our system has recorded. We have seen a drop in total TV Impressions and also viewership of a few genres. We expect some amount of flux to continue in the ratings for a couple of more weeks due to on-ground changes. At our end, we will stop reporting analogue homes by end-June (except where legal necessity will require us to continue reporting them) – which is when we believe analogue switch off would have been completely implemented except for states like TN.”
However, once BARC India removes all the analogue homes from the sample, the viewership might get affected. What kind of impact can be expected? “Not much,” said the Head of Research Department at one of the leading broadcasters. He added, “Nobody might ever know this impact for two major reasons. One is, by the time BARC will stop measuring analogue, which is June end, most of the digitisation would have happened. Second, this time, when the analogue is getting converted to digital and the viewership impact might be seen, Indian Premier League has clouded everything that meets the eye -- as far as viewership is concerned.”
A senior media planner felt that there will be no permanent impact on the viewership. “The only impact that we can expect is that from the switching of channels. This means that in analogue system, when a viewer had to go to X channel, he had to cross Y number of channels, which would give these Y channels some extra marginal numbers. In the digital system, the scope of getting spillover viewership is zero and hence in time, this disturbance in viewership will go away and the industry will find stability in the trends,” she said.
We spoke to a lot of people in the media fraternity, including media planners, buyers, experts, broadcasters and a few from the very close circuits of measurement agencies. Many of them believe the digital and analogue viewer has a very different viewership habit. Every digital viewer is very different from another and draws a fragmented pattern. The analogue viewers, on the other hand, are more uniformly habituated.
Among the set of experts that we spoke to, only two of them said this trend might not be the same across the country. One of the experts who represents one of the niche channels, supported the switching channel theory and said, “This pattern of uniform viewership habit is dependent more on the availability and reach of a channel. So when a region goes from digital to analogue suddenly, it completely depends on how soon is the channel able to match the reach. The interim impact can also be attributed to the TV dark homes. So, the homes that have gone off analogue but yet to go digital will pull down the viewership to a certain extent.”
BARC India however, has no data to prove any such theory of uniform viewership in analogue markets and fragmented viewership pattern in the digital markets. The measurement agency just does not measure the analogue and digital data separately.
While the MIB has mandated that digitisation be completed by March 31 and legally, the analogue signals in the country have been switched off, there still is some piracy going on. Few experts suggest that the analogue signals are live in about 15 per cent of the markets, while some others feel that this number is as large as 40 per cent. So how long for complete digitisation, finally?
Dasgupta said, “The MIB has now asked the state governments to intervene and ensure complete digitisation. Also we are seeing aggressive campaigns by direct to home (DTH) players, multi-system operators (MSOs) and broadcasters to ensure smooth transition from analogue to digital. DAS IV is the toughest phase among all and we are hopeful that complete digitisation should happen over the next three months.”