A surfeit of choices and too many alternate options of engagement are gradually eating into the time spent before the box. Although Indians still spend nearly four hours a day watching TV, the shift to alternate screens is happening fast. Broadcast TV now faces a media landscape which its once prime position is being threatened. A shift in socio-cultural preferences is igniting this change in viewing habits. Cord cutting, as the phenomenon of actually giving up your Cable or Satellite connection which is quite apparent in markets like the US, is now slowly making an entry into Indian homes. I know many people who now access all their news and entertainment via Internet and on demand is becoming more dynamic and democratic than ever before. As broadcasters, we can propagate programmes online and on demand, and if we can catch the viewers attention, they will be discussed and recommended by thousands of people on social networks in real time, becoming instantly accessible by new viewers.
Globally, there is a trend where many large telecom firms like AT&T, Comcast, Singtel, Airtel and Jio are acquiring media (and entertainment) companies — and tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Sony (they acquired Columbia three decades ago) are diversifying into content. A handful of entertainment giants like Disney, Bertelsmann, Discovery and Viacom are still in the race of eyeballs. Of course, there are hundreds of local and regional players around the world and some of them like Times Group in India are of a significant size. Besides, several OTT platforms/services are still out there pretty much panning the proverbial gold. Where do simple vanilla broadcasters fit in the everchanging world of tomorrow, specially in India with its diverse audience of a billion plus is consuming more inexpensive data i.e. information and entertainment than even highly developed markets like US Europe.
Three billion viewers all over the globe are not going to junk their TV connections in a hurry but within the next four or five years, half of them will switch to streaming on demand services. Unfortunately, technology and regulators worldwide are adding to the woes of conventional TV networks. Long-form entertainment is still very much in broadcasters’ domain. The real threat is the changing lifestyle and habits of today’s generation. Increasingly, we are seeing the success of made for streaming films, dramas and documentaries etc are stealing audiences. With larger budgets, courtesy deeper pockets even the talent is attracted towards the tech turned media conglomerates and OTTs . There is not only a shift in consumers but purveyors of media and entertainment away from linear TV. Gaming and short form content is another magnet pulling millions apart from the box. Multiple media across multiple devices is the new normal. From archetypical family viewing home entertainment is getting individual, interactive and instant. Streaming audio/video and personalised TV with a smorgasbord of different formats both genres and duration is the way forward for sure.
Content, a term used for anything from a tweet to a thesis, news to exposes, a song to a music channel, a short video clip to a library of films is hardly a differentiator in most cases. Even exclusive coverage major sporting events, political upheavals, wars, disasters or triumphs of the human spirit can get you only fleeting audience. Nothing is sticky anymore. Regurgitating of the same story in different formats is hardly compelling. One reason that broadcasters will lose this battle is their inability to innovate their programming. A cookie cutter approach where formatted shows are universally produced and screened are now reaching a fatigue level. Every successful show or programme is replicated. More of the same works to a large extent and it has in case of television but now it’s coming to the end of the course. After a point familiarity breeds contempt.
In fact, so far OTTs have had successes which had either a different look and feel than existing broadcast shows or went into darker areas. However, programmers and creators must be wary of falling in a similar trap as their predecessor. If everyone is going to rely on a similar matrix, albeit in a broader spectrum of genres, only the best will survive. I believe that the present average of 4 hours a day of tele viewing is about the optimum to sustain. Unlike appointment TV which has a fixed point chart and hence limited programming options online watching streamed or stored has virtually no limitations of choice. The next enhancement for consumer will be virtual reality and immersive TV and customisation. The coming five years is festival time for Indians as we will be offered a large array of content by different platforms. Creative fraternity needs to understand the new fragmented and attention deficit audience. It’s broadcasters who have to begin thinking of a strategy for the next decade or face extinction.
(Amit Khanna is a media personality and raconteur)