An extract from Dheeraj Sinha’s book Consumer India: Inside the Indian Mind and Wallet
The entertainment and media arena is slowly but certainly becoming segmented. These are definitely not the times of one size fits all. Bollywood, for example, is witnessing the rising phenomenon of multiplex movies, cinema made for the multiplex audiences who are urban and relatively more discerning than the average masses. Movies such as Bheja Fry, Life in a Metro, Page 3, Corporate, and Traffic Signal — each made with a budget of anywhere from Rs 6 to Rs 40 million, fairly modest by Bollywood standards — have managed to recoup up to four times their cost at the box office. The economics of multiplex movies have started to make sense because finally there is an audience willing to shell out Rs 150-200 to watch a film with a slightly different take. The fact that multiplex theatres have a smaller capacity per screen to fill has also helped justify the equation.
The other space where narrowcasting is becoming increasingly important is that of news. With increasing localization of coverage and rising literacy levels, Hindi news as a segment is growing. In print, for instance, Hindi newspapers have the highest growth rate. Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar not only top the list of Hindi dailies but are also the top two dailies in the country, according to the Indian Readership Survey 2010. A Hindi daily like Dainik Jagran, for instance, prints at 30 locations in 11 states and ends up producing 204 sub-editions. Certainly these regional language dailies are closer to the ground and to the hearts of their readers and thus are building a viable regional news segment.
The divide between the English and the Hindi world continues in the television news space as well. The difference between English and Hindi news channels is as much in their content as in their language. What makes headlines at the top English news channels is quite different from what makes headlines on Hindi news. Hindi news channels are skewed toward stories of human interest, entertainment, and sensational crimes. Stories such as “Mandir ka rahasya,” a mystery feature of children who visited a temple and never wanted to return to their parents, or "Yamraj se mulakat," in which a dead man comes back to life and recounts his experiences after death, are staples on many Hindi news channels. The English news channels, on the other hand, are obsessed with national politics and the degradation of civil society. What works for the Hindi audience in this case appears to be different from what works for the English-speaking audience. This underlines the need for news providers to tailor their coverage to the specific audience rather than aim for a broad national audience.
The trend of narrowcasting is also significant when it comes to magazines. While mainstream magazines are losing readership at a steady pace, there are significant activities in the specialist or niche magazine space. From mid-2007 to 2008, there were at least 20 such titles launched, according to the This Year, Next Year report by Group M. Leading magazine publishing houses like the Worldwide Media and India Today groups have entered into partnerships to bring many international brands to India. Within a span of a year or so, India has added to its magazine stands brands like GQ, Vogue, Rolling Stone,and Forbes, to name just a few. Clearly, niche offerings are beginning to be profitable in the space of entertainment and media. India is a country of many diverse audiences, and the media needs to move from broadcast to narrowcast.
Media in different SKUs
Just like personal care products, entertainment also needs to be available in various sizes. The game of cricket, for example, once at least an all-day tournament, now can be played and viewed as a three-and-a-half-hour match, running just a bit longer than a typical movie. This new form of cricket, also called Twenty20 or T20, packs a lot more adrenaline into a much shorter time frame. The packaging of the game itself has borrowed freely from soccer codes. Cheerleaders have been brought in, and their Lycra-clad bodies move to drumbeats whenever the ball hits the boundary. T20 is the new SKU (stock keeping unit) of cricket entertainment. The news, too, needs to be made available in different sizes to meet the access preferences of different viewers. People today don't care so much whether they see it on television or read it in the newspaper — what matters is that they get just the bit of news they want when they really want it. People with less time may want to know just the breaking news; for them, an SMS update or a website that’s easily accessible works well. When they have more time, they may seek a slightly deeper analysis — then a television feature or a newspaper article will have more appeal. At yet another time they may want online access to a favorite TV program, because they missed it the previous evening or they want to forward a link to a friend. In the world of increasing information parity, it’s the access that’s driving our media choices. People are pulling out what interests them when and where they can. Media brands need to see themselves as portals of content available in various SKUs and across media, not as solely a television or a print player.
The biggest driver that’s forcing providers to offer bite-sized content is the mobile phone. The device is fast replacing the camera and the music player and soon could be the most preferred screen. With over 427 million subscribers in India, the mobile phone is already the country’s single most popular music device. For Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile service provider, over 30 per cent of revenues from value added services (VAS) comes from music, as reported by The Economic Times in August 2009. As entertainment goes portable, content will have to follow suit. UTV, a leading media and entertainment company in India, has struck a deal with Sony Ericsson to offer four blockbuster movies on memory cards embedded in the handsets. This licensing deal for four of its films — Jodhaa Akbar, Rang De Basanti, Race, and Fashion — has netted UTV Rs 10 million and a completely new audience segment.
Reflecting change, driving change
The media for the new emerging India have been both a mirror of change and a catalyst of change. In the desire to stay ahead and stay fresh, media have woven narratives that show India what it can become. Movies like Chak De! India and reality shows like Indian Idol have presented an image of a progressive India, moving ahead. By providing platforms for people to showcase themselves, by championing the purpose of effective public governance, the media have played a definitive role in catalyzing India’s ambitions. In this journey of change, however, media that had become the screen of India’s social conscience have undergone their own changes. Entertainment content today can get away with a lot, including a movie that generates humor with its gay theme (Dostana) and another that explores the tensile strength in relationships of love and marriage (Life in a Metro). They have managed this without overtly crossing the line of culturally sanctioned subjects. Though media may be bursting the old boundaries on issues like morality, the industry has managed to keep the fabric of its own conscience relatively intact.
Television has learned from cinema; with its recent content, too, it pushes the boundaries time and again. It has realized that genres in entertainment are fluid. Reality television can be used to launch a general entertainment channel, which happened in the successful case of Colors. That genres can be blurred is the truth that news channels live every day, walking the tightrope between news and entertainment — and sometimes falling off when neighborhood gossip becomes “breaking news.” Nevertheless, their genre has played a pivotal role in creating a public space in which citizens have come together for a cause, giving media a quasi-role in the governance scheme of things.
No other category resonates so closely with the changing culture and consumer, simultaneously leading and reflecting change. There are therefore no fixed formulas in the media category. Risks and adventures have generally been rewarded by the consumer. A portion of reality mixed with a portion of creativity has served as a good recipe to this point. But as newer forms of delivery take over — chiefly as the mobile phone becomes a key screen for infotainment — life will change yet again. What will not change is the fact that media will always be both the leading indicator and the creator of this change.
CONSUMER INDIA: INSIDE THE INDIAN MIND AND WALLET
By Dheeraj Sinha
Published by: John Wiley & Sons
Price: Rs 400