The country is gearing for 2019 and while citizens are busy making their wish list for the next general elections, the television (TV) industry and especially the news channels are preparing for what will be the defining moment of 2019. But, before we do that, it is important to assess the year gone by.
We measure the TV viewership habits of 836 million TV owning Indians and that helps immensely in getting the pulse of the nation, through what people want to watch. The one big development that I noticed and which, for me, defines 2018 is the changing consumption habits of Indians.
TV had a good year in 2018. Even at 66 per cent penetration, it accounts for the highest (42 per cent) share of the entire M&E (marketing and entertainment) ad spends. The fact that states such as Bihar/Jharkhand and North East/Sikkim have recorded a 25 per cent and 23 per cent increase in the number of TV households respectively, is proof of the growing interest in the medium. The number of channels viewed per week has also seen a remarkable jump; from 24 in pre-digitisation period to 35 in 2018.
What is interesting is the increase in the number of High Definition (HD) channels, from 78 to 92 in 2018. This indicates the growing inclination among viewers for better quality viewing. This changing preference has also been captured in BARC India data which has recorded a 57 per cent growth in HD viewership in 2018.
Through the year, we heard many talk about the increasing time spent on digital. But, the fact that even today, 93 per cent of all video consumption happens on TV, tells a different story. What the growing influence of digital has done however, is to encourage players in the TV space to serve audiences in all age brackets. This reflects in the high viewership of youth (15-30 year olds) who with 30 per cent share remain the highest contributor to TV viewership.
The growth that genres like Hindi GECs (up 15 per cent) and Hindi Movies (up 18 per cent) see year-on-year shows the love that Indian viewers have for drama. Also, the fact that these two remain the top two most viewed genres on TV talks about the core of Indian TV viewing. And while, many may feel that the audiences for these genres are in rural India, it is consumed equally by urban audiences as well.
This year has marked the growing preference for content in regional languages. This can be explained by not just the increased viewership, but also new channel launches. While South regionals saw a 7 per cent spike in viewership, led by Kannada which grew by 15 per cent; HSM (Hindi speaking market) regionals have grown by 20 per cent over 2017. The growth drivers in these markets have been Bhojpuri (38 per cent), Oriya (36 per cent) and Assamese (31 per cent) languages. Marathi and Bangla too have grown by 26 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.
The fact that news, especially English news (16 per cent growth over 2017) and sports channels (up by 21 per cent) have gained momentum too is a sign of changing consumption habits of Indian TV viewers. My gut tells me that regionals, especially the news and sports genres, will innovate the most in the coming year to cater to the needs of viewers.
Interestingly, the all-time high viewership of 34 billion impressions on TV, which is equal to almost one trillion man-minutes spent watching TV, was driven by events that were covered heavily by news channels. It was the week when India celebrated its seventy second Independence Day and also bid adieu to one of its iconic political leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In sports, while cricket continues to grab lion's share of viewership, wrestling and football are also getting traction with 12 per cent and 7 per cent share respectively in 2018. In fact, many have started believing that it is Live Sports on TV that is one of the drivers for subscription.
The increasing importance of soccer can be seen from the fact that a record 111 million viewers tuned in to watch the FIFA World Cup held in France. In fact, with 16 million impressions recorded for FIFA World Cup Final on TV, India ranked fourth in comparison with other football playing nations.
The year opened up new opportunities for content creators and platform owners and in 2019, those who keep innovation and viewer preference at the centre stand to benefit.
(The writer is CEO, BARC India)