Indians stick to TV for prime time and that's keeping them from cutting the 'cord'

Indians stick to TV for prime time and that's keeping them from cutting the 'cord'
  • Prime time shows have over 60% of ‘co-viewing instances’ with families watching TV together.
  • TV in India has an unparalleled position as a family entertainment platform, both in terms of price as well as reach, said a JM Financial report.
  • Growth in OTT has expanded the overall video consumption, and has not come at the expense of linear TV.
  • Urban youth with access to wired broadband and proclivity to watch international content are likely to shift exclusively to OTT platforms, the report said.
  • Low cost of pay TV and low wired broadband penetration can work against cord-cutting, the report said.
For families across India, prime time is mostly spent in front of their television sets. According to JM Financial, prime time shows have over 60% of ‘co-viewing instances’ – and this is what will keep TVs running in India in spite of the proliferation of OTT, as per the report.

In addition to the fact that 98% of Indian homes only have a single TV, low proliferation of wired broadband is also keeping people from making the total shift exclusively to OTT. While India has over 650 million mobile broadband users, it has only 18 million wired broadband connections.

“Note, these 18 million connections include small and medium enterprises as well, leaving even lower connections for households. We believe these trends and facts suggest TV screens - and linear TV - will remain the mainstay of India’s family entertainment,” said the report named ‘In the eye of the storm’.

It also said that growth in OTT has expanded the overall video consumption, and has not come at the expense of linear TV.

Pay TV vs OTT vs Free Dish


The cost of pay TV – that’s subscription-based TV viewing – is around $3 per month. In comparison, OTT subscription cost is at least 2.5 times that of pay TV. “TV in India has an unparalleled position as a family entertainment platform, both in terms of price as well as reach,” the report said.

In the US, however, where subscribers are shifting away from pay TV to OTT – it’s the exact opposite. While pay TV is at around $100 a month, Netflix subscription plans start at $10 per month. Added to that, wired broadband penetration in the US is at 95%.

In spite of the fundamentals that support the long-term prospects of linear TV, it is being hurt by many factors. The usual suspect is OTT, which has been chipping away the top-of-the-pyramid user base off pay TV, who are the best spenders. This is reflected in the 6% decline in pay TV subscribers between 2019 to 2021.

During the same period, broadcasters’ subscription revenue declined by 13% and ad revenue too went down by 12% – hurt by lowered FMCG ad spends and pandemic-led troubles. FMCG contributes to 50% of TV ad spends. On the other end of the spectrum, the government's DD Free Dish, a free-to-air DTH, too has pulled away millions of subscribers.

Against cord-cutting

The JM Financial report, however, believes that there is reason to be sanguine. “TV screen’s dominance during prime time coupled with pay-TV’s low ARPU and wired broadband’s lower penetration in India work against cord-cutting,” the report said.

Broadcasters have been withdrawing General Entertainment Channels or GECs from DD Free Dish. That could stem the migration of viewers from pay TV. Moreover, it also expects that receding raw material cost inflation and buoyant festive demand could boost ad-revenue growth starting in the second half of the current financial year.

“Unlike the general perception, our analysis indicates TV has held on to its share of ad spend while digital has gained at the expense of other media. TV’s wider reach and India’s low ad-spend-to-GDP ratio mean significant headroom for both TV and digital ad-spend to grow,” the report said.

Moreover, India still has close to 100 million non-TV households, which provides a long runway for growth.

Where are ad volumes going?

Ad volumes have been falling differently across channel genres. Free commercial time (FCT) in genres such as English movies and English niche fell sharply even over 2019-21— reflecting the impact of OTT on select genres.

The ad volumes of English movie channels declined the steepest at 45% while English niche went down by 29% and that of music channels went down 19%.

“Urban youth, the viewership base of English channels on TV, appear to have shifted to OTT with global, on-demand content. Following the same logic, there seems to be a small impact on Hindi GEC (-3% FCT over 2019-21) while regional genres seem largely unaffected, as of now,” the report said.

On the other hand, ad volumes grew in genres like news, Hindi movies, Marathi channels, Tamil channels, Kannada, Bengali and Malayalam. However, ad volume fall in English channels have little effect on overall growth in TV as it constitutes only 1% of overall TV viewership.

Even as the urban youth with access to wired broadband, higher spending capacity, and proclivity to watch international and niche content are likely to cut the cords and shift exclusively to OTT platforms, there is a lot of juice left in the linear TV market.

“With around 300 million households, a sprawling regional language market, and a diverse cultural background, India offers significant opportunities for all forms of entertainment to co-exist. We believe OTT, pay TV, and free-to-air channels will all co-exist in the country,” the report said.

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