Over the last four years, there has been a cataclysmic change in the broadcast industry. From the monopolistic days of Doordarshan, today, India has over 30 channels. India is the home to the world’s fastest growing Television, Cable & Satellite market. India has more than 250 million TV viewers with the base of 55 million TV homes. In just four years time, it has a Cable and Satellite distribution infrastructure reaching out to 18 million homes with a penetration of 35%.
In International Stock exchanges, the leading broadcasting companies have among the highest P/E ratios and are considered very profitable. Seeing the success of ZEE a large no. of TV channels mushroomed in the last 2-3 years. Not all of them had understood the dynamics of the industry. In the face of stiff competition ZEE NETWORK has continued to grow in business, connectivity and TV ratings.
Today the initial dust has settled - the future belongs to serious and committed players – to people who realize that broadcasting is a serious business with long gestation periods. As an entrepreneur and as a media professional, I welcome the entry of new channels. I firmly believe that competition offers customers a greater choice and helps to expand the overall market size, the end result is that a proactive market leader always gains.
By the turn of the century India will be the world’s largest cable and satellite market with a connectivity of over 40 million homes comprising of 200 million viewers.
Growth of the broadcasting industry in any’ country is dependent on:
i. Technological development and growth.
ii. Economic growth.
iii. Programming trends.
iv. Advertising potential.
v. Industry players.
vi. Regulation framework and deregulation For smaller players, however, affordability and sustenance is the key.
Fully industrialized and developed countries are all information rich societies, while the less developed are also the less information rich. Information richness and liberalization are inter-twined. TV will become the melting screen where values and ethics would inspire the society towards becoming more richly informed and economically progressive.
Hitherto, in the first 4-5 years of the growth curve of the industry, the primary function of broadcasting was to Inform, Educate and Entertain. In the future, the primary function will be to Stimulate, Influence and Motivate in anticipation of Multi-media dominating the information super highway. The television of today would transform into the all-encompassing television screen of tomorrow, which would become the main denominator of economic progress.
The future of broadcasting in India is dependent on the technological enhancements, in all aspects, be it in TV hardware, in platform or in connectivity.
In India, over 90% of the TV sets available are Black & White without remote control. Of the Color TVs, 75% have less than 8 channels. With international sophisticated TV brands entering the Indian market, prices will fall drastically and further boost the cable & satellite Industry.
Asia sat l, launched in 1990, changed the very definition of regional satellites. Keeping the Indian market in mind, there are today a number of satellites being launched. This would bring down the price of TV transponders and thus further help broadcasters.
Already digital channels have started beaming into India. The breakthrough in digital compression technology, would leapfrog the analogue technology. This would increase the capability of each platform to offer manifold more channels.
Where would all this lead to in the ground distribution front? Here I would like to draw your attention, to the trend of the European development. In the European matured market, the cable cartel have a considerable advantage as they enjoy a monopoly due to extremely high entry barriers. They also enjoy the prospect of new technology providing opportunity to see television related services e.g. video on demand, interactive services plus unrelated services like software and telephones. Traditionally these networks have been used for point-to-point distribution of audiovisual information. It is becoming obvious throughout Europe that the cable networks will increasingly challenge the public telecommunication operation in their traditional roles. World over, media and telecom companies are integrating. MCI and News corp have had a strategic alliance for furthering their business together. This will be an emerging trend in India. Conventional wisdom has it that programming is King, but I personally believe that in the near future, distribution is most likely to usurp this position. Worldwide cable business is rich in cash flows once the connectivity is achieved. Broadcasters across the globe are acquiring cable companies in order to ensure end consumer reach. It was with this philosophy, that Zee had invested in Satiable which I think will help Zee Network and also herald the Information Superhighway in India. But cable penetration across the globe varies from 35% - 60%. Cable has not been able to reach the remotest and far flung areas. Geographical borders confine cable operators. The solution for greater connectivity is direct to home (DTH). DTH vests power with the viewer. It respects the viewers individuality in terms of his mind set and life style. Encryption driven revenue from DTH is very profitable for the operator after it attains the critical mass. I am of the personal belief that both modes of distribution would co-habit symbiotically and help to open the market further. Cable networks, akin to newspapers would be mass based; while DTH, like magazines, would look at niches.
But, distribution is merely the veins and arteries of the system - the heart remains the programming. In any competitive consumer industry, the distribution and packaging would merely entice the customer - the product quality would ensure repeat purchase. Similarly in broadcasting, distribution would merely ensure the presence of a channel into the viewers’ homes; but it is only programming which would ensure viewer ship.
Indian culture is largely an oral based one, where history is narrated rather than made. Myth and reality have been totally intertwined. Heroes are larger than life and good and evil are clearly demarcated.
The fact that fiction and fantasy are interwoven into the minds of the Indians, is borne out by the success of mythological serials and deification of stars who play the roles of pantheons.
In the initial years the game plan of ZEE TV was cost effective programming combined with penetration pricing to aid the process of selling the concept of satellite television by making this medium attractive to advertisers. By this strategy and the popularity of its programmers, ZEE TV continues to drive and define the satellite penetration. The competitors came but they mostly aped Zee’s programming genre and consequently a few of them are faceless.
I feel that no channel can copy another’s success story. Every channel has to build its own character and have its own positioning in the programming matrix. The success of Zee Cinema has shown that today’s discerning vie wears are willing to pay a price for quality fare.
At this point, I would like to draw an analogy with the printing industry. In publishing, daily newspapers like The Times of India, Hindustan Times & Hindu cater to mass readership while magazines like Business India & Famine cater to niches. Both have their own reach advertisers. Similarly in broadcasting, niches will have to be developed and channels should be niche specific. With this logical format we had launched niche channels like Music Asia, Zee Education and Asian Sky Shop. The future belongs to those broadcasters who have grip over their programming niches and good knowledge of their viewers’ demographics. Till recently Television was called a “Onaway Street” and a threat was posed by imported (mainly Hollywood) programmers to the Indian and Asian cultures. It felt like a new kind of colonialism, by imposing western values on third world countries.
But no more TV programming is deeply routed in local thoughts and ethos. Today programming made in India is being lapped up by the international community specially the NRI community world-wide. Programmes made in India will become major competitors in the global market. Another aspect of future programming is co-production. Co-production of regional programmes between foreign production houses and local producers, between producers and suppliers of post production facilities; between producers and broadcasters, etc. This will open new floodgates of contracts and legal tie-ups. TV today is not an industry - it is an integral part of society. Television viewing constitutes the warp and woof of the social structure. People spend 4-5 hours of their time watching TV programmes. Comparatively, time spent on daily newspaper reading is only about 15-20 minutes.
Therefore any policy decision on broadcasting should be looked into from a holistic perspective of the national interest and social impact.
I would like to draw your attention to some basic issues which I feel should be incorporated in the national media policy. In the larger business and developmental interest of broadcasting, it should be positioned as an independent activity and not as a departmental activity of the Government of India.>br>
In order to broadcast national pride & hon. our, satellite and private TV channels should be permitted to cover national events because they further the national cause. Media impacts the thinking of the people. Therefore a monopolistic control of various different media would yield disproportionate bargaining power, which may not be in the best interest of the nation. Therefore, certain guidelines should emerge on cross-media and foreign equity participation. The future for broadcasting is enticing and challenging. We have merely surfed over the tidal wave of media opportunities; the cyclone follows.