Shailesh Kapoor: Lest we forget… television is a ‘service’ industry

05 Jul,2013

Shailesh Kapoor

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The latest phase of ad cap has come into play from July 2013, limiting inventory to 20 minutes per hour for news and 16 minutes for GECs. Come October 1, 12 minutes may be a reality. Discussions and debates on ad cap over the last few weeks lead to a larger point, which we hardly give our due attention to. That television channels are not products but services. In effect, watching a television channel is closer to visiting a restaurant than using a shampoo. You may not be paying per viewing session (at least not explicitly), but the principle still holds.

 

Those in the service industry, such as hospitality, retail and food, among others, will appreciate that the norms and parameters that apply to service businesses are sharply distinct from those that apply to the product businesses.

 

Yet, most of the media talk about television is only about content. It boils down to programmes, their cast and crew, and the program ratings. But if we were to detach the product part of the business and look at everything else, we may stumble upon some critical parameters that can shape the way a television channel brand is perceived, consumed and advocated.

 

Take for instance the breaks themselves. The break duration, length, timing of the break point and packaging (e.g. the countdown clocks) are service parameters. A long break is, in many ways, the equivalent of a restaurant taking unduly long to bring your food to your table. Yet, these are parameters we have only peripherally worried about, till TRAI stepped in.

 

Similarly, we hear a lot about “picture quality” in consumer research. It is that abstract notion which can be borne out of a mix of production budgets, bandwidth and creative execution. The diagnostics of negative feedback on this aspect generally ends up being technical and theoretical in nature, and hence, un-actionable.

 

Then, there is a critical service parameter that applies to practically all service businesses: On Time. Television schedules, especially on movie channels and repeats on entertainment channels, are often violated by upto 15-20 minutes. In the era of EPG, and growing viewer education on how to best use the medium, this is simply a case of poor service.

 

Of course, there’s the channel packaging, particularly relevant to the news genre, where viewers may have to endure multiple tickers to watch their daily dose of news. Even on entertainment channels, screen space being covered by programme promotions is increasingly becoming an irritant for the purist viewers, and it’s a matter of time before more viewers begin to articulate the same. TRAI has tried to step in here too, but ad cap is understandably taking more attention for now.

 

The list of service parameters will be longer, if one was to sit down and make it. At some stage – and that stage is not too far away – television channels will have to move towards taking a holistic brand view, than a content view. And when they do that, they will have to acknowledge that customer service (viewer service in this case, though advertiser service can also be argued to be important) cannot be an unconscious activity. Especially in genres where the product (content) is not too differentiated (and there are many such genres), service quality can create real differentiation and lead to higher subscription revenues, as we slowly but surely move into a true addressable environment where a la carte or smaller channel packages will be real options for the consumers.

 

Two bad services back-to-back in tennis are called a ‘double fault’. It costs the player a point, often the game, sometimes the set and the match. Broadcasters may rather have aces up their sleeves instead.

 

Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor

 

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