Divergence over Convergence: The Uniquely Indian Story

22 Jan,2021


By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh Kapoor

The week that was saw India win a Test series in Australia, despite all possible odds stacked up against them. In India’s 89-year Test cricket history, this has to count as the most memorable and cherished win.


Will this huge cricketing achievement reflect in viewership numbers when they come in next week? Almost certainly not. If the peak viewing of the Gabba test touches even 50% level of the weakest IPL 2020 match, it will be a surprise. While the non-prime timings contribute to limiting the viewership, the wider ‘issue’ with Test cricket, of being able to engage large sections of the audience, especially the youth, remains.


As a result, while T20s and even ODIs are profitable formats, Test cricket is a struggle to monetise. The upcoming India-England series in India has five T20s lined up. The money they will take will be enough to fund the four Test matches. A new format (T10) has come up in recent times, and there’s a well-promoted T10 tournament in Abu Dhabi scheduled from January 28. The duration of the ‘perfect’ cricket match for the masses will continue to shrink with time, till it reaches the soccer level of 120 minutes from start to end, including the breaks.


Which brings us to the larger question: Where does content like Test cricket, which has a niche but very loyal following, sit in the scheme of things? Cricket may find its way through, because even the ‘niche’ numbers are in millions, but what about niche content in other genres such as GEC, movies or news? It virtually has no chance to survive in a viewership system that is designed around the lowest common denominator (LCD). And because our television models continue to be ad-dependent in major part, the subscription-only route is not viable too.


Here’s where digital comes in. It may be time to reconcile that unlike the West, where “TV” has two branches, linear and on-demand, India will see two very distinct and divergent categories emerging more clearly over the next five years. Linear television will continue to become more and more aligned to the LCD, while SVOD services will get more and more specific in the niches they will target.


The abbreviation “OTT” has emerged as a uniquely Indian one. But there’s a good reason why that’s happened. Because unlike the West, we cannot use “TV” for a medium that does not look or behave like classic television at all.


All this while, convergence has dominated discussions around the growth of different content distribution options in India. Catch-up television and sports are good examples of convergence, as are reality shows like Bigg Boss and KBC. But a lot of that, except sports, is AVOD. AVOD is essentially like YouTube, which ends up being LCD-aligned more often than not. But it’s the SVOD end where convergence with other distribution platforms, especially linear, family-viewing-based television will be impossible to believe.


A relevant question then is: Which is a bigger opportunity – a huge LCD monolith of millions of people, or the sum of several smaller, niche offerings to a divergent set of taste segments? The answer would vary for the content creator, the distributor and the advertiser. But this divergence, rather than convergence, is inevitable. And that’s an exciting story to look forward to.

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