TV Industry Needs a Better Household Establishment Survey

01 Aug,2022



By Indrani Sen


Indrani SenAs per the latest Performance Indicator Report (PIR) released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), subscription to the private DTH service continues to decline. A comparison between Q4 2021 and Q1 2022 shows a collective loss of 1.6 million paid active subscribers to DTH. It seems the various marketing initiatives introduced by the private DTH operators in 2021 have failed to arrest the slow and steady decline of the subscribers.


The same TRAI report shows that the cumulative active pay subscriber base of the top 13 cable and HITS platforms rose Marginally from 4.58 crore to 4.59 crore in Q12022, while the subscriptions to some other smaller MSOs declined. On the whole, it can be said that there is a stagnation in the subscriptions to cable TVs.


The dark horse in the arena of DTH operators is the DD Free Dish. According to various reports available, increase in number of channels available through DD Free Dish between 2017 and 2021 as well as addition of better-quality channels has doubled its subscribers from 22 million in 2017 to 43 million in 2022. Different Government sources have been claiming that DD Free Dish is the largest Dish operator in India covering more than 25% of the TV viewing households. The growth of users of DD Free Dish presents a totally different picture from the slow decline seen in the private DTH subscriptions. However, we have no clue regarding who are the users of DD Free Dish or what is their demographic profile. We often assume that the use of DD Free Dish is prevalent in the lower income groups in small towns or rural areas, but the actual penetration of DD Free Dish may be quite different from our assumptions.


We need to take into account three additional factors for a complete understanding of the source of TV viewing in India. First is the rapid growth of the OTT market in India; the second is the growth of smart TV sets and the third is the partnership of the telecom operators with the OTT players which are providing the TV viewers with alternative platforms for viewing TV content.


According to the Ormax OTT Audience Report 2021, the Indian OTT space has 353 million users and 96 million active paid subscribers. Most of the TV content is available today through various OTT platforms promoted by the TV Channels. The growth of internet and introduction of smart TV sets have eliminated the need for separate subscriptions to the TV content through Dish operators or Cable TV operators. So, the decline in direct subscription to TV through DTH or cable TV needs to be reviewed along with the growth in OTT subscription and smart TV sets by households.


Today, all telecom operators offer free access to more than one OTT platforms along with their pre-paid and post-paid services. A typical telco-OTT partnership is an ideal example of a symbiotic relationship which allows both parties to benefit. The strategy enables the telecom operator to ensures customer retention and adoption and the OTT players to enlarge the viewership of their content.


However, when we try to get an overview of TV viewership in India, we find that we do not have a complete understanding of the source of TV viewing. It is high time that research organisations provide the Media & Entertainment Industry with a Household Establishment Survey which indicates the type of TV subscription along with the ownership of TV, so that the users of the data get a clarity on the total picture. We have come a long way from the time when such household establishment surveys used to provide information on B&W and colour TV sets. We now need to know about the platform used for viewing TV contents, the type of TV set owned by the households as well as the type of subscriptions made by the household. Both BARC and MRUC should plan for household establishment surveys accordingly.


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