Television has enough potential even today: Shashi Sinha Apextalk

There’s an ongoing debate over TV versus digital on IPL with Disney Star claiming a 75% share of IPL ad sales, while Viacom18 said it has cornered two-thirds share. What is your view?

We will have a clearer picture towards the middle or the end of the tournament but suffice to say that both the numbers are wrong. It is neither 75:25 in favour of TV nor two-thirds and one-third in favour of digital. In my view, it will probably be 50:50 or 60:40 in favour of TV. But it’s difficult at this moment because the tournament is still going on. Earlier, a lot of clients had held back due to the confusion, but they are coming back after seeing the numbers.

Do you think the two rights holders have in a way confused the advertisers?

The issue is the two players have made it a zero-sum game, but it is not a fact. Now India is an extremely fragmented market and it’s very difficult to get a reach in this country. Now clients are confused with the cumulative reach numbers. Between BARC numbers and JioCinema numbers, if I take all of those at face value, and add the reach for one spot, it is not more than 40-50 million all put together, including handheld. So forget this cumulative build- up of reach. If I’m putting one advertisement spot, the maximum number of people I will reach is 40-50 million. Now this is a stupid way of looking at it, but out of 1.4 billion people in India, assuming that 400 million is not your audience, still one spot is giving me just 5% reach.

If the numbers are going up, consumption is going up because you made it free and you have done terrific marketing, but there is still great headroom. With a 5% reach, IPL is India’s biggest property, and not because they paid so much money for the rights. I am not blaming anyone but the thought of it being a zero-sum is not just wrong but is ridiculous. In India, there is no other property that would have given this reach, so the efforts from both the rights holders should have been how we can grow the market.

As the head of one of the largest media agency networks, what would you recommend to them?

My appeal to both would be to sit down together and build a story on what IPL has done for the industry and can do in future, rather than playing this zero-sum game. Look at the headroom. In spite of being India’s biggest property, its reach is just 5%, Obviously cumulative reach goes up, but for that you have to put in money.

Instead of working together, they have confused the market, and advertisers are asking what is, and what is not working. Is TV working better or digital working better? I know a few clients who decided to stay out because of this confusion.

I feel this is just the first year and nothing is lost, IPL is a long-term property. They should sit down together and look at the learnings, combine the data and put it together. Hopefully, in the near future, BARC will also have across-media video.

If you’re a serious player in this game, if it’s about genuinely growing a business, there couldn’t be a better opportunity than this. Two powerful organizations have put 48,000 crore into this property. Now to monetise, it’s next to impossible by claiming each other’s share. You have to grow the pie, unless the aim is to build a global valuation, which is a separate thing.

But in my mind, monetization will only happen if you can make it into a property where every advertiser in India wants to advertise, on one medium or the other. This may be a wild thought, but why can’t they work together and sell it together?

Do you agree, as the BARC India chairman about the narrative on the death of TV, and digital taking over?

First we must get some numbers, right? And I’m only quoting BARC data as BARC does a baseline study once in two years and then extrapolates on that basis. And it’s third-party validated data. So there are 220 million TV homes, out of which about 40-45 million are free-to-air (FTA) homes. This keeps fluctuating, which is why I’m giving you the range as people keep switching on and off. The balance is pay-TV homes, which is equally divided between cable and DTH (direct-to-home). So whatever people say, the fact is India is a strong pay-TV market.

Two, the total time spent on TV is going up every year, which is at 3.5 hours a day, and consumption of free TV is lower than pay TV, and this whole perception of TV going down is because free and pay are not weight variables for viewership metrics. As FTA has grown, from say 30 million a few years back to 45 million, and their consumption is less, ultimately as we average it out the overall consumption seems to be coming down because these are not primary control variables.

One of the major changes we are exploring at BARC and with the technical committee, and it will require every stakeholder to be on board, is that should we weigh data separately for FTA and pay. Once you do that, there will not be an averaging effect and these assumptions will stop as we can give separate data for FTA and pay channels.

So why is the perception that nobody watches TV anymore?

I speak about it very passionately and I hope the industry listens to me. The problem is that people like us are watching content on OTT and because we are not watching TV anymore, we think nobody else is. Now my personal view — and I haven’t been able to manage stakeholders on this to evangelize it— is when we started, for a variety of reasons the stakeholders wanted individual-level ratings and not household level. For individual ratings, the person in the house where a meter is placed, has to push a button assigned to him or her on the remote, confirming that he or she is watching TV. Most of the time, people don’t do it and thus, the content that gets most viewership is what is made for the masses. Which is the most popular show on TV right now? It’s Anupama, it’s very popular, but you and I may not have watched it.

Finally, ratings are the only way to monetise, so broadcasters have been using the ratings and making the same shows to get more viewership.

Is there any solution to it?

The solution is using the household data, and ascribing it to the individuals if required. BARC teams are working on return path data and a different type of set meters, where once you put them in the houses, users don’t have to push any buttons and BARC gets the data. We will try that experiment in a few markets and study the data. If we start building the ratings that way, and you start segmenting, it will create niches for people to monetise as most of the broadcasters own OTT services too. Now this is a journey and it won’t happen overnight, and may take two years. But, that could be the future.

The feeling is that the bottom is going away to FTA and the top is going away to OTT, in my mind it’s a misnomer. The top is going away to OTT because we are not allowing the broadcasters to monetize the content. The bottom is also not going to FTA, it’s just that we aren’t weighing it. The moment we start doing it, some advertisers will want to go for free, but many will want to go for pay TV only.

That’s why I say that there is a lot of juice left in TV and I feel that BARC has a role to play as a TV rating company and hopefully, sooner than later, we will end up being a content measurement company – whether it’s TV or OTT. The US has already started measuring multi-screen content, and here also it will happen.

While BARC is providing third-party data for TV measurement, for OTT, we have to be dependent on data shared by the individual players. Will it change anytime soon?

All I can say is that it’s very difficult to sell on a sustained basis without third-party data. Even if you take the IPL, initially, there were more clients who were coming for digital, but now there are more towards TV because of third-party data. So when the third-party data started coming out, and at least the first 10 games it is showing growth on TV, clients are coming back. But I will not generalize the basis of two or three examples.

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