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Set-top democracy

Viewership research in the first phase of TV signal digitisation shows digital cable services gaining significantly and viewers favouring niche and small channels, writes Anita Sharan.

gadgets Updated: Jan 06, 2013 23:06 IST
Anita Sharan

With the first phase of the television signal digitisation over, where assigned parts of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai saw consumers switching to digital set-top boxes from analog signals, the process of digital access to television signals is underway.

As Harit Nagpal, MD and CEO of Tata Sky and president, DTH Association, said, "After phase 1 of the digitisation, especially its success in Delhi and Mumbai, the government has gained confidence that its implementation across India is doable.

For cable operators too, the mental roadblocks on going digital have crumbled. There is more confidence about the second phase of digitisation across 38 cities by March 31 being successful."

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Research by TAM Media, the agency that measures television viewership, shows that during phase 1, some viewership behavior trends have emerged that will only strengthen going forward into a digitised environment.

The TAM Establishment Study, started in May 2012 and executed on the ground by research agencies Nielsen and IMRB, is ongoing and will cover the entire digitisation period.

According to the study, viewers in the DAS (digital access system) phase 1 cities seem to have favoured cable over DTH (direct-to-home) in their conversion to digital set top boxes.

While DTH may also have added new subscribers, digital cable has seen runaway growth across Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

"That the cable operators have invested seriously in set top boxes shows a deeper commitment that's good for the industry," said Sanjay Gupta, COO, STAR India.

Going forward, the industry expects cable to remain aggressive, especially in geographies where it has high penetration.

LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM, predicts: "In the bigger cities, the local cable operators have strong relationships with consumers, which has helped convert them to digital set-top boxes faster than the DTH operators. In smaller places where houses are further apart, DTH will do well."

For the consumer too, Gupta said, DAS is excellent news. "A lot more content will be accessible now. People will experiment - try new content. For TV channels, there will be a lot more competition."

The TAM study also indicates a viewership growth for niche or smaller channels post-DAS, while higher viewership channels have lost viewers.

Gupta predicted that with greater choice on content, the current 20 hours per week of average TV viewing time would probably go up to 30 hours or more, as is the norm in developed markets.

"As a share of the total viewing time, general entertainment channels will probably see a reduction, though they will still hold on to nine-10 hours," he said.

On a visit to Mumbai from Jamshedpur where analog TV dominates, retired executive Manindra Mohan is enjoying digitised television viewing thoroughly.

"The picture quality is excellent and you have a choice of channels. I would pay for channels of specific interest to me - especially sports, travel and news," he said.

Housewife Bina Sinha from Kolkata observed: "I don't always watch Hindi serials because I enjoy them. Now, after getting my cable set-top box, I am enjoying watching non-fiction shows, especially animal and nature stuff."

Nagpal added that digitisation is enabling viewing several channels in languages of choice, "which is pushing up their viewership. Channels such as National Geographic, History, Discovery each have seven-eight language feeds that digital opens access to. Analog access only offered these channels in English."

"The most important change," concluded Gupta, "will be the democracy of content. Legacy advantages will be over."