Television Viewing Audience – Then & Now !


The Past

Back in 1982 just after the Asian Games, my dad decided that it was time for us kids to have a TV set. We got for us a Crown Black & White TV, that evening we played host to our entire community of neighbours. It was fun, mom made snacks for everyone, when that got over, people got their own dabbas. Slowly the entire neighbourhood got their own TVs. Over a 3 year period television viewing in my neighbourhood went from being a community experience where people commented, hooted, whistled, laughed, cried, poked to a more private experience – atleast we could eat dinner without the entire neighbourhood being witness to the event.


Television became the centre point of our family lives. The Saturday, Sunday movies and the film songs and the stray English serials were all mish-mashed into one government run channel and served hot. The family that watched TV together, commented, and laughed together it seemed stayed together. It was the time when intimate scenes required the younger lot to get out of the room to get a glass of water or take a loo break ( how can you watch the ‘hot’ scene when your parents were around).

Eventually we moved to a colour tv set and then we had two sets – one for me and my sister and one for the rest of the family. TV watching became selective and personal. Your family did not define what you watched, your sister and you compromised on what each wanted to watch. From being largely driven by what was available on one channel to the VCR to the cable Tv change was inevitable. Advertising funded programming started created aspirations and fuelled a generation of people to move from socialist India to the new bold consumerism.

The present

Over the ten year period from 1982 to 1992 advertising funded television in India with generous dose of government subsidy. The first Gulf War brought a sexy new avatar of television to India via the cable and satellite model and it changed the way people perceived competition. Over 200 TV channels later, a incomplete model of monitoring and measuring exists which does not take into consideration the real audience but relies on approximations and adjustments.

Sir Martin Sorrell – the high priest of media and advertising recently forecast two paces of advertising growth: rapid growth in digital media and slow growth in traditional media. He adds that TV has the opportunity to be part of the digital future, but the industry needs to evolve if it is to compete effectively. The model that has underpinned the ad industry for the past 50 years won’t safeguard it for ever.

Viewing habits are changing already; high-value consumers – people like you and me watch less TV and are even less predictable in what we watch. Channel V and MTV have reported that most of their audience is no longer in front of the TV sets. The youth has their world has fit into their pockets through a plethora of devices which are convenient to use and play with. Their audience is their larger social network. They connect and share and comment much like what my neighbors did in the real world in the 1980s.

The demands for content is much different from what used to be default broadcast standard fare. It is now personalized and each one has a take on what their needs are. The more mature audience is moving to their portable devices, their carry along entertainment streamed live or available when they want in sizes they want.

No one has worked out how TV will be funded in the future. Content delivery via broadband is a reality and more homes will eventually have broadband than satellite. The eventual rollout of 4G services will make bandwidth available on a tap at prices that will make it as low as the cost for cable tv or a DTH service.

With more and more choices, on demand and otherwise. The ability of shifting time and device seamlessly will mean that the audience could be anywhere. The consequence is further fragmentation. Yet the ad industry has not resolved how to attach commercial messages in an unregulated market and make it accountable. While the digital audience is connected and trackable.

The question then is how are we in advertising media measuring the audience? Are we still talking about the television audience or are we factoring in the audience that’s consuming content wherever they are. Are we still talking about a primetime and hence the premium rates for ad inventory or are we talking prime content? And hence prime audience attached to that prime content. Will we be measuring the audience on the basis of the interactions they have done on a piece of content – the number of times they shared, commented etc or on the basis of what a people meter told us.

These are going to be interesting times and for an industry that has not evolved in the last 20 years in India from a cookie cutter model, we might see a lot of shake up happen. The ones that realize and change their game plan will be the ones that will survive and have an audience that brings value.

Thoughts welcome…

Note: The views expressed in this column are those of the writer alone and is not in anyway related to the organization that are associated with the writer

  1. rabi gupta says

    Wonderful article Sunil.. in resonance with some of the things I’ve been saying in my previous posts!
    You made the correct point- ” interesting times and for an industry that has not evolved in the last 20 years in India” I guess the time has come when it will not be a question of choice, in next 5 years Indian TV industry need to accept the changes which are happening there would be no other option.
    Interesting times ahead for sure.. some say its too risky to venture out in the field as lots gonna happen there, but for others its an opportunity :)

  2. Altaf Rahman says

    @ Sunil Nair,
    You brought back the memories of a bygone era. It was exactly in 82 that we too got our first B&W TV. Still remember names of some popular programmes like “Yeh jo hai Zindagi”, “Hamlog” and “Darpan”. Evening 4’O Clock UGC programmes (todays equivalent of Nat Geo, Discovery).
    More fond memories are that of every Thursday 11 pm international movies (with out censor). I still remember carrying the portable TV to my bedroom from drawing room (silently without disturbing anybodys sleep) to watch movies at 11 pm.
    Early 90s brought color TVs but still expensive. But as we started earning, few friends pooled moneis and used to rent a bachelor room and buy TV and VCRs sofa sets for evening social gatherings of friends and watch stuff scorned on by ‘ethically upright’ elders – you know what i mean :)

    Well !! Now we have graduated to a TV in each room plus a wide screen in drawing room and watching TV programemes on PCs, Tablets and smart phones. What else??

    I think soon we will not be limited to the boundaries of the screen of the TV set. Some virtual machines will come which gives you a 360 degree view in all 3 axis (as far as your eye can see). I have seen in some english movies where ppl wear a gadget over their eyes and the movie plays out infront of you.

    Thanks for bringing back memories.

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