Television has been a primary source of entertainment in Indian households for a long time and often has a lot of emotional value attached to it. Beginning from the 1980s, television was always something which could be found in almost every household, connecting families who gather around together to watch it. However, with the advent of internet and digitisation, there has been an increasing popularity of Over-The-Top (OTT) streaming platforms in India, especially among the technologically savvy youth. This has changed our relationship with the age-old television we grew up with, and brings us to wonder about the future of conventional television. Are OTT platforms going to completely replace conventional television?
Popularity of OTT Platforms
Various Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar and Zee5 have become hugely popular among the Indian audience due to a number of reasons. These platforms enable the viewers to watch shows and movies as and when they desire, giving them complete autonomy over what they want to watch. This is a crucial element which was found lacking in traditional TV. Entire seasons of television shows are often released at once on these online platforms and the users can binge watch at once instead of waiting for the new episode to be telecast in periodic intervals. This gives the users control over their time and they can plan when to watch something. Additionally, online streaming platforms also provide freedom to viewers in terms of pausing the show, taking breaks and going back to previous episodes for recall. Since these streaming platforms work on a subscription basis, there are no unnecessary breaks for advertisements which happen on TV.
The online streaming platforms offer a wide range of content in a variety of languages, both regional and global. They often provide access to original shows and movies which aren’t available on conventional television. These platforms are also easily accessible through mobile phones and tablets, enabling users to access them even when they are not in proximity to a television. In this manner, they become very helpful for people who do not own a television or cannot afford one, enabling them to use their mobile phones instead. For instance, cricket is a widely followed sport in India and Hostar has made cricket matches available to a huge audience on their phone screens, who don’t have access to cable television.
According to a report by KPMG Eros Now, on average, Indians spend about 70 minutes everyday on various video streaming platforms which is more than 8 hours per week of video streaming. This is indicative of the reach and popularity of OTT platforms among the people of India. On the other hand, the viewership of cable television has also been on a decline over the last few years. There has been a decline from 90 per cent to 65 per cent in the viewership of Hindi entertainment genre. In a similar fashion, there has been a fall from 30 per cent to less than 10 per cent in the viewership of English entertainment channels. This trend can mostly be attributed to the easy availability of data to the youth who access OTT platforms on their mobile phones and laptops.
However, as per the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) Performance Indicator Report 2019, the Direct-to-Home (DTH) service sector had an active subscriptions base of around 72.44 million as of March 2019. This is a massive number which cannot be discounted and it will definitely take time for people to shift completely from conventional TV to OTT platforms.
According to a recent TRAI regulation, television cable providers no longer have the luxury of charging people for a number of channels which they might not even watch. The new regulation enables the consumers only to pay for the specific channels that they desire to watch. This new move adds to the worries of television broadcasters as people would move to subscribing to limited channels and paying less than they used to. This has consequently affected the reach of various channels and the revenues earned from advertisements. This might act as a disincentive to television broadcasters. On the other hand, this move might also make television services more accessible to people who only watch specific channels and would now be willing to take up a subscription due to the new regulation.
Challenges for OTT Platforms
While theoretically, OTT platforms provide all sorts of convenient alternatives to conventional television, there still exist some challenges for them to overcome in order to penetrate the Indian market to a greater extent. Their popularity is indeed growing with time, especially among the youth. However, their major drawback lies in the fact that they require a steady internet connection to operate, which is still a luxury for many rural parts of India. Not just the lack of internet but also the lack of digital literacy adds to the challenges that OTT platforms face. Many people in India are not very comfortable with accessing content on their devices. Televisions on the other hand are an age old device which they have grown comfortable operating and requires less technical knowledge.
The type of content available on the OTT platforms also plays a major role. While these platforms are increasingly expanding their content and including shows and movies from all genres and languages, they are yet to provide for all the different needs of consumers. Many people like to watch regional shows and soap operas which are not yet widely available on OTT platforms. People also sometimes prefer watching movies and shows on the bigger television screen than on their smaller mobile phones or laptop screens. Smart TVs are usually an expensive option for the middle and lower classes of society, and conventional television in this sense provides them with a comfortable alternative.
Additionally, the issue of cost also comes into picture. Subscription to various OTT platforms along with a steady internet connection ends up costing more to the consumers than a standard Direct-To-Home (DTH) subscription which allows them to watch a wide array of channels according to their convenience.
Despite the growing popularity of Over The Top platforms in India, they still have a long way to go until they come to be treated on par with TV. Television has been around for decades now and it is unlikely that it will completely disappear from society over a few years. OTT platforms give a commendable competition to conventional television but they still face a number of hurdles which they have to overcome to completely take over the Indian entertainment market. Until then, it is safe to assume that television is here to stay for a while at least.
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