You thought OTT is king? Think again. Survey says 70% find ‘value for money’ in good old TV

The Print, August 4, 2022

Traditional television channels continue to hold sway over a large part of India’s audience despite the onslaught of over-the-top (OTT) platforms, a new survey by Delhi-based think tank Broadband India Forum and Rajasthan-based NGO CUTS International has found.  

The survey, which was released Wednesday, found that “an astounding 70 per cent of the consumers surveyed felt that television offers a value-for-money proposition, as compared to a mere 27 per cent in the case of digital/ OTT platforms and barely 3 per cent in the case of TV apps”.  

Titled ‘Towards effective choice: A nation-wide survey of Indian TV consumers’, the paper also said that although TV is seen as offering value for money, “there is room to enhance consumer welfare”.

It found that pricing is the primary consideration for consumers when they opt for a “bouquet” of channels. This is the combination, or bundle, of channels that service providers such as Tata Sky offer their consumers. Service providers increasingly choose such bundles, restricting choice, the survey said.

11,000 people were surveyed from across the country. Out of these, 50.2 per cent were from urban areas, 38.5 per cent from semi-urban areas, and 11.1 per cent from rural areas.

Five per cent of the people surveyed earned between Rs 10,000 and Rs 25,000 a month, and 25.5 per cent earned between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000.

Broadband India Forum is an independent policy think tank which, according to its website, “works for the development & enhancement of the entire broadband ecosystem in a holistic, technology-neutral and service-neutral manner”. Its members include Amazon, Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), Microsoft, and BSNL. CUTS International (Consumer Unity & Trust Society) is an NGO that works on consumer issues.

Value for money’

One of the first aspects that the survey explored was the pricing and financial viability of platforms — whether digital or broadcast. It said that despite various OTT and digital viewing platforms, consumers still found television to be the most easily accessible medium. 

However, there is still a dire need to “enhance consumer welfare”, either by giving consumers more options or making them aware of their choices, it said.

According to the survey, “availability and quality of content as well as a viewing experience and quality of service” are the other factors that determine consumer behaviour. 

“Price is the most important factor for choosing a TV package subscription for many consumers. Most consumers are subscribed to between 100 [and] 200 channels and pay between Rs 200 and Rs 400 for their subscriptions on a monthly basis,” the survey said. 

The paper also said that consumers opt for television bouquets for the variety of channels that service providers offer.  

“TV tends to be viewed by different members of households who would have heterogeneous tastes. Combined with the value for money that TV offers consumers, there is an unsurprising and clear preference for bouquets in India,” it said.

Contrast to TRAI’s consultation paper

This survey’s findings stand in sharp contrast to a consultation paper released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India earlier this year.

Called ‘Consultation Paper on Issues related to New Regulatory Framework for Broadcasting and Cable Services’, TRAI’s paper said that the authority had received representations from local cable operators on the adverse effect of OTT or digital platforms on linear, or broadcast, television.  

It referred to “declining television viewership” caused by the “increasing popularity” of free dish and OTT services. A price rise for popular channels, highlighted by consumer organisations, was likely to pose further challenges. 

The BIF-CUTS International survey, on the other hand, finds that “consumers prefer TV across various relevant parameters, including content availability”.

‘Consumer satisfaction must grow’

Despite a marked preference for television over OTT and digital platforms, the survey found that consumers wanted a better structure, more options, and easy-to-handle technologies for their TV viewing experiences.

It says: “Around 40 per cent of consumers are satisfied with their subscriptions and that leaves significant room for consumer satisfaction to grow, which validates the regulatory reform process currently underway at the TRAI”.

So what explains the varying levels of customer satisfaction? This is due to price sensitivity and awareness gaps around channel selection processes, the paper said.

In an opinion piece for Business Standard, media expert Vanita Kohli-Khandekar analysed the future of broadcasting thus: 

“The future of broadcasting, then, is evident in two ways. One is the growth of an alternative free ecosystem that is not adequately captured by any of the existing metrics. Then there are the huge numbers that free OTTs such as MX Player, which has 156 million viewers, or half a dozen short video apps such as Josh or Instagram Reels, get. This continues to expand television’s reach, albeit as a content source”.

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