Will going subscription-based improve news content on Indian television?

The industry seems to have mixed thoughts.

NEW DELHI: As per a recent Media Partners Asia (MPA) report, India is going to be the most scalable pay-TV market in the APAC region, with a CAGR of 6 per cent, touching $15 billion by 2024. India will also contribute almost half of the net subscriber additions in the Asia Pacific over the next five years, it highlighted. The increase in consumer awareness, the choices they have, and growing disposable income are a few factors that are going to contribute to this. 

More and more, Indian news channels are toying with the idea that if they go the subscription way, a course correction in terms of content they are serving will also happen. 

Certain players like Times Network, Aaj Tak (SD), Zee News (SD), and News 18 Bihar Jharkhand have already made a successful transition from being FTA to pay-TV in the past few years, while still maintaining their viewership and ad revenues. And there are others who are willing to move to that model. 

Times Network MD and CEO MK Anand also advocated the subscription-based model for news channels at the recent News Television Summit.

He had said, “When you go the subscription route, there is no need to be ratings-led. The current subscription numbers are 10X of what they were in 2014 when I joined the Times. We have to benchmark ourselves on net distribution income (NDI). When it comes to NDI, a news channel should look at the top of the population pyramid more.” 

Anand had estimated that 54 per cent of the Times Network’s revenue in FY21 is going to come from subscription. “The total ratings-led business in our topline is less than 25 per cent. Earlier it used to be 90 per cent. Back then we didn’t have branded content or premium-led ground or digital business. Specifically, Times Now’s TRP-led business is less than 11 per cent of the total.”

In a similar vein, ABP News Network CEO Avinash Pandey had shared in an earlier virtual fireside chat with that he’s quite determined to make all the channels and websites in his network subscription-based – because anything free in this country is taken for granted. 

“Our regional channels were already on a pay model. We only went FTA because of the uncertain environment caused by NTO 1.0. From a carriage perspective, NTO 2.0 is favourable. In today’s world when you have WhatsApp circulating all the videos you are likely to show in the evening and Twitter already debating views and counter views, before you discuss anything on TV it’s already discussed online. In this scenario, how to build a pay channel is the challenge,” he had remarked.

Channels like BBC and CNN that have always been subscription-based also vouched for the success of the model, even from an advertising standpoint.

BBC Global News MD - India and South Asia Rahul Sood noted that having more subscription-based news channels will move it to a point where the players will have to be conscious of which space they want to be in – serious, investigative journalism, or competing with TikTok and cat-and-mouse videos of Facebook. He insisted that going subscription-based will attract the niche audience, thereby helping the pricing. 

However, the top marketing executives have mixed views on the pay-tv option for news improving editorial content. They were, however, more positive about the impact on ad revenues. 

Wavemaker India chief client officer and head - west Shekhar Banerjee pointed out that merely shifting to a pay structure will not solve the content issue on TV news channels. He said, “We have seen such migrations in the past. While the subscription model brings in a bit of cushion for the business, the dependence of the channel on advertiser revenue still remains significant and so will be the pressure to top the viewership race. We will see a real impact in editorial content only when a news channel is brave enough to only earn from subscription and not chase popular journalism.”

Dentsu International CEO - India Anand Bhadkamkar was a bit more optimistic on the impact of subscriptions on quality of content as he noted, “Yes, a course correction in the sort of content that we are seeing today will happen if more and more news channels start moving towards subscription-based entities. And the ad rates will also be reflective of that, considering bundled rates for websites and digital content. Also, it will provide a better return on investment to the advertisers as they will have more breadth to understand the sort of audience they will be getting.”

As for advertising revenue, Pay channels are in a better position to demand a premium on ad rates because they will have the niche audience, who are also going to be better spenders, according to IdeateLabs MD Amit Tripathi.

But does this entail that FTA channels will lose out on ad revenues? The industry doesn’t think so. 

Bhadkamkar said, “I don’t think FTA channels will have anything to lose even if more channels start going subscription-based. The advertising revenues will still be dependent on the viewership that they are getting and if you see the likes of NDTV and Republic Bharat, they have really benefited from being FTA.”

Hindi FTA news channels have enjoyed the privilege of quoting higher ad rates because the viewership is high there, Bhadkamkar observed. Meanwhile, it’s the opposite for English news channels. He insisted that it will depend upon the viewership in the future as well. 

Tripathi also agreed with the sentiment, adding that the type of advertisers might see a little shift with more premium brands choosing to go for the subscription-based channels. However, the final trend will only be decided by viewership numbers as certain premium customers might still be watching FTA channels. 

As advertisers and viewers alike repudiate toxic, tone-deaf content, the penny has finally dropped for news channels. They’ve realised it’s high time to switch gears and focus on editorial content, and whichever way they decide to go – whether pay or FTA – broadcasting responsibly should be their guiding principle from here on out; if news organisations serve the viewers (and not their own political agendas), they will come to the channels of their own volition.

Latest Reads
Viacom18 secures exclusive MotoGP rights for India

Mumbai: Viacom18, has announced a new rights deal that will see MotoGP exclusively live-streamed on JioCinema and Sports18. The coverage will tip off with the Grand Premio de Portugal. The network will offer an exhaustive live presentation that will include practice sessions on Friday and Saturday...

Television TV Channels Viewership
Barc Wk 11' 23: STAR Plus tops in all India market

Mumbai : Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India has released currency data for the eleventh week, i.e. 11 March to 17 March 2023. As per data for the all India 2+ target group, STAR Plus is the most watched channel in India with an average minute audience (AMA) of 2580.98(000). It was...

Television TV Channels Viewership
Aap Ki Adalat' episode featuring Kapil Sharma hits another high

Mumbai: Beating its competitors in the recent viewership face-off, the headline-making India TV show ‘Aap Ki Adalat’ has again emerged as one of the most watched Hindi language talks shows within its genre. In the latest viewership data revealed by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC),...

Television TV Channels News Broadcasting
OnePlus partners with JioCinema to bring content to OnePlus TVs

Mumbai: OnePlus, the leading global technology brand, today announced a strategic partnership with JioCinema for the upcoming season of the TATA Indian Premier League. The latest collaboration is set to offer OnePlus TV users access to JioCinema’s extensive library of international and regional...

Television TV Channels GECs
Shyam Steel joins hands with IPL franchise Lucknow Super Giants

Mumbai: Shyam Steel, one of the producers and manufacturers of primary TMT bars, has announced its association with IPL franchise Lucknow Super Giants as the principal sponsor of the franchise. The association will help Shyam Steel to enhance its brand and business presence across the HSM markets...

Television TV Channels Sports
Chennai Super Kings onboards MS Dhoni backed by Garuda Aerospace as official partner

Mumbai: Garuda Aerospace, an Indian drone startup, has announced a partnership with Chennai Super Kings. As part of the agreement, Garuda Aerospace will be the official drone partner for the 2023 season, marking the first-ever drone partnership for a team.

Television TV Channels Sports
PEN Music to launch 2 new channels on DD Free Dish MPEG-2 on 1 April 2023

PEN Music Pvt. Ltd. Is launching 2 new channels on DD Free Dish MPEG-2 on 1 April,2023.

Television TV Channels Music and Youth
Rajasthan Royals unviels it's new JERSEY OF THE SEASON

Mumbai: The newly launched JERSEY OF THE SEASON was formally unveiled in Jaipur amidst players from Rajasthan Royals, Luminous Power Technologies managing director and chief executive officer Preeti Bajaj and Transformation senior VP and chief strategy Neelima Burra and Business today marketing...

Television TV Channels Sports
Shemaroo partners with Capital Block to establish a digital collectibles project

Mumbai: Shemaroo, one of India's media and entertainment powerhouse, has joined forces with Capital Block, a Web3 consultancy known for crafting fan engagement-based strategies for sports and entertainment brands. This strategic partnership aims to establish a strong global presence for Shemaroo's...

Television TV Channels GECs