Is television viewership petering out as India adjusts to lockdown?

Viewership has been declining steadily after Week 13

Photo by Jens Kreuter on Unsplash

BENGALURU: Television consumption in India seems to be petering out, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC)-Nielsen Reports. Of course, even in the sixth week and the second extension of the national lockdown to lockdown 3.0, television consumption is 29 per cent higher than during pre-Covid2019 periods. BARC and Nielsen have compared data for the pre-Covid2019 period with average numbers for Weeks 2 to 4 of 2020. Television consumption had peaked in Week 13 of 2020, the first full week since the lockdown commenced in the middle of Week 12 of 2020, on 25 March 2020 in India. Television consumption grew 43 per cent in Week 13 of 2020 as compared to the pre-Covid2019 period. BARC-Nielsen reports are available for the period starting Week 11 of 2020 until Week 17 at the time of writing of this paper.

Please refer to the figure below for All-India television consumption trends.

The basic currency for total television consumption is trillion minutes. Average television viewership during the pre-Covid2019 weeks considered in the BARC-Nielsen Reports (Average of Weeks 2 to 4 of 2020) was 887 billion minutes with an average daily reach of 560 million. This worked out to a daily average time spent (ATS) watching television of 3 hours 46 minutes. In Week 13 of 2020, this peaked to 1,266 billion minutes with a reach of 627 million and ATS of 4 hours and 48 minutes.  These numbers have been sliding down since then. Please refer to the figure below.

In the pre-Covid2019 weeks, four genres had 89 per cent of viewership share – in terms of size, they are GEC, Movies, News and the Kids genres.  During the 7 weeks for which BARC-Nielsen Reports are available (Weeks 11 to 17 of 2020) at the time of writing this report, their combined share grew to 93 per cent. During the pre-Covid2019 weeks considered in the BARC-Nielsen Report (Weeks 2 to 4 of 2020) GEC had the largest viewership share of 52 per cent, followed by Movies with 23 per cent, the news and the kids’ genres with 7 per cent each. During Week 13 of 2020, this had changed to 40 per cent for GEC, 29 per cent for Movies, 18 per cent for news and 7 per cent for Kids. It must be noted that though share of the Kids channels was has generally been steady, overall television viewership has gone up during the lockdown period, and hence the number of viewers and ATS on the Kids was much higher than earlier times. It must further be noted that News had a share of 21 per cent in Week 13 of 2020.

GECs, which had been experiencing a decline in viewership share during the Covid2019 lockdown due to the lack of fresh programming, got a breath of fresh air by way of re-runs of mythology and old classics on pubcaster network DD’s DD National and DD Bharati.  GECs’ viewership share has climbed to 44 per cent in weeks 16 and 17 from a low of 39 per cent in Week 12. The Movies genre seems to have stabilized at abut 27 per cent share as compared to the 23 per cent share during the pre-Covid2019 weeks considered in the BARC-Nielsen Reports.

Please refer to the figure below:

Overall, television consumption seems to be petering out slowly across the other major genres also.  Besides the four genres mentioned above, business news, youth, infotainment and lifestyle have witnessed changes in consumption growth. Relatively, the lifestyle genre seems to have had stabilized with about 32 per cent growth since week 13 of 2020 as compared to the average of the pre-Covid2019 weeks considered by BARC-Nielsen. The news genre, which had seen consumption triple in week 12, has stabilized consumption at around 165% growth in Weeks 16 and 17 of 2020 as compared to the average of the pre- Covid2019 weeks. Please refer to the figure below:

BARC considers the Hindi Speaking Market or HSM as All India minus the four Southern Languages: Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. The South is a mature market with a higher penetration of television as compared to the HSM. Television consumption is also higher in the South. Hence, growth in the South market has been more muted as compared to the HSM during the lockdown weeks to date as compared to the average of the BARC-Nielsen Covid2019 weeks. The North Eastern states saw television consumption peak in week 12 itself – this was the week when the Janata Curfew and a couple of days later the first series of Lockdown or Lockdown 1.0 were announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Most of the states saw viewership peak in Week 13. The exceptions were a few states where more of local ‘Covid2019’ and or/or events such as the lynching of the Sadhus in Maharashtra or the swearing in of ministers in Madhya Pradesh. There has been a general decline in television consumption since then, as mentioned before. Please refer to the figure below:

Further, as mentioned above, South India has seen lower growth in viewership during the lockdown weeks because of its higher base and longer ATS spent even before the Covid2019 lockdown weeks. Hence the decline in television viewership since the peak has been lower in the South markets as compared to HSM. Please refer to the figure below:

Is this the way forward?

Television networks have tried to bring in viewership and maintain viewer stickiness. News by itself has grown as a genre because of the playout of events around the lockdown. Taking a cue from the movies genre, many networks have started beaming film-based content, but this has not been enough. The South GECs have witnessed growth on the back of comedy films over the last few days. Channels have brought back mythology and classics. Reruns of the Ramanand Sagar Ramayan and the B R Chopra Mahabharat, through daily episodes as opposed to the weekend episodes that were experienced when these magnum opuses were first aired, have brought in viewers and ensured their loyalty in the case of DD National and DD Bharati. Since mythology seems to have worked for DD, private networks have decided to include them in their programming mix. This seems to have worked to an extent in the case of Star Plus which launched of Ramayan in Week 17, and that slot for the channel has seen viewership grow by 65 per cent according to a preview of data by BARC for Week 18. Viacom18’s flagship Hindi GEC Colors has seen viewership growth of 24 per cent in Week 18 for the time slot when it commenced airing Mahabharat.

It is still early days for a cure or vaccine for the pandemic to make things easier for humans, to bring back some form of normalcy. A lot more people will continue to stay at home. As the world and India slowly limp back in a phased manner to a ‘new normal’ from the Covid2019 lockdown, fresh content will surely be produced. However, given the circumstances globally, the ‘new normal’ has yet to take on a definite shape. If study, work, exercise, etc. from the home becomes the ‘new normal’, then ‘entertainment consumption at home’ is definitely set to be a big part of daily life. Content viewership from home, be it on the OTT platform, or the idiot box, or on the smart phone or a computing device, is definitely set to be much larger than during the pre-Covid2019 weeks. The question is“Will it be higher than during lockdown weeks?”

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