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Getting into rural India

‘Har Mushkil Ka Hal Akbar Birbal’ a comedy on Reliance Broadcast Network’s Big Magic is a huge favourite in the Hindi heartland of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

Zee Anmol’s reruns of Jhansi Ki Rani and Choti Bahu do booming business on low-end 2G mobile phones in small-town and rural India.

So do reruns of Diya aur Baati Hum and Saraswatichandra on Star Utsav, which is available on DD’s Freedish, a free direct-to-home or DTH service owned by Doordarshan.

 
Free-to-air (FTA) channels showing reruns of popular shows like Jhansi Ki Rani and Choti Bahu are a rage in entertainment starved rural and small-town India. And advertisers love them

The boom in free-to-air channels in small-town and rural India is one of the biggest media stories playing out in the R83,000-crore Indian media and entertainment industry currently. Every major broadcaster is launching FTAs. Zee has got three of which two were launched in the last one year alone. Star has one, Viacom18, which owns Colors, launched its FTA Rishtey last year.

Going by estimates there are over 300 FTAs in India. So far most were dodgy news channels owned by politicians or real-estate guys. Over the last two years however, dozens of mainstream broadcasters have jumped into this market estimated at R1,300 crore in ad revenues.

There are two things driving this boom: One, is the spread of cable and DTH which has been the fastest in rural India in the last few years. To this add mobile phones, which have become a popular option for entertainment starved audiences that have money but no options in poorly connected parts of the country.

The biggest game changer has been DD’s Freedish, a free DTH service. It reaches an estimated 18 million homes making it bigger than Tata-Sky and Dish TV. More importantly, it is bringing TV to homes that never had it. It is also becoming the de-facto TV option in homes that had nothing but Doordarshan. More than 30 channels such as Zee Anmol and Star Utsav pay upwards of R3 crore a year to be on DD’s Freedish.

Two, FTAs are also taking off is because soon the audiences they reach will start showing on rating numbers. The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), an industry body will start releasing numbers based on a new rating system sometime next year. This sample, claims BARC, will be double that of the current one. More importantly, it will include rural India for the first time.

These audiences are critical for growth in several product categories from financial services to soaps and detergents. And advertisers desperate to reach them have used radio, regional print and on-ground events so far. Now TV, with its huge mass impact, gets into the play. There is a third, albeit more tangential reason, digitisation.

More than half of India’s 160 million TV homes are now digital. Till most of India was analog, it was a one-size fits all television market. Digitisation increases the capacity of the service that brings TV to your home. There is more slicing and dicing of channels and packages.

Many existing TV homes realise that they do not care to watch pay channels with the fresh content, they are alright watching reruns on FTAs. Many others either do not have the willingness or the capacity to pay. The market is then segmenting between those who can pay and those who cannot, between those who just got a TV and those who have had one for long.

As a result different offerings are being made to different clusters within the 800-odd million people who watch TV in India. These are audiences at different stages of growth and maturity. The many markets that India is, are finally coming into play in the TV business.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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