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Follow The Viewers

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 Critics may call the kind of content that the television industry dishes out “regressive”, “degenerated” or even “hypothetical”. But, in the end, one has to admit that the industry has not only pulled over 500 million viewers to its content, but also ensured a high degree of loyalty across a variety of shows. 

With content available over 500-plus television stations, audience choice is at its best. With better ‘pipes’ (such as digital cable networks and direct-to-home services) being made available, more homes are able to access more content. (TAM-IMRB All India Digital Homes December 2009 study indicates 22 million-plus homes). As the content is increasingly catering to individual tastes, audiences are rapidly shifting gears in selecting and watching their favourite programmes. The time spent by an individual on watching television (specifically in digital television homes) has gone up a little and this is fuelling the growth in creating and promoting new content. 
Based on viewing patterns in 2009, three clear segments of television audience have emerged for the future.
The Trendy Generation
The key characteristic of this segment of audience is that it evolves fast in consuming content and, hence, is usually the trend changer in television viewing within a home. 
Largely based in metro markets, those in this segment are well informed of the latest television content formats in the West (largely in the US and the UK). Since they are on a constant look out for the latest concepts in television shows (many adapted from the West), they are the ‘loyalty breakers’ to regular content watched within a home. But if a show is engaging enough, they will continue to track it till the end. 
This set of audience is largely composed of youth and children (10-plus years). Within the segment, the consumption is more for all kinds of reality genre content and non-animated game shows, including imported versions. It is a challenge for broadcasters to keep pace with this audience’s evolving taste. Advertisers in the lifestyle, telecom or fast-food categories too find this segment valuable, but difficult to reach out to through regular television content. Therefore, what this segment watches, gives advertisers an ideal platform to communicate effectively.
While the trendy generation as a segment accounts for only 14 per cent of the overall television consumption, it has grown by 100 per cent over the past five years. This makes it a force to reckon with, especially with more and more homes getting two televisions and content being broadcast on broadband and mobile platforms.
The Clinging Generation
This segment of audience is one of the biggest consumers of television today. On an average, it accounts for almost 64 per cent of total consumption. Moreover, it follows a set pattern in watching television — it demarcates clear timeslots (afternoon, prime time) for watching television.
The clinging generation is also slow in evolving to new content. While the choice is based on their own preferences, word-of-mouth influence from neighbours, relatives and friends, too, plays a big role.
This segment of loyalists is proving to be the real bread winner for broadcasters operating in the Hindi and regional general entertainment sphere. The viewers comprise largely of housewives and elderly female members of the household. The audience is spread across small towns and metro markets, and their primary consumption of content revolves around soaps and dramas.
Their television viewing habits are distinctly marked by two key characteristics —high level of engagement with the content (story and characters) and least amount of switching between content or during advertisement breaks.
Afternoon timeslots are the most preferred as they get the most unhindered viewing time then. Hence, viewing is more continuous during half-hour slots in the afternoon than during prime time for similar content as this segment of audience is usually multitasking during the primetime slots (see ‘Audience Loyalty’). 
Apart from loyalty, the clinging generation gives broadcasters rich returns as it responds easily to strong on-air promotions that revolve around story-based characters depicting real-life individuals. This saves the broadcasters from having to use expensive stars. Over 50 per cent of advertising spend, ranging from FMCG to household durable categories, is focused at this segment of audience. 
In the future too, consumption from this section looks extremely sturdy. Influences from external factors such as new technology-led platforms are unlikely to cause major disruption in their consumption habits. Gaining this audience’s loyalty and building on it over time could yield rich dividends in the longer run, and especially in a ‘pay-for-content-viewed’ regime.
The Impatient Generation
These viewers are surfers by nature and seem to have been born with a remote control in their hands. Surfing — on television, internet or radio, or even in reading (at a glance) — comes naturally to them. They want instant gratification. This segment’s behaviour in television consumption is similar to a mob walking in and out of a room which enables an instant build-up of an audience at a given moment and its disappearance in the very next moment. Thus, it is tough to expect loyalties or appointment viewing from them. This makes it more difficult for broadcasters to plan the right content and its scheduling to cater to this set. 
These viewers largely comprise chief wage earners and youth. On an average, they account for 22 per cent of the total television content consumed. The content they watch ranges from news, music, movies to sports. However, whatever they watch, their staying power falls continuously unless the content is arresting enough. The best example of this is the audience acceptance of a format like T20 cricket, which is an evolution from the regular one-day, 50-over matches. The audience level during the initial power play and final slog overs of an India ODI match closely resemble the audience involvement during an India T20 match. 
Apart from the game or the story, what attracts the impatient generation is glitzy packaging and sophisticated delivery of content. The presence of a recognisable face such as a Bollywood or a cricket star, complements the visual treat and acts as an attention grabber or puts an immediate break to surfing.
Since the aggregation of this audience happens around high-decibel, event-based content like breaking news stories, movie premieres, popular music being aired and big sports events, netting them is easy but expensive for advertisers and brand communication planners in terms of air-time ad rates.
Among all the three kinds of audience — trendy, clinging and impatient — the last exhibits the least amount of attention span. Since this segment of audience is most prone to swaying away during ad breaks to competing content, broadcasters need to plan even more closely the schedule, the number and the duration of the ad breaks. An appropriate amount will result in a win-win situation for both brand advertising as well as audience retention. 
In the future years, we will see the trendy and impatient television audiences moving between the categories. Together, they already account for about 36 per cent of the total television content consumed. They will — if it has not already started happening — influence the behaviour of the clinging generation primarily during primetime weekday bands and in weekends — which are co-viewing bands and precious for broadcasters and advertisers — in a majority of single-television homes. 
This will either result in more homes buying a second television set or audience will switch to other timeslots where single/individual viewing is possible. Also in contention will be content recording, televisions with hard disk components and IPTV with the ability to record content on request. These will lead to a shift in viewing time, which is bound to influence audience behaviour within all the three segments of viewers. And the manner in which this viewership change has an impact on broadcasters’ programming strategies and advertisers’ communication strategies will be an interesting story.
The author is chief executive of TAM Media Research
bweditor at abp dot in
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 11-01-2010)