Shweta Mulki

Merit in BARC's new data, but will wait-and-watch, say advertisers

"Advertisers and broadcasters derive a lot of business from rural," says Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC India. afaqs! explores.

It's been two weeks since BARC rolled out its rural-inclusive all-India ratings, giving an insight into viewing patterns across the country. Rural viewership insights were seen as a big gap, and various stakeholders across the board had been waiting for this data to help them plan better and build independent strategies for both urban and rural viewerships.

The data has brought about some interesting revelations that include the addition of free-to-air channels in the top 10 Hindi general entertainment channels, and that 17 per cent of rural India viewers fall in the 15-21 years age group vis-à-vis urban India, which is 14 per cent.

Merit in BARC's new data, but will wait-and-watch, say advertisers
Merit in BARC's new data, but will wait-and-watch, say advertisers
BARC India CEO Partho Dasgupta, says, "Rural India viewers are aspirational, and with two in five audiences falling in NCCS AB category, have a huge spending power as well. Advertisers will closely look at these trends and plan their spends accordingly."

He adds, "For broadcasters in the music and youth, English entertainment and English news genres, the addition of rural India viewership has opened up new markets." It is important to note that in the music and youth genre, rural contributes to 44 per cent viewership. In the English entertainment genre, the viewership from rural is 41 per cent, while for English news genre, close to 73 per cent of the viewership comes from people living in non-metros.

Dasgupta also says that the checks and balances for rural were the same as BARC's earlier rollouts. He explains, "The market is very different from a terrain, power and infrastructure standpoint, and hence has its own unique challenges."

So, what were the initial challenges? "Power-cuts and logistics were some of the major challenges, which no longer are confined to only rural India. A city like Bengaluru, for instance, also faces tremendous power shortage. These external factors reflect on the ratings. Also, there are challenges on telecom connectivity for pulling back the data from metres which we try and solve through technological innovation," says Dasgupta.

Asserting that the industry feedback has been very positive, Dasgupta adds, "Both marketers/advertisers and broadcasters derive a lot of business from rural. There are product categories which make higher margins in rural areas than urban. A sizeable part of media spends go with a rural focus. Till date, there was no accountability of these spends, and there was a blind view on this part. With the introduction of rural data, this gap is finally covered."

Merit in BARC's new data, but will wait-and-watch, say advertisers
Merit in BARC's new data, but will wait-and-watch, say advertisers
Merit in BARC's new data, but will wait-and-watch, say advertisers
So, how has the data gone down with the industry? Vanita Keswani, ‎COO at Madison Media Sigma, says, "One expected the FTA channels to perform very well in rural, which is what is seen through the rural data, so no surprise there. The pecking order of most shows across channels is not very different across rural vs urban, which is interesting, except Bigg Boss, which is expectedly a clear urban phenomenon. We do see some surprises like a few Telugu channels not having higher viewership in rural vs urban or a metro-centric regional channel performing very well in rural."

For the most part, advertisers have had a positive initial reaction, albeit with a wait-and-watch undertone.

Commenting that a better understanding of urban-rural differences is not just welcome but extremely imperative, R S Sodhi, managing director, GCMMF Ltd, marketer of Amul, says, "Even for those categories where rural contribution is less than 50 per cent, rural viewership has to be reconsidered, because we have always discounted this aspect. While print has been easier to understand at the city and town levels, TV has been difficult given that rural data was actually not available previously. Now with the new BARC data, some of the understanding is validated through this survey."

Shireesh Joshi, head, strategic marketing, Godrej Group of Companies, says, "A lot really depends on whether you are a large scale mass advertiser or a niche one. For large scale, you have to be very careful on the bets you make. I think people have got surprised by some new information, but that shouldn't be the case, because there was dissatisfaction with the earlier system, and the entire industry was bent on changing that. Basically, the fact that there is viewership in rural, or even the extent of viewership of English programming for instance, is not surprising, but it is the magnitude of it all that one wouldn't have anticipated."

Most advertisers agree that individual companies cannot afford to conduct extensive research on media, and they were always dependent on data extrapolated from what was given by measurement agencies, apart from anecdotal inputs from distribution channels and the market place.

"Of course, in the end, advertisers make decisions based on viewership, and I don't think marketers will readily accept the numbers as they are, but they will have to accept the fact that there is a lot more appeal in the rural market than one could have thought, so we could probably see a combination of working with BARC, and also run pilots and experiments to validate our investments. Overall, the way the various genres and audiences have moved is interesting, but media buying and planning comes down to specific shows and programmes, and we'll have to see how it pans across the next months," adds Joshi.

Merit in BARC's new data, but will wait-and-watch, say advertisers
Vineet Sehgal, chief marketing officer, Quikr, says, "Ours is an online cross category classifieds platform and from our perspective, while higher television consumption in rural India will help increase category awareness, it may also lead to greater adoption for newer categories. Secondly, the awareness will also help consumers get an opportunity to own the product they always aspired to, at an affordable price. In the end, it will be about understanding consumer needs that are relevant to this market and from that standpoint, even local communication vehicles that go beyond television will bring in positive results for our brand."

And, what does the broadcaster think? Mukesh Sharma, additional director general, DD, said in a recent interview, "We have been crying out loud that nobody was investing in channels which always had viewership. Now that is changing. On DD National being one of the channels apart from Zee Anmol to rise up the GEC ranks, he says, "In these two weeks of BARC, if the regional channels have performed well, then that is genuine, and will work for us, but if you see the National channel performing, then it was because of the cricket matches in that period, and we need to cross our fingers for ratings in the coming weeks. DD National will always perform well during cricket events, because of the fact that it is an FTA channel."

BARC's initial reports had suggested that 'rural goes to bed early', and they start watching TV as early as 5:30 a.m, with prime time going up to 9:00-9:30 p.m, but prime time viewership starts dwindling drastically from 9:00 to 9:30 p.m. Interestingly, Marathi channel DD Sahyadri's new line-up of shows will play out between the 7-10 p.m slot, which is of course, satellite prime time. Sharma, who helms DD Sahyadri, says, "Traditionally, terrestrial has been our strength, and the channels have always got money for the 3-7 p.m band, but after the advent of cable and satellite, we we went low on viewership in the 7-9 p.m band. I have now put my new shows in this slot, and all of them will be repeated the next day on timings suitable to terrestrial."

Experts say eventually data will enable avoidance of wastage that could come out of a broad HSM strategy, which combines both urban and rural. On specific regional insights, Sodhi, says, "Given the fact that rural contribution in some markets is fairly high, media strategies may need to have a sharper rural focus. For instance, Odisha (65 per cent rural), Bihar (59 per cent), PHCHP JK (59 per cent), Assam/ North East (58 per cent), Uttar Pradesh/ Uttarakhand (55 per cent), Rajasthan (54 per cent), and Andhra Pradesh/ Telangana (53 per cent). All these are key markets for our products."

Merit in BARC's new data, but will wait-and-watch, say advertisers
Vikas Khanchandani, director, Aidem Ventures, says, "I see the data now capturing the glaring content consumption differences within the UP, Bihar and Jharkhand belt. With a relative channel share of 41 per cent, Bhojpuri cinema has witnessed a 16-times increase in its absolute viewership as compared to that of the previous week's where only the urban markets were monitored. He adds, "Similarly other entertainment channels like Dangal, Dabangg, Anjan TV, Sangeet Bhojpuri & Oscar Movies Bhojpuri are showing cumulative five times jump in absolute viewership in the combined UP, Bihar & Jharkhand market. Bhojpuri cinema and Dangal are contributing 62 per cent viewership in UP, Bihar & Jharkhand market."

Finally, on content getting more bespoke, Khanchandani adds, "The largest jump has been seen by the FTA. Quoting Star India's Gupta from one of his responses in a similar context, FTA channels are to rural audiences what English entertainment channels are to urban India. In a wider sense they bring affordable entertainment to the audiences who do not subscribe to paid channels. This will see growth in bespoke content for the markets capturing the language and dialects that are best suited to the audiences in these large states."

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