Increase in urban viewing boosts Indian market
by Peter Scrimgeour
Sports-wise, cricket still remains the most popular sport watched on television, with a 69 per cent viewership share in 2017. However, local sport kabaddi is fast gaining share, while wrestling and soccer remain popular.
4th July 2019, 11:39

India is the world’s second largest television market with 197 million television households in 2018.

Television ownership has grown significantly from 2016 to 2018, according to a survey undertaken by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). Total television households grew by 7.5 per cent, rising from 183 million in 2016 to 197 million in 2018. This has also seen the number of individuals with access to television increasing to 836 million from the previous 780 million.

The growth in television homes is outpacing the growth of homes in India which grew at 4.5 per cent for the same period, from 286 million homes in 2016 to 298 million in 2018.

This has resulted in a television household penetration of 66 per cent for the country. It means one in every three Indian households still does not own a television set, indicating significant opportunities for growth in the market, especially in rural areas where television household penetration is just 55 per cent.

Total television household penetration (percentage)


Source: BARC

Rural India had 99 million television households in 2016, with that number growing to 109 million in 2018, representing growth of 10 per cent. This is due to improvements in infrastructure such as power, income levels increasing among the poor rural population, changing modes of distribution such as digital direct-to-home (DTH) and the aspirational nature of having a television. With rural India’s landscape changing rapidly with electrification, prosperity and digitisation, television penetration will continue to grow strongly in rural markets.

Television homes in the somewhat-saturated urban market grew by only 4 per cent for the same period, from 84 million in 2016 to 88 million in 2018.

Total television households in India by urban/rural (millions) 


Source: BARC

However, urban viewers have driven the growth in the average time spent (ATS) by television viewing individuals to 3 hours 44 minutes every day in 2018, representing a 3 per cent growth from 2016. For the two year period, urban areas increased their ATS by 5 per cent to 4 hours 6 minutes, while rural India grew by 2 per cent to 3 hours 27 minutes.

India officially ended analogue broadcasting in March 2017 with the completion of the switchover to digital television. However, numerous cable operators across the country, mainly in Tamil Nadu and Northeast India, continued to transmit analogue signals over their networks.

Digitisation has had a significant impact on the television landscape in India. In 2005, there were circa 130 channels, with distribution split 50 per cent terrestrial and 50 per cent cable/DTH. By 2018, there were over 880 private satellite channels and distribution was 98 percent cable/DTH and 2 per cent terrestrial.

The content on Indian television is changing tremendously. Dramas still attract the highest viewership, but there has been massive growth in the popularity of reality-based television shows. Sports-wise, cricket still remains the most popular sport watched on television, with a 69 per cent viewership share in 2017. However, local sport kabaddi is fast gaining share, while wrestling and soccer remain popular.

Share of sports viewership, 2017 (percentage) 


Source: BARC

The major player in the free-to-air television market is public service provider Doordarshan, a part of Prasar Bharati, India's largest public broadcasting agency. Doordarshan was once the sole channel in the country, but the launch of rival free-to-air channels and the growth of DTH operators in rural markets, has seen Doordarshan lose its monopoly position and share of viewership. Doordarshan currently operates seven national free-to-air channels, including sports channel DD Sports, and a large network of free-to-air regional/state channels in various languages.

Doordarshan also operates FreeDish, a free DTH platform offering over 80 free-to-air channels. The platform has witnessed a huge surge in subscribers over the past four years, with various estimates putting the current subscriber base at 22-25 million. Consulting firm Ernst and Young have forecast the number of FreeDish subscribers to top 40 million by the end of 2020.

FreeDish has become a concern for pay-TV broadcasters and distributors. In 2019, four major broadcasters including Star and Sony removed their free Hindi mass entertainment channels and movie channels from FreeDish, to stop existing cable and DTH customers, especially in rural areas, from shifting to the free-to-air platform.

Doordarshan has benefitted from the Sports Broadcasting Signals Act which was passed in 2007. The ‘Act’ provides access to the highest number of listeners and viewers, on a free-to-air basis, of sporting events of national importance through mandatory sharing of sports broadcasting signals. It does not, however, apply to professional sports leagues such as the Indian Premier League (IPL).

This has seen Doordarshan’s sports channel DD Sports gain from pay-TV broadcaster Star Sports' shared ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 feed. For the week of the India-Pakistan cricket match, DD Sports was the most viewed Doordarshan channel with 150.8 million gross impressions and held fourth position among BARC’s most-watched channels' list.

Pay-TV broadcaster Star launched India’s second free-to-air sports channel - first ever private free-to-air sports channel - called Star Sports First in July 2017. The channel is available on public broadcaster Doordarshan’s free-to-air DTH platform FreeDish. Star Sports First was responsible for 31 per cent of the overall viewership of the Pro Kabaddi League in 2017, and has been third in terms of overall sports viewership, behind Star Sports 1 Hindi and Star Sports 1 in the past.