Illustration by Ramandeep Kaur
Illustration by Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
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The rapid growth of smartphones and internet in India aside, television remains a ubiquitous feature of most Indian households. But it’s a shared commodity in most homes. So, who exactly watches television in Indian families and when? Essentially, who holds the TV remote? The answer can tell us a lot about how television in India has evolved, both in terms of content and target audience.

Consulting firm Ormax Media recently released its report, “And the Remote Goes to…”, which documents television remote control dynamics in urban Indian households.

“We had last conducted this study in 2012, and now, post the lockdown, we felt it was a good time to see if there have been any structural changes in television viewing within Indian families,” says Shailesh Kapoor, Founder and CEO, Ormax Media.

The survey shows that a lot has changed in Indian viewing over the last two decades. There are fewer women empowerment shows now, men are taking over the remote during primetime slots, and the average age of the TV viewer is increasing.


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Women are giving up the remote

Television ratings, generally measured in Television Rating Points (TRPs) in India, only indicate how many viewers watch a particular channel at a particular time. They do not proceed to identify the profile of the audience. Ormax Media’s report identifies the primary influencer of TV channel selection based on computer-assisted telephone interviews conducted between October and December 2020. With a sample size of 5,000 participants, the 2021 report aggregates regular television viewers above 15 years of age from 29 states and Union Territories in India.

As part of the survey for the report, two questions were put to viewers: Who decides which television channel and/or programme to watch at a particular time? What is the gender and age of this person? Each question was asked separately for weekdays and for Sundays, when television viewing is conventionally at its highest.

The report finds that on weekdays women primarily control the television remote during afternoons and early evenings, with 7 pm generally marking the handover of the remote control from women to men. Between 11 am and 2 pm on weekdays, women enjoy their highest control over the remote, constituting 62 per cent of the viewers. The data, however, changes drastically on Sundays, with men retaining greater remote control throughout. Parity in viewership comes closest between 5 pm and 7 pm on Sunday evenings (when the male viewership is at 51 per cent), before a gulf opens up, peaking between 9 pm and 11 pm, when those watching television include 67 per cent of men.

The post-7 pm dip in female viewership on weekdays is more pronounced in south India as compared to the Hindi heartland. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, for instance, both have a female viewership of 67 per cent between 11 am and 7 pm on weekdays, which plummets to 44 per cent and 48 per cent, respectively, after 7 pm. West Bengal and the northeast also register sizeable falls in female viewers in the evening, going from 61 per cent to 44 per cent in case of the former and 57 per cent to 41 per cent in case of the latter.

During the primetime slot on Sundays (7 pm-11 pm), Mumbai is the only market where female remote ownership touches 50 per cent. Most other areas display numbers in the mid to late thirties, with Kerala at the bottom of the pile with just 31 per cent female viewers on Sundays at primetime.


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Young watch in the afternoon, the old are stable viewers

In terms of the age aspect of viewership, the report illustrates how young viewers (between 15 and 21 years of age) have a 30 per cent plus share of remote ownership till 5 pm on weekdays, after which their control weakens steadily, with the remote moving on to older age groups. In fact, the slot between 2 pm and 5 pm emerges as the most conducive time for television viewing for the young (19 per cent of the viewership), their highest for any time period over weekdays.

The bulk of the viewership is enjoyed by those between 22 and 30 years of age, with the busiest weekday period for this segment coming between 9 pm and 11 pm when their viewership is at a considerable 26 per cent. Interestingly, the most stable age group of television viewers across the day are those aged 61 and above, whose viewership is 7- 8 per cent irrespective of the hour of the day.

Remote control ownership on Sundays follows a virtually identical trend to weekdays, making the remote in-charge age profile similar through the week. The median age of the remote in-charge hovers around the early 30s for most of the week, before dipping to the late 20s for the early time slots on Sundays.


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Men are taking over primetime

When tallied with the 2012 “And the Remote Goes to…” report, the 2021 survey shows a number of vital shifts. (Note that the 2012 report only surveyed viewers between 7 pm and 11 pm, for both weekdays and Sundays).

In terms of the weekday primetime share, male viewership has doubled from 28 per cent to 56 per cent between 2012 and 2021. For Sunday primetime slots, the change is not as drastic, but still substantial, with female viewership dipping from 45 per cent to 37 per cent.

As far as age profiles are concerned, the median age has remained the same during primetime on weekdays (at 35 years); but on Sundays, it has increased by four years (from 29 to 33) since 2012.

As part of the report for 2021, a genre breakdown was also performed by Ormax Media, which shows that general entertainment channels (GECs) are the most-watched — such as Star Plus, Zee TV, Sony Sab — followed by movies, news, channels for kids, and other programming.


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A shifting age

There are clear trends visible through the viewership trends and other data gathered.

First, according to Ormax Media, “women empowerment is not the main television theme anymore” in India, with television programming “catering to the larger family taste” in recent years. Women’s empowerment was the predominant theme for many TV shows over the last two decades with shows like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin, Crime Patrol, Kumkum Bhagya, among others becoming extremely popular.

So, it is no surprise that men are no longer passive viewers and have a far bigger say in controlling the remote than they did a decade ago.

Second, with the youth obsessed with social media, the median age of television viewers in India is gradually increasing. The report warns that the TV industry must guard against the median age of the viewer reaching 40 years, as “it would be too high for what is truly a ‘mass’ medium.”

Summing up the findings of the report, Kapoor observed that “while gender balance is a good thing for television content, a shift towards older audiences is not a healthy sign from an advertiser’s perspective. Many brands target audiences below the age of 30 years, and over time, one can expect such brands to question if they should use digital advertising instead of relying on TV as their core medium. It will be in the television industry’s interest to fund creation of more youth-inclusive properties.”

The author is a postgraduate student at the University of Sussex, UK, and freelance journalist writing on sport, politics, and culture. He tweets @MarikPriyam. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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