Media and Tech in India: Different Kinds of Digital Divides

India’s media and technology sectors are unique in the global marketplace. A recent report published by the CMF looks at opportunities for TV and video game content producers.

A country with 850 television channels that reach about 500 million people? That would be India. A country where Netflix doesn’t dominate the streaming video market and where Amazon does not lead in retail e-commerce? That would be India too.

As one of the fastest growing economies on the planet and home to one of the world’s top tech hub ecosystems, India is a region that offers considerable potential for foreign producers seeking new partnerships and opportunities.

A large market with great linguistic diversity

The country is currently estimated to be home to 1.35 billion people, and the UN has projected that the population will exceed that of China within the next five years.

It’s also a country of great linguistic diversity. There are over 100 languages spoken in the country and, by some estimates, there are several hundred dialects spoken in addition to the dozens of formally recognized languages.

The surprising effect of the rural population on TV schedules

India is also characterized by a major urban/rural divide, with approximately two thirds of the population living outside of urban centres according to World Bank estimates.

Interestingly, this divide between urban and rural dwellers has had an impact on television viewing in India. Because many rural populations work in the agricultural sector, they tend to go to bed earlier so they can rise earlier.

Astute broadcasters have shifted their schedules accordingly, moving primetime programming to an earlier hour, as evidenced in the 6:30 p.m. slotting of series such as Zee TV’s Bin Kuch Kaheand Star Plus’ Meri Durga.

Mobile phones are democratizing Internet access

Despite the country’s position as a leading tech hub, just 10% of India’s population had Internet access as recently as five years ago. The Internet penetration rate has since grown considerably, and over a third of the country (about 450 million people) are now online.

However, online access in India is anything but evenly distributed, particularly across gender lines. While 70–75% of Indian males have Internet access, just 20–25% of Indian females are able to make the same claim.

The availability of lower cost smartphones and mobile plans are beginning to change this glaring inequality, with almost half of the country’s 700 million mobile phones being Internet enabled.

Why is Netflix trailing behind in India?

The fate of Netflix is another area in which the Indian media landscape is distinct. Though the streaming service now counts over 100 million subscribers in 200 countries, it ranks fifth in terms of user numbers in India, behind local and international rivals.

And going forward several years, analysts’ outlooks for the Netflix in the world’s second largest country are not all that promising.

There are a few reasons that explain why Netflix has had difficulty winning over customers in India. Among them is the fact that India is a country in which the Amazon Prime annual membership fee includes access to Amazon Video. Amazon Prime customers therefore have little need for an additional streaming service.

Another reason is that other services such India-owned Hotstar and Viacom 18’s Voot offer free local and western content. Hotstar is based on a ‘freemium’ model (a majority of its revenue is generated by advertisements, but clients can also subscribe to the service and gain access to premium content), whereas Voot is based on a fully ad-supported model.

For more on the state of India’s media and entertainment industries, download our free report: Your Market Is Everywhere – India

Leora Kornfeld
So far in life, Leora has been a record store clerk, a CBC radio host, a Harvard Business School case writer, a blogger and a crossword puzzle clue. Currently she’s a media and technology consultant, working with clients in the US and Canada.
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