Digital Versus Television: The Battle Begins

A debate between Raghav Bahl and Arnab Goswami threw up some interesting insights on the changing face of new media.

ByDevanik Saha
Digital Versus Television: The Battle Begins
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The “print media” versus “electronic media” debate is passé. With the advent of digital media outfits like Scroll, Quartz India, DailyO, The Quint, The Wire and, more recently, Catch News, the discourse has, well, moved on to another platform.

In this context of “digital” versus “television media”, a debate was organised by Dainik Jagran, which witnessed a vociferous exchange of words between The Quint Founder Raghav Bahl and Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami. While Bahl was his usual calm self, Goswami started off from where he had left the Newshour the previous night.

The debate started with Goswami aggressively firing a volley of facts to prove that television is by far the most effective news medium. After his fiery speech, Bahl spoke and took a dig at Goswami: “His show does not give news, it gives opinions.” To which Goswami took offence and retorted aggressively by claiming that English news channel CNN-IBN (launched and run by Bahl before Reliance Industries Limited took over) had just one-fourth of the viewership of Times Now.

Bahl chose to ignore his retort and moved on with his speech about how digital media is the future, primarily, owing to changing habits and preferences. He, too, mentioned statistics about monthly smartphone additions to prove his point, which were countered by Goswami, who cited poor Internet speed and access as a major hindrance to a digital media revolution.

Bahl focused on discussing changing consumer habits and needs, while Goswami steered the debate more towards a head on fight between digital and television media.

Though short, the debate was entertaining and the audience enjoyed and hooted at various instances, mostly when Goswami and Bahl took digs at each other.

Of course, Goswami and Bahl had their own reasons for supporting their respective points of view. So keeping aside the dissonance and opinion, let’s have a look at some facts, which throw up some interesting insights on the debate.

Smartphone usage in India

In 2014, 581.1 million people (47 per cent of the population) used mobile phones in India, out of which only 123.3 million were smartphone users (21 per cent of mobile users).

While mobile phone users are projected to increase to 775.5 million (59.8 per cent of the population) by 2018, the number of smartphone users will be at 279.2 million (36 per cent of mobile users).

India will overtake the US and become the second-largest smartphone market in 2016.

Mobile Internet usage and penetration

India had 94.5 million (83.5 per cent of which are wireless) broadband Internet connections as of January 2015.

As of 2014, India had 173 million mobile internet users (eight out of 10 people access the internet through mobile phones) in India, and was expected to reach 213 million users by June this year.

The penetration rate of 3G services is around 12-13 per cent, that is, about 20 million actually use 3G services to view multimedia content.

4G penetration is even lower, with only 85,000 current active LTE users in India, but Reliance’s much-hyped 4G LTE launch by this year is expected to significantly increase the number.

A report released by Ericsson on the mobile landscape in India reveals some worrying facts.  Sixty-three per cent of mobile users in India face quality and reliability issues (like call drops, connection breaks, inconsistent speed, and non-availability of 3G) inside their houses.

Eighty-eight per cent of users feel that mobile broadband is expensive, which is distressing, keeping in mind the recent rise in mobile data prices by all telecom companies.

“The so-called explosive growth of the Internet (in India) is a misnomer,” says Osama Manzar, founder-director of the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), an advocacy group. “Internet growth in India is still not exponential, it is going up step by step, not multiplying, as is being projected.”

He further added that these numbers are deliberately inflated by companies that depend on Internet to attract investments.

Television statistics, on the other hand, are simpler.

Television penetration in India

As of 2014, India has 139 million (556 million people) TV-owning households, which is expected to rise to 159 million (636 million people) in 2018. *(Assuming an average household size of four.)

Analogue cable subscribers base is expected to decrease from 55 million subscriptions in 2014 to just 5 million in 2018, while the digital cable subscriber base is expected to double from 45 million subscriptions in 2014 to a staggering 90 million in 2018, according to a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)-PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the media and entertainment sector in India.

Though actual numbers may differ, these statistics strongly indicate that the reach of mobile phones (not high speed Internet) is more or less same when compared to the reach of television sets.

But there are various other factors that need to be considered. As Bahl rightly pointed out, rather than a head on fight between digital and television, the debate is more about changing consumer habits and needs. With the rapid advent of mobile phones and social media, consumer preferences and the roles of different mediums have changed significantly.

Myntra shutting down its website and switching to an app-only platform, Star Network launching the Hotstar app that allows one to watch daily soaps and taxi aggregators’ focus on booking autos and cabs through mobile apps are examples of changing consumer behaviour.

It also true to some extent that television, which earlier played the role of providing daily news, has now turned into a platform for providing opinions and discussing different perspectives.

Increasingly, we are consuming news, as it unravels, on the Internet. Even to know something as basic as the score of an India- Pakistan cricket match, the first thing we do is to check our Twitter and Facebook to see if someone has posted about it, as opposed to earlier, where we would rush and switch on the television.

Furthermore, with the increasing trend of news becoming noise, television channels are merely seen as entertainment, where prime-time debates provide fodder for dinner-time political gossip among friends and family.

One can say the Internet and digital media are surely and steadily replacing television as the primary news sources. But as statistics prove, around 88 per cent of the mobile users don’t have access to high speed mobile Internet; which means that if digital media wants to go beyond providing news, and move to more multimedia content, internet speeds in India have to improve significantly.

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