AI is Crafting a Renaissance For Linear Television

When TV was Home and Home was Where the Heart Was:

With the advent of colour television in 1982, India took its first baby steps in the linear television industry The content was limited, there was no on-demand streaming option available, and if you tuned in late and missed the beginning of your favourite programme, there was a deep sense of loss. It was a time when TV programmes were conversation starters, especially those addressing societal issues and family dynamics, often sparking discussions and debates within families. Linear TV played a crucial role in family time and bonding.  Linear TV was the pivot in fostering shared cultural experiences, inside jokes, leading to a sense of belonging to a larger cohesive community.

Appointment viewing became an anchor not just for the family but also amongst friends for events like a popular movie airing or a sporting event. Single-handedly, it converted sports like cricket to revenue powerhouses. Linear TV was a complete immersive group viewing experience and those hours spent with the family, glued to the screen, were magical.

With its kaleidoscope of viewers spanning age groups, cultures, regions, languages, educational levels, and interest areas, it helped flourish the advertisement and sponsorship industry creating an all new and powerful revenue stream. Many powerful international  brands and Indian ones, including Coke and Pepsi and unicorns like Dream 11 have been built on the strength of cricket, which in turn has been fueled by the reach, strength and the friendly format of linear television.

Fast Forward to the  Modern Entertainment  Landscape

People have unprecedented access to on-demand content so they can watch their favourite serials or movies whenever they want, making appointment viewing almost a thing of the past except for major sporting events where traditional cable and broadcast modules still rule.

This shift in viewer preference from linear TV to OTT and other digital platforms is almost disrupting traditional cable and broadcast models. On the other hand, the growth of digital media has been rapid and phenomenal.

At INR 571 billion, digital media stands as the second largest segment in the Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry with a surge of 11% in just three years, from 16% in 2019 to 27% in 2022, according to Money Control.

The Answer Lies In…

One cannot stand still in the rising surge of the digital wave, which has given birth to  an ever- fragmented audience thirsting for fresh and compelling content at breakneck speed.

How can Linear TV meet this new digitally-induced appetite for more, faster, better and entitled content?

How does it securely generate and deliver intellectual property content while fulfilling today’s “want it all” customer demands and ever-changing consumption patterns?

How does it make TV viewing a more personalized and user-experience phenomena?

Increasingly, the answer could  be found in generative artificial intelligence (AI).

So, What Really is Generative AI?

Traditional AI systems recognise patterns and make predictions, while generative AI creates new content like images, text, and audio. This enhances the viewer’s experience.

For example, some sports networks have employed generative AI to enhance the viewing experience through AI-driven graphics, and overlays provide real-time statistics, analysis, and highlight reels during live broadcasts, which makes the coverage more engaging and informative for viewers.

A recent article published in  HT Tech mentioned  that QTV is releasing an AI-driven movie named “Viral Hua Re”. In keeping with the film’s title, the series will be hosted by an AI anchor, pushing the boundaries of how AI can be used to replace humans

Amitabh Bachchan, the legendary actor of Indian cinema, is venturing into the world of generative AI where according to Variety, fans will now be able to engage with him and experience his magnetic aura in an AI avatar like never before.

The Future is going to be largely Generative AI driven

According to a report by Business Wire, the M&E industry will be spending $1860.9 million on artificial intelligence by 2025, while the overall AI market is expected to touch $118.6 billion. Another report shows that AI in social media alone will touch $12 billion by 2031.

As per a Reuters Aug, ‘23 story, Walt Disney company has created a task force to study artificial intelligence and how it can be applied across the entertainment conglomerate, even as Hollywood writers and actors battle to limit the industry’s exploitation of the technology.

Can We Stay Away From this Revolution?

No, say well placed executives, ‘legacy media companies like Disney must either figure out AI or risk obsolescence. There’s no denying that artificial intelligence will have a huge role to play & will be a prominent part of the M&E industry.

Early AI adopters see this as one tool to help control the soaring costs of movie and television production, which can swell to $300 million for a major film release like “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” or “The Little Mermaid.” Such budgets require equally massive box office returns simply to break even. Cost savings would be realised over time.

Arun Chandrasekhar, V.P. Analyst at Gartner, predicts that the massive pre-training and scale of AI foundation models, the viral adoption of conversational agents, and the proliferation of generative AI applications, will presage a new wave of machine creativity. Gartner predicts that by 2030, a major blockbuster film will be released with 90% of the film generated by AI (from text to video), up from 0% in 2022. (Source – Gartner website article: Beyond ChatGPT: The Future of Generative AI for Enterprises)

A Renaissance is in the Offing for Linear TV

Despite the incredible rise of digital media, a massive 205 million homes still watch linear television. Viewers prefer to watch sporting events and other entertaining family shows on live streaming on linear television.

With AI becoming a disruptive force to traditional ways of doing things and delivering a paradigm shift in the way things can be done for the better, can linear television remove itself from this AI upswing? From this AI revolution?

Generative AI can reshape the future of Linear TV, if adopted wholeheartedly by the television industry and cable operators.

Can Generative AI be deployed in the linear TV space?

The possibilities of generative AI usage in the linear TV space are vast and multifaceted.

For instance Generative AI can be deployed to analyse viewer preferences. It can facilitate audience analytics, paving the way for more customer-focused TV offerings and data-driven content selection, ultimately cutting costs by eliminating unpopular shows. One instance, could be, though linear television cannot shift from its fixed schedule – generative AI can allow TV broadcasters to pick the right shows to air at specific times when viewers are most likely to tune in.

Case in the point being, (as reported in an article on e-4m, published in 2019), the Population Foundation of India’s edutainment show, Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, was one of the first Indian television shows to deploy an Artificial Intelligence-powered Chatbot way back in 2019. The ‘Dr. Sneha Chatbot’ appears to have played a crucial role in creating a personalized and non-judgmental platform for young viewers to interact with the series and discuss issues related to sexual and reproductive health. This creative use of technology made the show more engaging and informative for its audience.

Generative AI can help beat the linear TV challenge with innovative and interactive features such as facilitating greater interactivity example through quizzes and polls. This would enable viewers to engage with the content via their devices. In over 3-5  years, the transformative power of generative AI will be seen, first among top-tier cable operators and gradually cascading to local cable operators as people discover linear television to be quite interactive in real time. The gap between streaming platforms and linear television will be bridged.

Generative AI can also make television more accessible for visual and hearing impaired viewers of linear television as generative AI has the capability to automate content development chores like metadata and subtitles, generate captions, and audio descriptions of what’s happening on-screen.

Generative AI can demonstrate its usefulness in back-end operations  by continuously monitoring network performance and modifying bandwidth in real-time to ensure seamless content delivery, particularly during high-demand peak hours. It reduces buffer time and downtime. The worry of bad service that always shadows a cable operator abates.

Predictive maintenance is another useful application, in which AI algorithms analyse equipment data to predict hardware failures and minimize operational costs.

Additionally, AI-powered cyber security tools can detect and respond to threats in real-time, offering significant efficiencies to cable operators.

Generative AI can even help with the creation of localized content to reduce manual labor and production costs.

In the realm of news and infotainment, the Asian continent has seen the emergence of AI news bots that now read bulletins on key news channels. These bots cater to diverse cultural and linguistic needs and have been effectively deployed by leading news channels such as Aaj Tak, Odisha TV, Power TV (Kannada News Channel) in India, and Xinhua, China’s state news agency.

Lastly, it can lead to precise ad targeting that boosts ad engagement and revenue.

A New Era for Cable Operators

India has around 60,000 cable operators, including 45% of them located in  rural and semi-urban areas. The cable business, with its potential for hyperlocal reach, remains an underutilized resource. If cable operators use generative AI for content creation and  recommendation, they will be able to expand their services by offering personalized schedules, efficient content delivery, and more. They will be in a position to drive viewer engagement by recommending shows based on personal viewer habits.

The potential of generative AI to revolutionise the Cable Operator’s industry is significant, with transformative new services ranging from Video on Demand to Information on Demand to T-Commerce. Video on Demand will focus on AI-driven content recommendations, efficient catalogue management, and dynamic ad insertion to engage users and increase revenues. Information on Demand AI will focus on content discovery, personalized news feeds, and real-time updates to keep subscribers informed and engaged. In T-Commerce AI provides targeted product recommendations, voice-activated shopping, and interactive ads, resulting in impulsive purchases and an enhanced buying experience.

As of now, big and small cable operators grapple with costly technical upgrades for high-quality content while navigating complex data privacy regulations and ensuring consistent content quality to meet viewer expectations. However, in the not-so-distant future, the survival of cable TV in India will be dependent on its capacity to innovate and integrate with emerging technologies.

As  Arghatosh Chatterjee, Sales & Marketing specialist in Cable & Broadband business says (Linkedin article – “Cable TV in India: A Look at Its Past, Present, and Future”), ‘The future of cable TV in India relies on its ability to innovate and integrate with emerging technologies, as it seeks to find a balance between traditional broadcasting and the digital era.

Broadcasters and cable operators should both up their game to retain the viewership and sub-base. The need of the hour is the collaboration between the linear television industry and cable operators.

In conclusion

Generative AI holds a mixed bag of opportunities for the television business and cable operators.

It is Generative AI that will help linear television withstand the digital onslaught from its major competitors and retain its loyal clientele by offering an engaging level more comparable to the digital medium.

Over time, generative AI will become an invaluable asset for cable operators as the world catches on to these tools and the advanced technology associated with it.

It is time for the linear television industry to come together and discuss, debate, and work together to offer viewers the best leveraging the new age resources and technological interventions for subscriber delight