Winning with the Digital First Approach. Is Linear TV distribution fully exploiting its strengths to stay relevant? Could the marketing potential of communities be the answer?

In just a few years, the world of in-home entertainment has evolved from “appointment” to “on-demand” viewing. It is no longer ruled by the almost monopolistic linear TV with linear delivery—predefined programming at a fixed time. Today, entertainment is about content consumption, based on the viewer’s choice of subject/genre, place, and time.

Till about a while back, the linear TV distribution model was based on a simple price value equation. It included a limited choice of “bouquets” or bundled plan offerings for consumers to pick from. This segment never had to locate customers or push for sales.

However, today, the tables have turned. From a pull ecosystem, it has become an ecosystem of intense competition: the DTH and cable operators are in constant fear of being nudged out by the OTT onslaught.

So, is linear TV slowly dying? Will it be a thing of the past, soon?

No, linear TV is not going anywhere. Deloitte’s recent study on the future of the TV and video landscape categorically predicts that traditional TV and OTT will peacefully coexist. Linear TV will always remain significant because of live coverage of sports and major events.

According to research by Nielsen Sports, in the USA, linear TV gets 31% of its ad revenue from live sports events. Let’s not forget linear TV has all the infrastructure and resources to cover major events and global news. Further, not everyone is into binge-watching; a favorite TV show still gives people a reason to tune into a channel, week after week.

The reasons for watching TV may remain the same, but the dynamics of the TV industry have changed. Previously, the lines were drawn between markets and products. Now, broadcasters and distributors are moving into each other’s market.

DTH and cable operators have launched their TV channels and broadcasters on their own OTT platforms. On top of that, there is direct competition from global OTT platforms like Netflix and Disney.

How can linear TV stay relevant in this ever-changing, competitive scenario?

Traditional networks need to maintain brand relevance both in terms of product and customer service by forming a strong emotional connection with customers. They can offer marquee shows, like KBC and live event coverage, that have been traditionally hard to find on OTT.

The more subscribers and reviewers consider these shows as ‘‘must-sees,” the more engaged they will be. For subscribers, canceling the service would mean the possibility of missing out on the grand KBC finale.

With multiple OTT service providers in the fray, the business model of the monopolistic linear TV service provider has outlived its utility. Customer retention is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Should linear TV distribution relook at its customer retention strategy?

Yes, go digital and not just door-to-door. During the pandemic, our “go digital, pay online” campaign helped the last-mile operators. It taught us that digital adoption not only helps us stay relevant but also enhances our customer service.

In fact, the “Phygital” model of delivery and service is one of the probable solutions in tier 2 and tier 3 towns. Quicker turnaround of recharges/reconnections, payments, complaint logins, WhatsApp support, etc., can help customers stay seamlessly connected to their operators and delivery partners.

OTTs have rapidly encroached on the linear TV space because of their novelty, content, and better internet connectivity. The pandemic fuelled their popularity even more. But the surge has been sustained by unique interactive user experiences on social media.

The question we may well ask is – Can linear TV stay on top of people’s minds in an ‘over-the-top’ world? The answer is “yes” if we generate more conversations that promote marquee content. We should be able to provide regular updates on live events, new programming, consumer contests, etc.

So far, our conversations over local channels have been monologues on TRAI rules and regulations. It’s time for more dialogues, and digital communities would be an ideal platform for this.

Is the concept of “communities” relevant to the TV viewer? How would the TV trade benefit from the concept of communities?

Online communities approach customers in cohorts or “common interest groups” instead of one-on-one. Their superpower was discovered during the pandemic.

According to Facebook and NYU’s Golva report, “The Power of Virtual Communities,” 92% of the respondents globally used online groups to provide support. This survey shows online groups have become “significantly more important” worldwide. It is also notable that 42.1% of the Indian respondents said their most important group is online.

People are becoming more and more comfortable sharing their views, videos, and blogs in online groups. Online groups can be a great way to consolidate the linear TV industry that is so fragmented.

There is only so much that marketing efforts by local cable operators’ associations can achieve. Localized marketing cannot capture the engagements and conversations from the regional markets’ audiences in their original flavor.

Why should the trade put so much effort into building communities when there are social media platforms to share information?

Building an online community takes a lot of time and consistent effort. The TV industry has a start that it has never leveraged. It has unknowingly always been home to its content-centric tribes, fans, and ardent followers.

Marquee shows like Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah and C.I.D have a cult following across age groups even today. This has translated to online communities, fan sites, and in some cases even broadcaster-sponsored sites. All that the trade has to do is to leverage these channels.

For example, the cult serial C.I.D. has fan communities on social media. The industry has a lot of space for conversations. People love to discuss twists in plots and comment online during a live broadcast. We can utilize this conversation space—TV’s inherent strength.

Another way to up the ante on relevance and engagement is to create user-generated content. It is one of the biggest trends in marketing today according to another Deloitte study on Digital media trends. It’s also a perfect match for an entertainment brand.

From calling for online reviews to script-writing contests, there are a lot of exciting ways to engage viewers and vouch for the shows they love. It is a win-win situation for broadcasters, distributors, and advertisers.

If we want our trade to engage with the brand at a deeper level, we must drop the baggage of a sales and service mindset. We should explore new digital trends in B2B marketing and understand the purpose they serve.

The superpower of linear TV: the sense of community

Linear TV is one of the few modes of media that can get an entire nation to watch a World Cup Cricket final at the same time. Isn’t that by itself a superpower that can fuel polls, contests, and conversations? Create FOMO and create camaraderie?

Digital streaming devices cannot offer this connection.

So, let’s not only focus on problems and threats. Let’s instead focus on our core strength— the power to connect people in real-time via live broadcasts. Let’s not fragment our viewership by giving out simultaneous rights to streaming partners. Let’s position linear TV as the only place to watch a cricket match or iconic shows like KBC.

Let’s use the strategy of FOMO marketing across digital communities and restore the power of linear TV to its true glory.

Linear TV in the future TV and video landscape

Let there be no doubt: broadcast networks are still relevant and will continue to be. But in an ever-changing industry, it is important to connect the dots and keep reviewing the whole picture. We have to learn about new trends and new opportunities. We have to use proper tools to adapt fast, innovate and stay relevant.