Asian Media: Passage to India

The country's vibrant media sector is very accessible to global players.

Much is written about India's GDP growth rate and its role in shaping the future of the global economy. But we hear relatively little about India's growing media and marketing industry.

Strange, because it is surely a dream market. India has a population of more than one billion people, half of them aged under 24. There are 108 million homes with TV sets and 60 million people own mobile phones.

And this supposedly poor country buys more than one million cars every year.

The good news is that marketers have a huge choice of communication channels.

Mass-media reach is growing rapidly. At the last count, there were 295 TV channels, 72,000 publications, 10,000 cinemas, 384 radio stations, thousands of billboards and every sort of street furniture.

Unlike China, India's media market is very accessible to global players.

News Corporation, Sony, Disney and Viacom are all there, with established businesses competing with a host of domestic private players. They feed on the world's largest entertainment industry (by volume), churning out thousands of hours of original TV programming and more than 800 movies a year in a dozen languages.

Given the different languages, scripts and cultures that exist in the 28 states, the strongest media are strong only in a few states. Hindi-language and Bollywood-based content are the closest India gets to national media. But they largely reach north and west India and marketers balance this with regional-language TV stations, newspapers and magazines to reach the east and south Indian states. Running national campaigns is a challenge akin to running pan-European campaigns.

Yet despite all this vibrancy, the ad market remains relatively small and a bundle of contradictions holds back growth. Total adspend at $2.6 billion is barely 0.4 per cent of GDP, compared with 1 per cent for China.

Media research is abundant, but the vastness of the market means coverage is limited. And, given that TV ratings are measured by two competing services, the industry wastes time and money buying both studies.

India is losing advertising talent to South-East Asia, China and other domestic sectors, such as consulting and IT. A huge squeeze on commissions and fees have left agencies unable to pay competitively for talent.

Media owners are facing a different challenge. India's TV boom caught the government unawares and it was slow to legislate. The cable revolution was spread by entrepreneurs, who wired up neighbourhoods with cheap equipment that offers viewers 80 channels for $3 to $5 a month.

Media owners have no idea how many homes pay to receive their channels, with broadcasters getting just 10-15 per cent of the estimated $1.5 billion subscription revenue. The rest is cornered by the cable operators.

As a result, media owners get 90 per cent of their revenue from advertising.

The large number of channels ensures excess supply so media owners are in no position to hike their ad rates.

Media buying is already consolidated - WPP, Interpublic Group, Omnicom, Havas and Aegis have more than 80 per cent of the market. Media owners have begun to consolidate, encouraged by liberal cross-media ownership laws. But it will take a long time for it to boil down to five key players. Until then, buyers and their clients have the upper hand. Ironically, this is holding back adspend growth, unlike in China, where media inflation is pushing up spend by 25 per cent.

Selling is a nightmare. Most broadcasters do not have ratecards and everything is negotiable. Inventory trading is the norm and audience guarantees are rare. Underperformance means deals are renegotiated, so the challenge for buyers is to implement the deals they have struck. Print media is far more entrepreneurial, with integrated sales solutions the norm.

The future is bright for India's stakeholders. Direct-to-home and internet protocol TV are poised to shake up content distribution. Direct-to-home licences have been awarded and telecom companies have broadband infrastructure capable of reaching more than 35 million homes. Basic TV penetration is likely to grow by another 35-40 million homes in the next five years.

Print has opened up, allowing foreign companies to take up to a 26 per equity share, spurring global players to enter the market. Radio was state- controlled for years but FM is now available to the private sector. This will inspire more local companies to start advertising.

Marketers will have to contend with a complex media environment but have a huge amount of choice in how they target one of the world's most exciting consumer markets.

- Ashutosh Srivastava is the chief executive of Group M South Asia.

INDIA'S BIGGEST MEDIA COMPANIES Company Revenue Businesses (rupees bn) Bennett Coleman 55.3 Publishing, events, music, radio Star India 51.3 TV, radio, cable Zee Telefilms 44.9 TV, cable, films Eenadu 42.6 Publishing, TV, movies, studio, finance Sony 38.2 Broadcasting, music Hindustan Times 28.6 Publishing Sun Network 7.7 TV, radio, cable The Hindu 4.6 Publishing Prasar Bharati (state owned) 1.7 TV, radio Malayalam Manorama 1.6 Publishing Sources: MindShare estimates; company annual reports.