UPDATE Advertising is India’s first-ever cable advertising agency, which has grown to become the only all-India advertising concessionaire for a large number of multiple system operators (MSOs), serving over 10.7 crore households, spanning 2,192 Tier-I, II and III towns. Renowned for innovative solutions in cable advertising, UPDATE has made regional cable media the choice for corporates across India and has now introduced services in rural towns with populations below 1 lakh. Team Optimist spoke to Sharad Alwe, founder of UPDATE. Here’s what he had to say…
Team Optimist: UPDATE is India’s first-ever cable TV advertising agency. What was your idea behind coming up with such a unique platform?
Sharad Alwe: Cable movie channels gave birth to the Indian entertainment industry. In the pre-1990s period, the population, at large, craved TV entertainment due to only a restrictive DD platform at their service.
Cable TV ventured into India in 1990 and, within two years, spread like wildfire and covered the length and breadth of the country. Cable movie channels offered a relatable content mix of the latest regional movies and started entertaining an over-100-crore population Indiawide.
In the mid-’90s, an article published in Brand Equity (The Economic Times) showcased an over 70% viewership for regional cable channels over a combined viewership of other satellite channels (Zee, Sony and Star).
I saw this as a huge opportunity to aggregate regional cable channels and was inspired to build a unique platform that connected advertisers to regional and hyper-local consumers. This was the foundation of UPDATE Advertising and it aided the ‘consumer revolution’ by connecting advertisers with consumers.
Team Optimist: How is cable advertising different from other traditional modes of advertisement and commercials?
Sharad Alwe: In such a country as India, where 90% of its population live beyond metros, regional languages reign supreme. In such a diversified and multi-cultural country as India, consumers’ choice of content and preferences differ from locality to city to district to rural and urban areas and so on. For instance, you can’t segregate satellite channels in towns, districts, or urban and rural areas as it’s one pan-India feed, with the channel’s footprint remaining the same. Thinking about it, print media has a short shelf life and lacks audio-visual communication; it only caters to a literate audience, while radio’s only voice communication.
The regional cable platform, with over 2,500 narrowcast channels across genres and consumer-customised content, allows you to communicate a brand story, leading to better consumer engagement.
Team Optimist: Cable TV penetration in the rural areas is still a challenge. How do you plan to go penetrate the villages?
Sharad Alwe: Research data has shown that cable connects and draws high affinity in the urban and rural areas because of its latest, relatable and relevant content in the regional languages. And the biggest success of the platform can be attributed to the advertiser categories on board and their varied market choices. For instance, primarily, our auto and FMCG clients advertise in the mid-urban and rural markets, while two of our leading e-commerce clients prefer the top 150 urban cities in the country. We, as a platform, provide solutions drilled down to 600+ districts into urban and rural areas, where over 60% of the districts come under the rural classification and all these villages form part of this major universe. DTH , on the other hand, faces many problems — right from set-up cost, bad weather implications, pricing disparities, connecting the last-mile consumer and so forth.
Team Optimist: Digitisation has brought in changes to many sectors in India. What are the challenges for MSO operators in the digital era?
Sharad Alwe: Digitisation in television in 2017 was a boon for the regional cable platform. It ensured that picture quality was upgraded and that the sound quality was gold standard level. Digitisation meant there was an increase in the bandwidth of channel offerings to the consumer.
The regional cable operators turned into ‘local narrowcasters’ because there was a growing consumer demand for localized and relevant content. They successfully filled the content gap left by national and regional broadcasters. Besides, with OTT platforms eating into the GEC markets, this change is our next big opportunity. The ‘cablewallahs’ can now compete with satellite TV networks with multi-genre channel launches. That’s why, they expanded from movies to news to music and devotional channels with localised relatable and relevant content.
These local narrowcasters have deep knowledge of this multi-cultural Bharat and have decided to launch the news genre, offering hyper-local news, ensuring that subscribers receive content that matters to them. They created over 275 news channels that have world-class studio facilities and OB vans. That’s why, the picture and sound quality is as good as any other national news channel.
We have music channels across India and each of them is unique as they offer a flavour of local culture. Local lads from Punjab have made it big because their talent was showcased on cable talent shows. Their music is now universally praised and heard. And so is the case for such markets as Assam, Manipur, west Uttar Pradesh, Vidarbha and so on.
The other kind of very popular and most-watched channels from us is the devotional ones. Spiritual following is phenomenal across pockets of Bharat and these channels bring live aartis and pujas of locally popular deities. Telecast discourses and satsangs from gurus who command a huge and loyal audience — whether it’s for gurbani from the local gurdwaras at Pathankot, or the live aartis at the Mahalaxmi Temple from Kolhapur, or the Balaji Temple at Tirupati. Not just the devotional channels, but also all the genres have a loyal audience. This means that every advertising message reaches 120 million households.
The other two prominent ad solutions, Boot-up Screen and EPG, also provide more than 1 billion views a day with presence across all subscribed channels on the set-top box. With digitisation, our platform has been streamlined, which is why the LCO has decreased and you’ll discover that big and medium-term MSOs are ruling the market.
Team Optimist: How is UPDATE changing the cable TV advertising ecosystem in India? What are your priorities?
Sharad Alwe: We’ve been in this business for over 27 years and, during this period, we’ve ensured that the platform evolves for the better. To bring transparency into the business, we’ve introduced ‘monitoring’ of this medium and ensured that there’s a sense of trust in this platform. Manual intervention was cited as an entry barrier by corporate. So, we initiated the ‘upgradation from manual to software-based ad scheduling’ by distributing switchers to the operators.
We understood how the industry dynamics were changing. So, the platform evolved again. This time, we had a tie-up with the media-certified body, TAM, to bring in third-party monitoring to build more credibility for this platform. And, recently, we’ve also taken a leadership role in the process and system review initiated by Ernst & Young, one of the Big 4.
Team Optimist: From a cable operator to a local broadcaster — being an industry expert, what’s your take on this transformation of India?
Sharad Alwe: I perceived the trend a few years ago. The digital divide in the country was slowly becoming clear and was widening. You were being told to use newspapers, radio, or an outdoor platform to advertise for regional-level connect as TV doesn’t reach or connect there. What they didn’t tell you is that regional cable TV was already there and it could focus your advertising to the people, not just by region, but by city, too.
You could use a narrowcast platform to reach the right audience in a language of their choice and we have several case studies that prove that advertising on our narrowcast platform is a huge advantage.
With 2017 TV digitisation, the regional cable operator turned into a ‘local narrowcaster’ and became more powerful with multi-genre channel offerings with standard picture and sound quality as on satellite TV. Now, if an advertiser wants minimum spillage and maximum reach, they should give up the tired idea of old school media planning hoping that local print or radio will rescue them. There’s data that will back up claims that the whole world is moving towards narrowcasting. Whoever gets on the bandwagon now will surely profit.
I’m happy to be an evangelist for TV narrowcasting as I realised what a valuable treasure it is. I’m not making tall claims, there’s data to prove it. And, with UPDATE Geotargeting, we can help advertisers drill down to a precision, targeting a city, district, urban, rural SCR and state level and come out on top.
Team Optimist: What are your plans for UPDATE in the next 5 years?
Sharad Alwe: I’m proud to have seen the trend in the industry some time ago and we’re working towards strengthening a rock-solid, data-backed universe of cable, or local narrowcasters. Over the past couple of years, we’ve curated and now can confirm over 2,500 narrowcast channels that offer exceptional localised and relatable content that the audience enjoys. We also have clients across categories that have seen the results of using the UPDATE Geotarget platform.
Over the next five years, we want to consolidate our position and show more advertisers the results of geotargeting. Television narrowcasting, as an idea, was new, but the numbers have proven that we’re right. I only want to go ahead from here.