Television channels’ increasing dependency on digital media for viewer engagement

Television content providers are feeling the heat from online video streaming services in many countries of the world. Netflix has already started replacing cable and satellite television in US, and eventually the same would happen in India as well. However, in these past two years a new trend is being seen where the television channels are using the Internet and mobile channels to engage audience.

Reality television and online voting

Reality shows are immensely popular in India, most of them are broadcasted only on weekends (Fri-Sun), and have higher average TVT (Television Viewership In Thousands) than other television shows. The shows currently topping the reality TV charts are Dance India Dance, Comedy Nights with Kapil, KBC and Bigg Boss. Three out of these four require people to vote/participate via text or the channels’ website.

The source for the above data is india-forums, per day TVT is dependent upon the number of days a show is actually broadcasted in a week. It is evident that reality TV shows get higher viewership than others.

One may recall a time when the audience had to dial a number to vote for their favourite contestants, and used to be charged upto INR 4 per call for each vote, this has completely changed now. In almost all the television contests, now in order to vote, the viewers could just give a missed call, send a text message, log on to the channel’s website or even vote through a mobile app!

Channels develop micro-sites for particular shows. Above is a screenshot from the website of a celebrity dance reality show Jhalak Dikhlaja, which ended with its 6th season in September. At the end of each performance in the show, the contestants used to ask the voters to send a text message or go to the show’s website or app to vote.

And the website isn’t just a voting portal, it gives a whole entertainment experience. The viewers could watch any episode they missed, online itself, and even see behind the scenes action. So in case a viewer does log on to the website to vote for a contestant, the whole package will engage the user to stay longer on the site.

Social media fan pages

Social networking websites, particularly Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, are easy tools for content producers to reach the fans online and assess the viewer base. There are Facebook fan pages for celebs, shows, characters and even the channels themselves. Pages could be fan created, or could be created by official representatives, but all serve the purpose of the television and film industry to have an online presence.


Whereas Twitter is used to keep up audience engagement even when a show is not being broadcasted. Channels conduct polls, ask for user opinions and share teasers as tweets, in order to grab show viewers’ attention even online. For instance, Bigg Boss fans are using hash tags themselves to discuss the common tv show. And not only TV shows, even the Indian film industry is very active online.

On looking at the number of likes that different Indian television shows have got on their respective Facebook pages, the trend seen is almost same as TVT ratings but with a slight notable difference, which can be seen in the compilation of Indian TV shows with highest number of Facebook fans shown below.

Even though reality television is still leading the charts here as well, but 4 out of 5 shows are from youth-centric channels i.e. Channel V and MTV. One reason behind this could be that Indian population on Facebook comprises of a majority of young people, another could be that certain online initiatives by these channels drive youth to go and follow their social media pages.

For instance in 2008, MTV Roadies had launched a contest called ‘Roadies Battleground’ on once popular Orkut, and along with that it had launched a special skin for user profiles as well. The show promoted the online tasks, and that in turn promoted the show. Now even though people have moved on from that particular site. The trend continues on other networks.

YouTube has become a secondary broadcast channel for production companies. Be it film or TV production houses, the leading YouTube channels in India are by these content providers. So it’s not just the TVT ratings these content companies are competing for, but also the number of followers/subscribers on such social media sites. Below is a YouTube subscription compilation from SocialBakers

Online popularity of individuals

Even though the television in itself can’t give an estimate of who is more famous than the rest, the Internet is pretty useful there. As mentioned above, fans on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc. could be taken as a measure of a celebrity’s aggregated popularity over time.

However in order to keep viewers interested in the show when they are not exactly watching the television, content producers develop an online presence for their ‘stars’ themselves. For instance, like Star Plus developed separate profiles for celebrities on its website for its show Nach Baliye, where the viewers could know more about their favourite dance couple.

Above is the Google Trends graph of 5 random contestants from the current season of the show Bigg Boss. And clearly the Google searches for these celebrities increased exponentially since the season started in July this year. Thus indicating how users too expect to know more about the show they are watching. Hence it is totally justifiable for content producers to get involved with viewers online too.

And even though eventually online streaming might over take cable and satellite television in India, it is required for the new age content companies to work for subscriber engagement in all possible digital media channels.

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