MUMBAI: The fast-growing India TV market is proving an attractive option for US media companies, which are increasingly looking overseas for growth as they face the prospect of more American viewers 'cutting the cord'.
Viacom is the latest to step up its presence in India, in a deal with the Reliance Industries conglomerate which will see it take a half share in five regional entertainment channels, according to the Wall Street Journal.
"There's no question that India's going to grow dramatically – and that the seeds are being sown right now," said Bob Bakish, president of Viacom International Media Networks, the unit that oversees the company's international assets.
"You have to believe India is one of the major markets of the 21st century," he added.
Those seeds include a shift to digital TV, with around 60% of the country now covered.
The spread of set-top boxes is expected to help produce more accurate viewing figures and also more accurate subscriber figures – many of the thousands of local cable operators are said to under-report the latter in order to avoid having to pay higher subscription fees to media companies.
These are among the factors that make India one of the world's fastest growing markets in terms of TV revenue: PricewaterhouseCoopers has forecast a compound annual growth rate of 16% between 2013 and 2018, with ad revenue growing at 13% a year.
Those figures have also drawn the attention of other overseas companies, including Sony which, like Viacom, is looking at regional Indian networks as a way of building its local portfolio.
"It's a primary focus of our growth strategy in the next couple of years," according to Andy Kaplan, president of world-wide networks for Sony Pictures Television.
And 21st Century Fox, already a major player through its Star networks, has invested heavily in Indian sports channels.
Despite the undoubted opportunities, however, India is a very fragmented market. As well as 40,000 "last mile" local-cable operators, there are 826 satellite TV channels, more or less evenly split between news and current affairs and general entertainment.
Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, IndianTelevision.com; additional content by Warc staff