MUMBAI: Now that Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, the TV measurement agency, reports rural viewership figures, an increasing number of Indian TV networks are looking to tap the potential of this huge market.

As reported by The Economic Times, broadcasters have begun to introduce more free-to-air (FTA) channels to reach rural viewers, who traditionally have had to make do with state-run Prasar Bharati and a couple of channels that show repeats.

But DD Freedish, Prasar Bharati's free direct-to-home platform, has found success in this underserved market and that, combined with the expanded data available from BARC, is encouraging commercial broadcasters to explore its possibilities.

"Since there is a platform with a large mass of viewers [DD Freedish], which is now being measured, it is important for all broadcasters to evaluate their options for those markets and that's exactly what we are doing," said NP Singh, CEO at Sony Pictures Networks India.

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Star India, the media company owned by 21st Century Fox, is also taking note and a spokesperson said: "With the rural markets having opened up for us to read viewership data, the ability to measure and take informed decisions has gone up dramatically spurring the confidence to launch."

Viacom 18, the Mumbai-based joint venture between Viacom of the US and the Network 18 Group, is another major player looking into expanding its FTA coverage in rural India.

"India is a hybrid market, a mix of pay and free. It is important for us as a player to find a business model for both of these markets. I see substantial numbers in the FTA market," said Sudhanshu Vats, Viacom18's group CEO.

"We are talking about a time when hopefully 90% of India will have TV at home. So we are talking about [a] total of 250m homes, out of which 225m homes will have TV. Now, 30% of this is a very large number," he added.

However, despite the opportunities such numbers present, Vats still expected advertising budgets to continue to focus on urban viewers, not least because of their higher disposable income.

"The ad dollars going to FTA will be weighted by the purchasing power. So the premium for the urban audiences, the audiences that can spend more, will remain," he said. "That's a fair thing. The eyeballs and the quality of eyeballs will always be measured differently."

Data sourced from The Economic Times; additional content from Warc staff