This is an adaptation of the session in Shala, organised by Takshashila
In Tamil there is this concept of a – uppa kadai – based around both the epics – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The closest acceptable translation would be a parable – a set of stories with the main protagonists from the Epics aimed at teaching values to a younger generation. To be honest, I am not sure if Either Valmiki or Veda Vyaasa had written these uppa kadai’s. I am not even sure if these stories actually exist as a part of the larger body of work or are they family specific or region specific …
These stories were told to us -me and my cousins – by our grand mother . she would sit on the floor with this big vessel filled with sambhar rice and dahi rice – with the kids around her. And she would tell us these uppa kadais’ while she gave us portions of the food in our hand to eat. Usually there was some unpalatable vegetable – kaddu or turai or something like that.. but all of us would be so engrossed in those stories that we would not even notice the passage of either time or food.
One of my favorite uppa kadai’s is based around the characters of the Mahabharata. This story takes place a few years after Drona had taken over tutoring the 105 cousins. Dritarashtra, Bheeshma, Vidura, Dronacharya and Kripacharya – were in conference having a conversation about the young men and their capabilities. Dronacharya and Kripacharya – like all good teachers – were being fairly forthright about their charges’ capabilities. Duryodhan is a hot head. Arjun needs to stop preening in front of the mirror. Sahadev should talk to people and not just animals. Bhim needs to stop reacting. Dusashan should stop harassing the dasis … And Yudishtar – as future emperor ….. At which point Dritarashtra loses it. He says ‘why is it that everyone keeps assuming that Yudishtar is going to be emperor’ … what are the qualities that set him apart from the rest. Obviously Dritarashtra’s grouse was that his eldest son – Duryodhan – was not even being considered. He tells the rest that the principals of dynastic succession seem unfair – after all it is important to have the most capable person as the next emperor …
The rest agree – and a test is set for all the 105 pupils. The test was a simple one. Each of the 105 is given a gold coin and told to fill his room . “what do you mean – fill the room” they asked. “aah – that is the test” said the elders. The boys had a few days to think thro’ the problem and present the results to the elders.
The day of the test arrives. The elders arrive at the boy’s rooms to check out the results. They first go to Duryodhan’s room. They open the door and a shower of hay falls on them. Duryodhan has used his one gold coin to fill the room with hay. The next room is filled with caked dung. The next one is filled with dry twigs. Another one is filled with wheat . And so on and so forth. Finally, the team arrives at Yudishtra’s room – they open the door. Right in the centre of the room is an earthern pot – filled with oil. A large wick is burning. The room is filled with light … Yudishtra returns the remaining change to the elders….
And that brings me to 24 hour channels – be they news or entertainment … and the desire to fill the ‘space’ with the equivalent of hay… which is also terribly convenient because the topic I am going to cover is Media and Representation. To be more specific I am going to speaking about the Indian Television Media – especially news media – and the way it represents various facets of the India – be it gender, minorities, majorities, regional issues, policies, politics and what ever else.
On the face of it – there can be nothing more diverse and varied than Indian Television Channels.
a) Television reaches around 60% of all Indian households. (print in contrast reaches 30%)
b) There are 500 + channels broadcasting in multiple languages to diverse audiences.
c) Out of the 134 million household that receive television – 52% is rural households and 48% are urban households.
d) Television in urban India has almost reached saturation levels. On the other hand, in rural India and semi urban areas are the big thrust forward for most broadcaster. If you watch entertainment channels – you will see this reflected in the programming. What we in Urban India call regressive, is the reality for most Indians.
e) There are some 90 odd news channels across the country . Around 40 more are waiting clearance from the I& B ministry.
f) The average desi watches some 2.5 hours of TV per day. In many cases this would be higher but for the fact that there are tremendous power cuts :. In the South they tend to watch a lot more TV. But, the south – especially TN has almost a 99% cable penetration.
g) Hindi is viewed by 43%, Regional by 37% and English by 11%. English News is viewed by 0.4%
There are a number of things things to remember about channels & representation :
a) there are a lot of them in India
b) All of them – apart from DD- are funded by private parties. DD , of course, is funded by us.
c) They need content to show.
d) They need money to survive
The Problem of Plenty
So the question is – with 500 + channels why is there a feeling across the board that “we are left out”.
The answer is quite simple – because we arent’ the target audience?
IF we arent’ the TG then who is the TG. To be very honest .. all these 500 odd channels are looking at around 16,000 households that are monitored. So all the ratings that we see – the ratings that advertisers buy are based on what these 16,000 households consume as television viewing. These TAM meters are installed in 150 towns & cities across India. The North East and Jammu & Kashmir are excluded from the monitoring system. So are DTH households.
An average of 100 cable & satellite households in 150 towns & cities – decide what goes on Television. I am not a stats expert – and I suppose that it is possible that this sample size can represent India – but instinct tells me it is not possible.
Why doesn’t this change ? Well it should change. But the key players in the system – the advertisers, the agencies, the broadcasters, and A C Nielsen (who runs TAM & AMAP) have not seen this as a pressing issue …. It is a jab tak chalta hai chalne do feeling. The change – to get more or all households monitored is expensive. There is confusion on who should bear the cost ? TThere could be legislation I suppose….but, if all the parties in the system are happy and no one is really complaining – then why would you legislate. Afterall, there is nothing either illegal or immoral in the current system.
The Problem of Money
Channels cost money to run. Lots of money.
How much money – it really depends on the nature of the channel. A GE channel like a Zee or a Star or a Colors – spend an average of 6-8 lakhs per half an hour of original content. This is usually a soap. Movies, Events and Reality shows cost a lot more . And to be very honest no one – apart from those who work in the channel – can put an exact figure on it because none of us know what the star package is. But this is just one part of the cost. The other two major cost heads are Distribution and Marketing. Distribution is ensuring the Cable operator not only carries the channel but carries it in the prime band. Distribution costs are getting more and more expensive.
How much money – again it is difficult to say . Estimates run between 3 – 5 crores for a new GE channel per month to 10 crores a month. It depends on whom you are talking to. Just as a benchmark – people I know are starting a region specific music channel. They were told 7 crores per annum. This 7 crores is just for the pleasure of the cable wallah to carry their channel. It does not get people to see it … for that you need heavy duty marketing spend.
Marketing costs are also high – it helps the channel to have a known face or a continuous series if they are going to advertise. One off events cost more to advertise.
The same is the case with news channels.
The Problem of Content
Content costs money. While for a GE channel it may be cost of the half an hour of soap – for a news channel it is the cost of infrastructure – including OB Vans, bandwidth etal. And the cost of people – good people cost money. On the other hand to get a unqualified person to stand in front of a camera at the scene of a disaster asking a survivor -your family is dead, your limbs are amputated, you have lost all your money – aapko kaise lagta hai …. Doesn’t really require any kind of skills.
With fiction – it is easier to make a daily soap that runs 5 days a week – economies of scale kick in as far as production and marketing are concerned.
With news channels it is easier to react than to reflect. Send a OB van to a scene of a disaster. Make allegations. Get out. If anyone asks you questions -how dare they …. There is freedom of press in India. Also the news cycle – the giving of news in small bytes and upping the tension level ensures that viewers remain hooked. Afterall, their job is not to educate you – it is to make money.
The problem of Revenue
500 channels are competing for a single advertising pie. That pie is not just going into TV but also print, out doors, radio, web and a lot of BTL activities.
The advertising agencies buy spots based on the channel’s performance . Performance is measured by ratings.
The ratings system for a news channel and an entertainment channel are the same – they even cater to the same TG. Except for one thing – entertainment – especially soaps – tends to have a female skew. And news tends to have a male skew.
So if you want to rate – you will run what the audience – 16,000 households – wants. And there goes representation.
Just because you call something National doesn’t make it national. National is representative of the Nation, not just the niche that you are talking to. If you look at Doordarshan – boring as it may be – there are news bulletins from every part of India. Every state. Good news and Bad. It tells you that where there is development and where there is not.
India is diverse – and diversity includes the good and the bad. It includes the accents from Meghalaya and Kerala. It includes not reporting India to Indians as outsiders. It includes understanding the history and culture of this vast nation. For example,
- Anna Hazare’s fast at Jantar Mantar was not India’s Tahir Square. Tahir Square was a representation of what India did 60 years earlier
- Looking at Obama and asking where is India’s Obama is silly. He happenened 70 years earlier – his name was Dr.Bhimrao Ambedkar
- Saying South Indian food was served is ignorant. South India is massive geography. Food is far more regional – was it udipi, Kannada, Tamil, Rayalseema, what was it
- There is no such thing as North Eastern Culture. North East, again, is vast geography. There are specific state cultures, and within each state distinct regional cultures.
Screaming, Screeching and Sound bytes may make for short term audience acquisition. But, sooner of later you will find that you have to screech and scream louder – and that is most likely to deafen the audience.
Television is a medium for carrying advertising to the customer … the original content on the channel is the device to get audiences to watch the advertising. Therefore, everything is driven by ratings. When you have a system that is so competitive, measured in a manner that it is – then you will have a situation where representation and plurality goes for a toss. If you watch a soap – you see representation of a single culture – if it is a hindi language soap based in Gujarat or Maharashtra – then you despite the fact that the characters speak Hindi, the peculiarities of the characters will be Gujarati or Marathi.
Similarly, if you have a Hindi language news channel – you will see a skew of news towards the Hindi speaking markets – it ignores the rest of India.
English language news channels – speak to an English speaking audience across India – and they try and generalize this diversity down to Mumbai and Delhi …. Those leaders who speak fluent English are called in, those who don’t aren’t.
Private sector channels in India work within a frame work. That framework is the Market . TV is no longer the mode to Inform, Educate and Entertain. IT is Shock, Sensationalize and Entertain. Let me ask you a question – if there was a TV show on the top 5 brides for Rahul Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi’s views on primary education – what would you watch ?
You really can’t blame the channels for running content that is trivial – that is what the audiences want. And the more you give them this kind of content -the more they want of it…..