Paritosh Joshi: Unbundling the Living Room

21 Jun,2012

By Paritosh Joshi

 

An erstwhile colleague was talking about the proliferation of the second television set. In her assessment, as many as 10% of all C&S homes now have more than one TV. Listen close. 10% of ~100 million homes. That’s 10 million multi-TV homes in the country. From 1 TV for every 5 viewers, the equation has changed sharply, for these 10 million homes to 1 TV for every 2.5 viewers. Evidently there will be consequences. (And as you shall soon see, it is even better (or worse) than that).

 

Whether you look at Hindi, English or any of the languages in which TV is offered in India, there is a common architecture that defines the structure of the market. Three pillars hold it up: big and hefty General Entertainment, massive Sports (shared across language barriers by offerings only in two languages) and wildly proliferating News with lots of fragile strands. Since Sports really has no local identity, focused as it is on the national obsession with Cricket, and News offers no heft, the defining feature of TV in every language is GEC. Dig a little deeper and the content logic of the GEC genre starts to become evident.

 

GECs got blueprinted by the late 1990s. Indeed, you could argue that the basic template was in place even long before that, in the form of Doordarshan. Homes had one TV. Most people in the family, barring the housewife, would be away from the home for educational or employment reasons for several hours a day. The family would only start to congregate in the Living Room from about 6 p.m. as the members returned from wherever the day’s chores had taken them. By 8ish, there was a full house and smart programmers would be offering up delights that everyone would lap up without discomfort or embarrassment. The stereotypical picture of the Great Indian Family sharing and bonding before the Great Indian Entertainment TV Channel would now be complete. It was almost hard to discern where the khandan on TV ended and the parivaar in the Living Room began.

 

Anyone who lived through the late 90s and early years of this millennium will recall vividly, as the stentorian authority of Amitabh Bachchan delivering his signature ‘Namaskar! Aadab! Sat Sri Akal’ echoed through domestic hallways in over a half of our country, he would have everyone jostling to find their favourite spot before the TV dabba. Once said spot was secured, it would be squatted on until the day’s K serials and such wrapped up.

 

While all Hindi channels picked up the simple formula of family values and ‘rona dhona’ very quickly- thereby making them all look like reduced sized copies of the industry’s 500 pound gorilla, the regional players weren’t far behind. The model was perfected in Hindi and swiftly exported to markets in all regional languages.

 

In the meanwhile, India was getting more prosperous as the economy saw half a decade of near double-digit economic expansion. At the same time, the telecommunications revolution was well and truly upon us. Call rates for mobile telephony fell in a frenzied race to the bottom. Handsets started developing capabilities far beyond the basic voice and text and shedding the boring monochrome screen for a jazzed up colour display. More onboard memory with scope of incrementing it further by more and more capacious SD cards, faster processors and rendering engines that took blur and dullness out of the mobile desktop screen enabled altogether new consumption possibilities on the tiny (but also growing fast) cellphone screens. Other screens were entering the repertoire. A second TV was seen as a mark of upward mobility. Desktop computers were becoming indispensable particularly in middle class homes with school- or college-going youngsters.

 

Sources of AV content were growing far beyond C&S TV with young, urban consumers discovering the forbidden joys of ‘torrents’ that had reawakened, in a new morph, the only recently exorcised Napster. And there were so many alternatives on where the content, thus secured, could be consumed. The second TV would often come attached to a DVD player, or even a gaming console both of which did a commendable job of playing content. Even the little mobile device in the pocketwas rapidly becoming powerful enough to store and play not just songs and clips, but long form entertainment sourced from friend and stranger.

 

The tyranny of the compulsory assembly before the glowing siren in the Living Room was being challenged by sundry interlopers big and small that were leading an uprising of person specific content.

 

Oblivious to these tectonic changes in the landscape, programmers and channel heads, with their heads still stuck firmly up their <scatology deleted> outmoded notions of the ‘One big, happy family’ continued to design and programme General Entertainment. “Hey, you can have a car of any colour you want”, they incanted, “so long as it is black”. But who was listening? The young ‘uns had already found shiny, sleek, colourful new rides that they could scoot away in.

 

p.s. for Programmers and Channel Heads: You may not have noticed it yet, honey, but someone just unbundled the Living Room.

 

Paritosh Joshi was until recently CEO, Star CJ. He has been a marketer, a mediaperson and a key officebearer on industry bodies. He can reached via the comments board below or his Twitter handle @paritoshZero.

 

 

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2 responses to “Paritosh Joshi: Unbundling the Living Room”

  1. ID says:

    Don’t know the numbers offhand but pretty sure overall Tv consumption has only gone up and up in terms of overall reach (in mns, not %) and time spent.

    In which more of the same, i.e. incremental innovation in programming is the lowest hanging fruit, so it’s clear why this is being chased. Not that that alone makes it the right thing to do.

    Next step is as much about brand building as it is about new content areas. SMJ has hopefully shown the way and it may be that we actually see interesting show concepts. The biggest loser may actually turn out to be news and not GEC.

    • Paritosh says:

      You are spot on. TV reach in terms of Households has galloped along in India, adding ~10 million new homes every year.

      And the endless appetite for low hanging fruit has led to intellectual lassitude, no wonder the continuing obsession with more ‘General’ Entertainment.

      However, it’s probably early days and the drama will play out, as all teledramas do, with lots recrimination and anguish over many episodes!

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