Shailesh Kapoor: Enter ‘short-form’ T20-style entertainment

27 Sep,2012

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

India played Afghanistan last Wednesday in the T20 World Cup. It wasn’t billed as a high-profile game. There was little hype surrounding a game that was merely a formality, before we play the biggies. It was a weekday match, and wasn’t a very high scoring game either. Yet, the viewership of the India-Afghanistan game was at the level of the Top 10 programmes on television. If that’s some indication, we know what’s likely to come for the Super 8 matches vs. Australia, Pakistan and South Africa. They should easily be the top programmes of the week. The India-Pak game may even end up being the highest rated programme of 2012 on Indian television.

 

There has been much talk about cricket fatigue over the last few years. So much so that the talk about cricket fatigue has fatigued itself out by now. Most such talk, however, tends to be shallow, starting and ending with the million-dollar question: Is there too much cricket?

 

Of course there is too much cricket. You don’t need to look at ratings for that. A look at the ICC future tours and programmes calendar for the Indian team will give you the answer. But to assume that too much cricket translates into cricket fatigue is simplistic, even erroneous.

 

The real change that has happened over the last five years is not that the volume of cricket has increased, but that a new format has been introduced in the mix – T20. As a result, Test cricket and ODIs stand exposed in terms of their entertainment value. T20 has made them seem like yawn-fests. Why?

 

In India, core sports audiences belong to the 13-30 years age group. A large part of this segment is consumption-led, distracted, hard-to-please and perpetually wanting to move on with things.

 

With this changing mindset comes the concept of ‘short-form entertainment’. Everything has to be shorter than it was before, to please this audience. Films that are longer than two hours begin to drag, unless they are extremely well made. Serials that continue more than two years are frowned upon. Channels that have long ad breaks are dismissed as being fuddy-duddy. Interstitials and gags that stretch beyond a minute acquire overtones of being indulgent and boring.

 

There is so much to do and so little time. Most of this “so much to do” may be ‘trivial’ stuff, like social networking, but try telling a 20-year-old that. What! You called social networking trivial?

 

Short-form entertainment is soon going to play an even bigger role in our television viewing landscape. It is not about 10 seconds or three hours. It is about: What can be achieved in a certain time, should take only that much time.

 

1. If a promo can communicate a message in 15 seconds, why cut a 30 second spot?

2. If a movie can tell its story well in 100 minutes, why take 130 minutes to do the same?

3. Why do I have to watch the entire news if all I want are the headlines?

4. You can give me engaging break content, like trivia and gags, but remember, it is break content and I didn’t come to your channel to watch a break. So keep it as short as possible.

5. Why do I have to watch the entire Test match when all I want to see are the boundaries and the wickets?

6. I’m not going to watch eight hours of cricket when I am now aware of a three-hour version that’s more entertaining.

 

Get on with it, is what television professionals are being constantly told by the viewers. Today, this may be a sub-30-years mindset. But in the family context, it can be extremely infectious. We see it happening all the time with GEC serials. The dragging perceptions for serials first come from the daughter, and about 3-4 months later, viral their way to the mother or the mother-in-law.

 

Increasingly, short-form entertainment will be the key to television success, across genres. It’s a dynamic and evolving concept, and the broadcasters who can keep pace with the consumer mindset on it, with bear a distinct advantage over others. This is true across genres, but even more so for sports.

 

When India plays Pakistan in the semi finals of the 50-over Cricket World Cup, even a 24-hour game can classify as ‘short-form entertainment’. But most ODI cricket is not India-Pak in big events. It is cricket lacking any real sense of purpose or competition. That’s when watching Sehwag (now Kohli) bat is more exciting than the result of the match itself. That’s the short form that works.

 

As a teenager, Mike Tyson’s boxing bouts used to interest me a lot. I wondered how so much sponsor money could be put on something that lasts merely 30-seconds. Today, I know the answer of course. It’s not about the time; it’s only about entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.

 

Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media & entertainment research and consulting firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor

 

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