Shailesh Kapoor: May 16: Mother Of All TV Battles

09 May,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


Cricket World Cup & IPL finals. Blockbuster movie premieres. Grand finales of big-ticket reality shows. Over the last decade, almost all the high-rating TV ‘events’ can be classified into these three categories. India does not have an annual showstopper like The Super Bowl. Our television highs are rather muted, very rarely attracting a pan-India audience base that cuts across demographics and viewing taste.


The big day of election results, May 16, can be a rare exception. It has emerged as the most promoted television date by far in our television history, largely because it has become a political refrain. Across parties, “We shall talk on May 16” has been the default political response to many tough questions posed by journalists.


Conducted over nine phases, these General Elections have been a long-drawn exercise in political theatre. And it will all climax in a matter of hours next Friday morning. News channels are set to start their live telecast from as early as 6am. The first leads will begin to come by 9am. And these days, they don’t trickle in; they come as a deluge. Before noon, the big question would have been answered: Will Modi-led NDA cross the 272-mark?


Back in the 80s, this three-hour process would take three days. Doordarshan would entertain you with patriotic cinema (mostly Manoj Kumar films) with constant ticker updates and a news bulletin every two hours or so. EVMs have changed it all. Some from the old school may argue it’s taken the fun out of the counting process, but for me, EVMs remain one of the most significant (also one of the most under-rated) achievements of the Indian democracy.


Coming back to May 16, the second half of the day will be more about reactions and analysis, even as the results begin to sink in. In the event of NDA falling short by a significant margin, the ‘event’ may extend itself beyond May 16, into the weekend, even the following week.


Two factors, however, will stop May 16 from becoming a record-breaking viewership day in Indian news television history. One is the day itself. It happens to be a working Friday. I have strongly believed that all election result days should be Sundays. It will lead to higher awareness and participation in the democratic process over time. On a working day, TV viewership will take a beating, even though discussions around the results will continue to dominate offices across the nation.


The second factor is a marketing problem. Historically, news channels have continued to market the results-day largely through on-air promotions. It should be an ideal day to get new viewers to watch, but there is a lot of promotion on the home channel, and very little outside. This time, by the sheer talk value these elections have generated, awareness about the results-day is very high. Hence, it will be a lesser concern to get the fringe, non-news viewers in. Now if only it was a Sunday!


More than 20 news channels will fight a fierce battle on the results-day next Friday.  The results of this battle within the battle may have a long-lasting impact on our news television economy. So, fasten your seatbelts. And call in sick on May 16!


TV Trails is a weekly column written by Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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