Shailesh Kapoor: The Death of Festive Programming?

17 Oct,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


We are a week away from Diwali, the biggest festival in the North of India. Dassera just went by and the New Year is not too far away. The classical ‘festive season’ has started. In the ’80s and the ’90s, these festivities were accompanied by a bonus – special made-for-festival television programming.


There would be a Hasya Kavi Sammelan on Holi every year. New Year’s Eve was famous for Doordarshan’s special three-hour show. Independence Day and Republic Day had special programmes and movies to celebrate the occasion. Channels would dress up for the festivals, through specially-designed packaging variants. Celebrities would wish you through 10-second spots peppered across television. Channels would also acquire rights to Bollywood concerts to air on such occasions. And of course, the festivals will be integrated into the running shows, via special episodes or story integration.


Over the last decade, many of these thematics have disappeared. There’s a token film telecast to sync with an occasion like Independence Day, but that is a library repeat anyway. I suspect someone would have kept count of how many times Gadar has been shown on TV to celebrate India’s freedom, from the time of the film’s release in 2001. Some channels have attempted special events around Holi and Eid, but most such attempts come across as hurriedly-created sales properties.


But there is an overkill of integration of festivals in running programmes, especially the daily soaps. In 2012, a show took to celebrating KarvaChauth so seriously that it was being celebrated on the show even after we had celebrated Diwali in the real world.


If a ‘General Entertainment Channel’ was to take its ‘generality’ seriously, it should be tapping in on each big festive occasion to provide content that’s specially designed and produced for it.


My interest doesn’t lie in watching festive programming, but more in understanding why it’s largely disappeared. Someone could come up with the ratings argument, that many such attempts have not rated well in the past. But if a lazily or half-heartedly created show doesn’t rate in regular primetime, does the channel stop making primetime shows?


The truth is that the entire approach to festive programming has shifted hands in most broadcasters (and I include the radio industry here) – from programming to ad sales. We are in the busiest advertising season too, and content is put together with a clear eye on the money available in the marketplace. The premiere of a Bollywood Blockbuster or a brand integration on a running show is what the ad sales guys would do well to take as ammunition into the market, to get a big slice of the spending pie available.


Creating a new property makes the selling job so much more complex. You have to sell a new idea, and there is always a chance that it won’t sell well enough for make the money it needs to make. The quick fix of patching up existing programming as a ‘special’ keeps all the involved parties secure – the programmer, the sales guy and the advertiser.


But it’s laziness at the end of the day, isn’t it? If a Diwali special event was created by a leading GEC with all its heart and soul, it could rate higher than most running shows and films. And it’s a property for the channel to cherish and telecast periodically during the year, before bringing it back the following year again as a second edition.


But that would be heterogeneity on display. And I believe that, however unknowingly, our mainstream television fraternity may have got addicted to homogeneity far too much to like a change.


PS: I still celebrate my festivals and this column would be on a Diwali break next week, to be back on October 31.


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