Shailesh Kapoor: GECs’ Latest Challenge: The Urban Itch

05 Dec,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

As the year draws to an end, it’s increasingly clear that 2014 shall definitely not be remembered for being the year of content innovation on Indian television. In fact, as it turns out, it would perhaps be remembered as a year when status quo was given only a feeble challenge by new ideas, with little success. At the end of the year, most top shows on television are launches from 2010-13, barring an odd Udaan or Kumkum Bhagya, 2014 launches that walked the road traveled before.

 

In the second half of the year, a certain pattern emerges if you study the new Hindi GEC launches. There seems a conscious attempt to go urban (read cosmopolitan), and connect with a more evolved and exposed mindset. This is evident across several shows launched over the last four months. (I’m choosing to not take show names as examples, as the point being made is a collective one.)

 

Most recent launches have a liberal sprinkling of the English language, a dominant presence of women professionals and out-of-home situations, and an overall cosmopolitan ambience, in terms of styling, production and treatment. More importantly, the issues being tackled are urban in their relevance, with a resonance only in the upper echelons of our vast country.

 

I have been watching these shows unfold on air over the last quarter. Most of them have performed average to below average on ratings. Covering topics like estranged familial relationships, divorces, extra-marital affairs and the likes, the conflicts in these shows are based on premises that are essentially against the core of the much-revered Indian culture (read “sanskaar”).

 

Much as one would hope that such shows work, so that variety of themes can prosper, it’s a well-established marketing rule that relevance should be non-negotiable for a product to succeed. I know that most channels and even producers are well aware of this. After all, ratings have made everyone “research savvy” in one way or the other.

 

Yet, we see concepts being written and treated in ways that lack resonance. Many young television writers believe that it’s their duty (and opportunity) to change Indian television. So far, so good. But their idea of what constitutes a positive, relevant “change” seems misplaced in a half-baked understanding of the target audience.

 

That the channels actually end up endorsing such writing and production is our television industry’s version of marketing myopia, where consumer needs take a backseat to a mindset of product innovation and growth.

 

There is an inherent manufacturer’s bias also at play here. We are humans after all, and if we like watching content of a certain type, we would want to make more of it. And because we essentially interact with more people like ourselves in our day-to-day lives, they also like similar content and the bias keeps getting reinforced by the day.

 

In its truest sense, innovation is always customer-centric, where the idea keeps the user of the product (the viewer in our case) at its heart. Many may argue that the last year or so has been the year of innovation and failures, and that’s not always a bad thing. But I’d rather call it a year when the urban itch came to the fore. Real innovation is still being awaited, barring Satyamev Jayate.

 

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