Shailesh Kapoor: General Entertainment: A Sloppy Term We Have To Live With

03 Feb,2017

By Shailesh Kapoor

The term ‘General Entertainment Channel’ (GEC) is unique to India. I don’t know who came up with it originally (could have been one of the ratings agencies in the ’90s), but the term has bad English written all over it. This article is a linguistic critique of this term (GEC). The viewer doesn’t even know this word and couldn’t care less. Hence, whatever you read here on has no business value. But if you care about the English language, read on.


Let’s start with the first of the two contentious words: General. What kind of entertainment is “General”? For some reason, the word “General” was preferred over the word “Mass”, as is evident by a counterpart category being called “Niche Entertainment”, an equally odd articulation.


If we go with “Mass Entertainment” as the meaning behind the term “General Entertainment”, we come to the next contentious word. What is “Entertainment” to the masses? Channels in the category would like to say it’s a mix of all that the mass audience want, and hence, the word “General” may have a meaning after all.


But are the GECs delivering “a mix of everything”? If you go by a broad definition of the word “Entertainment”, it would include music, documentaries, Bollywood gossip, kids content (including animation), and some would say, even news. But the homogeneity of GEC content today is evident to all of us. They are offering only two types of content that covers more than 90% of their primetime: Serials and reality shows. Even films, earlier a GEC mainstay, have slowly moved to the movie channels.


The other definition of the word “Entertainment” is a consumer definition. The chart below is a ‘thought cloud’ made from the words that were spontaneously associated with the word “Entertainment” by a large group of consumers across the country (data collected end 2015).

This is how India sees “Entertainment”. A large part of this thought cloud is not delivered by the GEC category (Hindi or regional). Is this consumer definition also a linguistic faux pas? Not really.


The dictionary definition of “Entertainment” range from “the action of providing or being provided with amusement and enjoyment” to “something diverting or engaging, such as a public performance or a usually light comic or adventure novel.”


Associations of “Entertainment” with de-stress, amusement and comedy are unmistakable across these and many other definitions available on the Internet. The thought cloud above mirrors these definitions in most part, though with an Indian contextualisation.


Does it mean that the consumer understands English language better than those coined the term “GEC”? That would be tough to believe in a country where grammatically incorrect terms like “Mind Fresh” (also seen in the chart above; an Indian English term for relaxation and mood refresh) are rampant in their usage.


In my understanding, when the term “GEC” was coined, it was coined with the right intention. There were no movie channels, kids’ channels or music channels then. Through the ’90s till the early 2000s, GECs used to air fiction programmes across genres, lots of films, had trailer and music slots during the day, and even animation bands in partnership with companies like Disney and Turner. Some even had news content.


But as more and more channels launched, this “Entertainment” saw fragmentation. Each new category started getting its share of content. Film channels fought for the first right to air a big film, because ‘Why should a GEC air a film?’. Therein started the change in definition of what a GEC stands for.


Today, almost all GECs, barring an odd exception like SAB TV, are more Drama Channels and less Entertainment Channels. Even the non-fiction content on these channels would fall under the generic definition of “Drama”: “An exciting, emotional, or unexpected event or circumstance.”


BARC India had the opportunity to change some of this faulty nomenclature in 2015. I suspect this would have been too low on their priority list. But we have learnt to live with this mess of a term (GEC) anyway over two-and-a-half decades. Who needs a change only because the English language must be respected.


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