Time to Rejig the Content Mix?

14 Jan,2021

 

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Shruti PushkarnaThe only change we witnessed on January 1 was calendrical. 2020 was a washout, with bad news hitting us consistently from every part of the globe. The ghastly spread of coronavirus wasn’t the only peril we dealt with. Don’t forget the floods, cyclones, frequent earthquakes, economic slowdown following the lockdown, rising unemployment and brutal pay cuts. The only hope in sight was the promise of a vaccine roll-out in 2021. Just as we were getting ready to usher in a world capable with fighting the virus, the World Health Organisation announced that we were unlikely to develop herd immunity in this new year.

 

On the political front too, countries are busy competing for attention. Apart from the usual blows and soap opera antics, the Narendra Modi government has been unable to placate or negotiate with the protesting farmers. And across the Atlantic, United States made history as the outgoing President Donald Trump incited supporters to storm into the Capitol and ransack offices, leading to the death of a police officer.

 

I don’t think it gets any crazier. News coverage has never been so potent. The airwaves are dominated by issues that seemingly affect ‘everyone’. With the fundamental existence of every human being at stake, newsmakers have been busy chasing issues of national importance like never before. This also means that anything labeled as ‘special interest’ or ‘social responsibility’ takes a backseat.

 

Unfortunately, disability-related coverage falls in the above category. The media perceives issues facing the disabled to be significant only to a handful of the country’s citizenry. Even though data indicates that fifteen percent of the global population lives with some form of disability. Add to that friends and families of the disabled. Also, the elderly who often acquire age-induced-impairment. Another common belief is that the larger political, social and economic problems have no impact on persons with disabilities.

 

News is largely driven by what a select few minds deem ‘relevant’ to the majority. Needless to say, profit generation defines their decisions. Unless one of these decision-makers has any personal experience with disability, we are unlikely to see a change in what’s dished out for national consumption.

 

Let’s shift focus to general entertainment. Here too, channel owners decide what sells or what type of content is worthy of mass appreciation. That’s why for years together, our choices were limited to saas-bahu drama, cheap dance and music shows and ludicrous comedy.

 

Before subscription-based platforms launched in India, many of us believed the business model would fail in a market driven by cable television and piracy. But clearly we misjudged. Audiences jumped up at the idea of choosing desirable content from different genres. The market finally catered to individual interests as opposed to mass production based on banal assumptions about the target group. Restricted outdoor activity due to Covid-19 has of course taken OTT to a new level of popularity.

 

Today, we live in an era where ‘content is king’. There is a market for everything and businesses targeted to a niche are likelier to succeed. The consumers are not only armed with choices but multiple (tech) devices. With squirrel-like attention spans, they are in constant search for what’s relevant at an individual level.

 

Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar, have numerous categories such as science fiction, thriller, reality TV, adventure, crime, mythology, biopic and so on. I feel there’s a tremendous possibility of producing content on subjects like disability, or other forms of exclusion that plague the societal mindset.

 

The able-bodied are unable to comprehend the challenges faced by those living on the peripheries because they don’t see or hear about it. The media can endow visibility to those who are absent from our normal course of existence. When people start seeing stories of disabled from places of education, work or entertainment, ableism will slowly begin to recede.

 

Content producers have a massive influence on the general public vis-à-vis understanding of issues, people and situations. They are responsible for shaping opinions and generating curiosity.

 

Are they willing to make their offerings more inclusive in light of the new content consumption patterns? Can we expect to read, see and hear all that impacts every single one of us? Can the specialized content also represent the minorities that remain faceless even in the 21st century?

 

If media is a reflection of our society, then the blatant narcissism and apathy should shock us into advocating for change.

 

 

Shruti Pushkarna heads operations of the New Delhi-based Score Foundation where she works as Director-Programmes & Communications. She is a former journalist (part of the founding team of MxMIndia) who has moved full-time to the social sector. Shruti writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @shrutipushkarna

 

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