Genre by Genre… Tumbling of the Telly

20 May,2022

 

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorWhere is linear television headed, one is often asked these days. Television remains the biggest traditional media by far. While print has suffered irrevocable damage during the pandemic, television has managed to hold on much better. TV’s ability to bring families together every night as a ritual has meant that it continues to stay relevant in an evolving India that’s embracing technology faster than ever before.

 

But that’s only half the story. While television, at an overall level, has managed to hold its place under the sun, not all television genres have managed this equally. One after the other, television genres have fallen by the wayside over the last few years. The New Tariff Order (NTO) sounded the death knell for English entertainment channels, where streaming offers far superior content, in both variety and quality. Music channels have struggled, with the rise of digital options, ranging from YouTube to music streaming apps. The infotainment genre is no longer what it used to be, having borne the combined brunt of NTO and the streaming surge.

 

These are ‘niche’ genres, one could argue. But the more ‘mass’ genres have not done too well either. Movie channels have lost ratings. The Hindi Movies category is clocking almost 50% lower ratings when compared to the pre-NTO period. Kids channels have not grown. IPL’s TV ratings are down by more than 20% this year, with more sports viewership shifting to digital with each passing year.

 

That leaves us with News and GEC. The former is a strange beast. The category operated without ratings for more than a year, and managed to stay afloat, but with content that’s highly questionable when seen through the lens of responsible journalism. The ratings are back, and news channels continue to be notorious, propping up communal stories while ignoring the more purposeful ones, like those related to economic matters. Watching TV news is a habit for older (30+) men in India. But this habit is no longer perceived as an ‘intellectual’ one.

 

That leaves us with mass general entertainment, the only TV category that has remained unaffected, at least relative to others, by NTO and streaming. Despite no real content innovation, GECs continue to serve the lowest common denominator well, and the bigger channels have managed to hold on to their viewership levels, with drops in the range of 20-30%. In the rural market, free-to-air GECs have prospered over the last few years, running largely on content handed down by the pay channels in the network.

 

Hence, slowly but surely, a category is losing its layers. Genre by genre, the pieces have been broken, and television is no longer the throbbing, multi-genre medium it once was proud to be. While the rise of digital entertainment has been an evident factor, excessive interference by an over-enthusiastic regulatory body has been a significant factor too.

 

Where does Indian television go from here? It’s difficult to say. The grand institution called the Indian family will ensure it stays relevant. But not necessarily in a form that we would have liked it to take in a progressive India.

 

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