Survival to Growth: The Long Road for Indian Television

09 Dec,2022



By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorAssembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh concluded this week, with results being announced this Thursday. News channels always comes into the focus during elections. The build-up to elections is often more than a month, and the results day is what all channels gear up for. It’s their final equivalent in the World Cup on news ratings.


While the results yesterday, especially in Gujarat, were on predictable lines, I scanned through the coverage looking for signs of freshness and innovation in how news channels have approached the results day this time. After all, they will get only a couple of more shots at it before the big one in the summer of 2024.


I’m disappointed, and entirely unsurprised, to report that there is nothing remarkable to mention about the coverage. The graphics, the discussion format, the ‘massification’ (“Can you show us your best dance move?”, asked one anchor of a BJP worker celebrating outside the party office) … everything evoked déjà vu.


The more I thought of this yesterday, I’m fast realizing that the inability, often coupled with the lack of intent, to innovate has now become a defining characteristic of the television industry in India. Be it GECs, movie channels or news channels, the malaise runs across. There is, from what I’m aware, good innovation on the distribution and advertising sales fronts, which are the B2B arms of the Indian television business. Perhaps the former has been necessitated by TRAI’s incessant interventions, and the latter is an outcome of ad sales being the strategic cornerstone of the television industry in India.


But on the content, branding and marketing front, looking for innovations that can be built as case studies is like the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. A few language channels in some of the states are doing some interesting stuff. But, by and large, at a national level, there’s really nothing to mention.


Can a medium survive without innovation? Perhaps yes. The story of Indian television today is defined by the context in which the medium operates (wide reach and family viewing), not by what the medium dishes out. Till this context is relevant, which will be the case for at least another decade, the television medium shall continue to be safe, from the growth of digital media, for example.


But surviving is not the same as growing and thriving. Absence of innovation can lead to television growing at a mere inflationary rate over time. The perception a stagnant category creates can be damaging. We saw how IPL’s TV and digital rights went for almost the same amount this year. Brands often seek psychographic target groups who are opinion leaders and influencers, in their respective social spheres. And the more they speak to this TG, the more digital-oriented their marketing will continue to become, given this TG’s disposition to new ideas and innovation.


Much as death of television is a dubious narrative, the medium needs to cover the distance from survival to growth. And signs are that there is not enough gas in the tank.


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