A new story on the telly

Jul 15, 2012, 08:15 IST | Tunali Mukherjee

Televisions are getting smarter. The no-longer-an-idiot-box is adapting to the demands of an audience sharp enough to source content with a click of a button that doesn't always belong to the TV remote. As channels work to woo Internet-happy audiences with updated programming, a symbiotic relationship between the two is changing the way we watch TV

Indian audiences have long been subjected to reruns and outdated seasons on the telly. The conversational currency and emotional cliffhanger that TV soaps are, it’s no surprise that this is the very reason TV’s got a new arch-nemesis, the Internet. Can’t wait to find out what happens next? Tired of the old seasons, the beep and cuts? The Internet’s to your rescue. Shall we then say that it has killed the TV star? Well, in this case, the Internet made the stars bigger, taking them off the tube and sending them straight to your smartphones, laptops and tablets, so they can be with you on the go.

Freelance PR professional Arwa Kaka watches shows online to stay upto speed with the seasons being telecast abroad. Pic/ Bipin Kokate

Thirty six year-old freelance photographer Chou Chiang hasn’t owned a TV for the past 13 years. Before you start wondering what the furniture in his living room is pointed at, get this. Chiang is an avid TV consumer, the only difference being he prefers to watch all the shows on his iPad. “I am online almost all the time and at all odd hours of the day or night,” he says.

“Everything that I see or do is on the Internet — from streaming movies to TV shows, music videos and news clips. I carry my iPad while travelling, so I usually catch up on movies and stuff that way too. Imagine carrying a big TV wherever I go,” he laughs. Chiang watches some of the most popular shows that are on air in India and others that are not. Watch out if you are planning to take him up on his knowledge of the TV world though. Thanks to the timeliness of the Internet, chances are you are a whole season or two behind him.

TV on the go
TV programmers are fast waking up to the fact that their audiences are getting ahead of them, and many channels are now not only airing current seasons as they release in the US, but also releasing their apps on smartphones, so that viewers can watch at their convenience. “We want to ensure that our content reaches every possible audience with access to a screen — be it a TV screen, a computer screen or a mobile phone screen,” Sangeetha Aiyer, GM, Marketing, History TV18, says. The channel app, called History, was launched last November and is available across all platforms and enables live streaming and Video on Demand.

Ferzad Palia Senior VP & GM, English GM & Entertainment, Viacom 18 pvt ltd 

“While Factual Entertainment channels like History TV18 are still in a nascent stage on the mobile, making History TV18 available here has helped us in one of our key objectives — broad basing and growing this genre in India,” she says. One look at the online app stores and you realise that everyone, from the channels to even DTH service providers, are making their presence felt online. TV remains the main player though, feels senior VP & GM, English GM & Entertainment, Viacom 18 pvt ltd.

“There is a lot of talk about the web eating into the TV’s market. However, the web isn’t competition, it’s complementary,” says Palia. “For one, the Internet makes the shows more popular. Also, the TV viewing experience is far superior to that on the Internet,” he says. This doesn’t mean you ignore the medium, as Palia promises that significant digital play is in the pipeline.

Streaming without beeps
Remember when you had to rush home to watch your favourite TV show? Well, now your TV waits for you. Twenty-six year-old Arwa Kaka, a freelance PR professional, is amongst those who watch TV only when they have the time to do so after a long day at work. Thanks to her irregular work hours and the lack of a fixed schedule, Kaka would miss her favourite shows. She has opted for the next best thing — streaming the TV shows on her laptop so she can watch them at leisure, even if it means sitting at home with her laptop next to the TV.

Saunskruti Kher She has recently discovered Video-on-Demand (VoD) and orders movies off Tata Sky’s Showcase. 
Pic/ Pradeep Dhivar

“Television is just a medium of entertainment for me. Even if I didn’t own one, I would be very happy watching everything online,” she says. Kaka follows those shows online that are already quite popular on the TV itself, such as Two and a Half Men and Dexter. “It’s better to watch shows online as you are actually at par with the new season abroad. It also saves time as there are no advertisement breaks.” Kaka also reasons that censorship is one of the major reasons why the youth is now turning to the Internet for TV content. “Lots of scenes are deleted and words are beeped on the shows which are aired on TV. Simple words referring to the body and insults that aren’t even that bad are beeped out. It’s ridiculous,” she says.

While Palia agrees that the broadcasters are to blame for the delay in the seasons aired abroad and back home, he says that in some cases it works better for the channels. “If a broadcaster wants to air the current season, he has to do so once a week. Many broadcasters like to air shows through the week, for which you have to wait for the entire season to air first. Besides, a lot depends on the genre. While it may not work so well for crime and thrillers, a comedy show gets good viewership even on reruns. In fact, comedy gets better with the second and third viewing,” he says.

Seinfeld and That ’70s Show, currently on air on Comedy Central is a good example. “This happens because English TV came in much later in India and the ‘download segment’, as we call them, were very young when these shows aired, and the experience is new, even though the shows are old. Two and a half men gained popularity only after the third season, so now that we telecast the first two seasons again, it’s got more viewership,” he explains.
As for the censorship, one has no choice. “I feel your pain,” says Palia. “While watching shows on the Internet is personal viewing, TV is available to all who subscribe to it, and hence the censorship,” he explains.

Dinner company
Eric D’Costa represents that group of audience, which TV programmers are since long trying to convert to believers. The 25 year-old accounts manager loves travelling, reading, music and is obsessed with portable gadgetry. The only time you’ll find him in front of the TV is on the occasional lazy weekend. He’d rather watch a movie on his smartphone than on the TV.

Chou Chiang Freelance photographer Pic/ Bipin Kokate

“I generally end up turning on the telly once I’ve exhausted all other avenues of entertainment,” says D’Costa. “The television’s been relegated to a small part in my life. It’s generally what I turn on while eating or what I do if I have nothing else to do. I’d rather be immersed in a good book or be playing a game,” he says. D’Costa hopes that in time, TVs will be extensions of the other gadgets so that most of what one enjoys on smaller screens can be ported with ease to a larger screen.

Twenty-six year-old event manager Pegasus Events, Adnan Morbiwala, feels that television is necessary, as it acts as a stress buster and helps one relax. Ironically, it doesn’t top his list of to-dos as he’d rather connect his Playstation, go for a movie or be out for a drink with friends. “TV for me is only when I feel lazy and don’t have anything else planned.” The only other time he’s a regular with the television is when watching any sporting event. Morbiwala watched the recently concluded European Championship completely on TV. “I wouldn’t miss that for anything,” he says.

So many options
This shift in the role of the TV for an age group, whose parents used it as the primary source of entertainment, to just another form of entertainment for 20-35 year-olds has pushed TV programmers to rethink their content. The most obvious example of this shift in preferences can be seen through two of the oldest, predominantly youth channels in India, MTV and Channel [V]. While the former has evolved from a 24-hour music only channel to one that is more famous for its reality shows than music, Channel [V] is now undergoing a transformation from college-based reality shows to fiction-based soaps. The channels are trying to constantly innovate and predict what Generation Y wants to see on the tube. While MTV has been fairly successful with music-based reality shows like Coke Studio and Sound Trippin, Channel [V]’s Gumraah is aimed at capturing the fancy of those who enjoy crime based shows. One thing is for sure. Programming for the youth is no child’s play.

“The 15-35 year bracket, that is essentially categorised as the youth, has the unique advantage of being largely born in the era of a media explosion. They have the means, desire and aptitude to consume entertainment in different formats and at their own time, and most importantly, are willing to experiment with their content,” says Prem Kamath, VP and GM, Channel [V].

“If you were to rewind a few years ago, the youth had only music channels to entertain them and could perhaps watch the odd movie that related to them. But today, there is a plethora of channels trying to attract them. There is an excess of entertainment options that exist outside of television that were unheard of just a few years ago. Television has gone from being the only daily entertainment source to just another source of entertainment,” he sums up.

Video on demand
Other youth channels have tried everything from raunchy jokes, travel-based reality shows to even infidelity and bullying-related shows, but their failure to make nothing more than a few distasteful headlines and grab a substantial amount of the market is an eye-opener to what the Indian youth consider entertainment. It’s forced the TV channels to rethink youngsters as mature adult who cannot be entertained with mindless content.

And if that weren’t enough, TVs are getting smarter. With the major players bringing out televisions that connect you to the Internet, the modern audience is spoilt for choice. With digitisation being made compulsory from October 1, even DTH providers are wooing audiences with Video-on-Demand, which while being in its nascent stage in India, promises to take the country by storm within the next few years.

Take Khar resident Saunskruti Kher, for example. “I’m not following any sports events or specific shows at the moment. In fact, I don’t watch TV for months at a stretch. I buffer the shows online and watch them when I’m travelling,” she says. The 25 year-old actress has recently discovered Video-on-Demand (VoD) and now would rather order a movie off Tata Sky’s Showcase than watch the same old movies on air.

“Firstly, the timings are convenient as opposed to a channel telecast, where you have to make sure you are sitting in front of the TV at a particular time. Secondly, there are no breaks in between the movie. And of course the fact that the movies are on Tata Sky before any channel telecast or DVD release,” she says.

So while the shift in focus is all about convenience, it’s safe to say that TV is here to stay. India has a long way to go and the long hours of streaming content can be quite a deterrent. However, with 3D TVs, Internet TVs and VoD just about taking off in the metros, it will be interesting to see whether the saas-bahus upgrade themselves, or become a casualty to a new form of entertainment. 

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