So, as 2009 begins, what does the entertainment/news universe on the small screen look like? Who’s up, who’s down? Or, more to the point, who’s going to continue doing well over the next 12 months? And who isn’t?
Since the only thing certain about the TV business is that nothing is certain and nobody, not even God or Rupert Murdoch can predict what will happen, I won’t even attempt to do anything of the sort. But here’s the current scenario:
Among the entertainment channels, Star Plus still rules. When top Plus honchos like Sameer Nair had exited earlier last year, followed by several key executives, there was considerable speculation whether Star Plus would retain its No. 1 position or not.
Of course, we’ve been here before. Two years ago, there was a similar scare when Zee was rushing up the charts. And now, the runaway success of Colors has been seen as a threat to Star Plus’s dominance. But so far at least, Star Plus has managed to fight off the pretenders and remains No. 1.
Which is not to say that we have not seen major changes in the entertainment landscape. It is fashionable for other channels to dismiss the success of Colors as being the consequence of unsustainably large budgets. Certainly it is true that such programmes as Khatron Ke Khiladi were enormously expensive. But equally, it is foolish to deny that Colors’s success is based less on reality shows and more on such serials as Ballika Vadhu and Jai Shri Krishna.
The reality is that public tastes have changed. The old saas-bahu serials have stopped working. Ekta Kapoor seems to have lost her touch and is now trying to clamber on to the new bandwagon. Whether it is luck or foresight, nobody knows, but Colors was able to sense the taste change before everybody else.
People who tried the old formula — like 9X — failed completely. Others like NDTV Imagine are now struggling to change course.
In the news space, it is clear that the phrases ‘real news’ and ‘Hindi TV channels’ cannot be used in the same sentence unless it is for the purposes of irony. The success of India TV, which is a news channel in the loosest sense of the term, indicates that viewers of Hindi news channels have no real interest in news. Both Aaj Tak and Star News now contain news clips that are so brief that if you blink you’ll miss them. Even NDTV India which prides itself on steering clear of snakes, ghosts and gods, makes up for this by loading the channel with Bollywood and cricket.
In English news, two developments were worthy of note. The first was that news anchors now believe that it is entirely acceptable to insert their own views into news broadcasts. A lot has been said about Arnab Goswami’s propensity to lecture during his shows. But even Prannoy Roy did so during the Mumbai attacks and the Kashmir elections. And if we are to be honest, we will accept that this is not a new development. Many of the big names of Indian TV have always assumed that we’re as interested in their views as in the news.
I’m making no value judgments about this. Perhaps, as has been suggested by some TV journalists, the Indian paradigm of television news is different from say, the BBC model. Perhaps viewers want to be lectured and we tune in to see TV reporters cry.
The second interesting development was that a generational change now seems to have taken place in television. During the Mumbai attacks it was a little jarring to see Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt standing outside the Taj and the Trident. It was not that they were necessarily bad, only that within the young medium of television, they are now considered seniors and veterans and we expect them to function as editors in their studios, dispatching younger people to the frontline. Equally it is as clear that young people are talented and make good reporters. Times Now gained during the Mumbai attacks because of two exceptional young reporters who seemed fresh without being amateurish.
What all of this suggests we will see this year is the following: a new style of entertainment programmes; more sensationalism on Hindi news channels; and brighter and younger faces on the English channels.