TV has all the tell-tale signs of being a good mistress. It speaks when spoken to, seduces with a hypnotic charm, and men certainly love it more than their wives. But despite all these foxy, temptress-like qualities, we are more than inclined to believe that TV is a man after all. For only when you refuse to switch it on and have an affair with the Internet instead, does it come back to you. Like English TV in India has, finally offering us new channels, more shows, latest seasons and even an alternative to downloads.
Last year around the same time, most English content viewers were craving quality entertainment. Repeated re-runs, ancient seasons and old shows were all they could see. But the screen looks much brighter this year. There are several new channels in the category, and much more variety.
Fox Network came to town in July last year bringing fresh blood with Fox Crime, FX and NGC Wild. It was followed by CBS, which came under the aegis of the Reliance network – named Big CBS, with three channels – Big CBS Prime, Big CBS Love and Big CBS Spark. Then there’s BBC Entertainment, not to mention WB and the new Discovery channels.
The share of the English entertainment genre among all channels has increased from 0.15 to 0.19 from 2010 to 2011 (Source: TAM Media Research). Doesn’t sound like an awful lot but it’s actually a 27 per cent increase in the genre share in three months. That’s not insignificant. Explains Varun Chaturvedi, group manager, Lodestar Media, a media planning agency, “These numbers might look miniscule and unable to represent any viewership shift from other genres, but the upswing is tremendous and delivers many options to both advertisers and viewers.”
The Curious Case of Odd Timing
What has caused this English channel deluge? The answer, as for everything else, is India’s success story. Says Deepak Shourie, South Asia head, BBC Worldwide Channels, “The English viewing audience has grown in numbers, with about 72-75 million viewers around the country. No one wants to miss out on that.” Saurabh Yagnik, general manager and senior vice president, English Channels, Star India, says it has to do with the reach of the language. “Currently about 30 per cent of India’s population converses in English and hence the scope of this category is tremendous. It will grow at least two-three times in near the future,” he says.
Nikhil Mirchandani, head of the English channels, Big CBS, points out that most of the change was long overdue. “It was evident with the growth in technology, fashion and even the other genres on TV; this too had to fill with competition. The increase in digitisation and accessibility via HD technology and DTH has further fuelled this growth. Also, after 2009 when the global economy just began to stabilise, this was the best time to invest in foreign shores.”
The happy beneficiary is the Indian viewer. Take for instance, Subhankar Bhattacharjee, a Delhi-based MPhil student, who had almost stopped watching TV altogether. “I don’t feel that the Hindi shows speak to me, perhaps they address a completely different kind of audience. However, with the advent of series like
, which demand your intellect and are completely plot-driven, things have changed.” Audiences too have evolved from being content with old
episodes to demanding latest seasons of
. And English TV is hardly a metro phenomenon any longer. Says Anurag Bedi, business head, Zee Café, “Though the predominant viewers for this genre come from the metros, there is increased consumption of such content in the Tier II and III markets as well.” The subtitling of all shows in this genre proves that.
And even though Star World’s
, with a gay couple adopting a Chinese baby and an ageing patriarch marrying a curvaceous Latina in her thirties, couldn’t be anything close to a family in Allahabad, the series is popular.
The audience is also looking for more than soaps and movies. Rohit Bhandari, senior vice president, AXN and Animax, says, “Lifestyle has emerged as one of the strongest genres in the past few years.” This genre has been best utilised by the Discovery Network, whose flagship Discovery Channel is the 9th largest channel in the country (TAM: CS4+ Cumulative Reach, 2010). “When we launched TLC, the erstwhile Travel and Living Channel, viewers announced their liking for it almost overnight,” says Rahul Johri, senior vice president and general manager - South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific. “The aspiring, well-travelled and globally active Indian viewer has a huge appetite for quality content.” He points to the fact that by adding three fresh channels – Discovery Turbo, Discovery Science and Discovery HD World – the network recognised new trends in programming, taking Indian viewers to places they had never been before, be it underwater, outer space or a rat’s small intestine.
Interestingly, all TV executives agree that today, there are no favourite channels, only favourite shows. Says Nikhil Mirchandani of Big CBS, “No one has the patience to sit through one show after the other on the same channel. Different prime-time slots are occupied by different channels.”
Contains Added Quality
Indeed, the mind of the Indian audience is tougher than the last level of Final Fantasy. But overall, according to Jyotsana Viriyala, vice president, Fox International Channels, reality shows and sitcoms are generally enjoyed by all viewers. A case in point is Australia’s Masterchef which broke several TRP records. Touted as one of the biggest hits of last season, the show’s evolved format with food being the clear focus, came across as refreshing. Reality shows also score over time-demanding dramas, thanks to their per episode approach, points out Anurag Bedi of Zee Café. “It is difficult for viewers to maintain continuity, which is something you need when you watch serials. Reality shows do fetch better TRPs.” Adds Rohit Bhandari of AXN, “They also carry a bit of ‘shock value’ which inspires the wow factor from the audience. Which is why genres like action and magic have worked very well on our channel.” He mentions shows like David Blaine, whose levitation trick is the stuff that television dreams are made of.
Then there are dramas which are further classified into medical and police shows. These have their own audience. Says Jyotsana Viriyala of Fox International Channels, “There is only a niche section that straddles genres easily and it is this segment that has a higher consumption of long forms and intense fare,” she says.
However, before you go screaming Western domination at us, you must know that the Indian viewer connects very well with original content, as exemplified by the success of
Koffee with Karan
on Star World or
Living with a Superstar: Shah Rukh Khan
“We are constantly on the look out for new shows/ concepts that we can develop for India, be it The AXN Action Awards (awards recognising action in Bollywood) or Men 2.0 (a magazine format lifestyle show) or India’s Minute to Win it,” reveals Rohit Bhandari of AXN. Rahul Johri of Discovery Network agrees. “We have always focused on India-based programming, be it with our travel shows, food programming or our upcoming show with Lisa Ray,
Oh My Gold!”
To which Saurabh Yagnik of Star India adds, “This June will see the launch of
Simi Selects India’s Most Desirable
, where Simi Garewal plays a host to India’s young celebrities,” says he of the channel which has consistently Indianised its content, even if only by innovating the promos – the latest one to air being the
kids lip-syncing to Character Dheela from Ready!
And if you haven't had enough of Tyra Banks hissing “You are now in the running for
America’s Next Top Model
,” then rejoice, for Big CBS plans to bring the India version soon. Nikhil Mirchandani says, “We will of course stick to the same production values as the original, taking care to not make it look like another caricature as seen often on Indian TV.” Even Fox History and Traveller as it is now called is working on a show called
What’s With Indian Men
, hosted by model Indrani Dasgupta and actress Sugandha Garg of
Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
So Many Times for Love
But one more quibble remains. Watching a ridiculously gorgeous serial killer with innocent blue eyes go through his creepy morning routine – the opening montage for Dexter on Star World, already ranked among the most popular shows on English channels in India – no doubt made us fall in love with the series. But watching him floss his teeth with a taut string every three hours can drive anyone to their wits’ end.
All TV execs, however, stoically support the trend of endless re-runs in a day. “There are many households with a single TV which make it impossible for some to catch the shows during the original prime-time band, thus we telecast repeats to satiate the several requests we receive via different social networking sites,” says Saurabh Yagnik of Star India. Fair enough, but there are some shows which keep dragging for years – we’ve almost memorised the wedding vows in the Chandler-Monica wedding episode by now. And Friends is not the only example. Rahul Johri of Discovery agrees that their network too often re-telecasts shows. But, he says, many times, the repeat airing garners higher ratings. Similar opinions are shared by Anurag Bhandari of Zee Café, who suggests that re-runs are the only way to keep the audience hooked.
But though we are no longer watching prehistoric episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Star World (the channel is now thankfully running the latest season), we are still not willing to believe that by censoring major scenes from episodes, we can be at par with international standards anytime soon. Rajan Mehta, a student of film and television, believes that if a good show is based on graphic content then the Indian audience should be viewed as mature enough to handle it. Until that happens, we are never going to be at par with international standards. “I would rather download the shows I like as I can’t wait for the Indian channels to process and splice them for me. Apart from that, there are certain shows that will never make it to India and if they do, will be massacred beyond belief,” he says.
The suits have their defence ready. Jyotsana Virilaya of Fox explains. “If we get content that has, say, excessive use of violence, then we have to censor it, according to the current rules.” Most others maintain helplessness at the hands of the law. You can’t have everything, we guess!
All the new shows on our tv screens in the past one year:-
1. Star World –
Modern Family, Castle, Community, Glee, Dexter, Bones, Lie to Me, 30 Rock, Scrubs, Australia’s Next Masterchef, America’s Next Master Chef, The Bachelor/ Bachelorette series, White Collar, The Good Guys, Mr Sunshine, Las Vegas, Detroit-187, The Walking Dead, Raising Hope, Mr Sunshine, Lights Out
Sons of Anarchy, Archer, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mad Men, Californication, My Name is Earl, Last Comic Standing, Scoundrels
3. Big CBS –
NCIS, Bellator Fighting Championships, The Good Wife, Rachael Ray, CSI Marathon, Judge Judy, Cheaters, The Jerry Springer Show
4. BBC Entertainment –
Top Gear-Series 14, Sherlock, Dancing With The Stars, Dr Who, Atlantis, The Graham Norton Show
5. Zee Cafe –
Huge, Parks and Recreation, The Mentalist, Pushing Daisies, No Ordinary Family, 18 to Life, Body of Evidence, Make it or Break it, The Middle
6. AXN -
Wipeout, House MD, 24, Alias, Andromeda, CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Nip/Tuck, Numb3rs, Supernatural, The Shield, The Amazing Race, Criss Angel Mindfreak
Auto Trader, Biker Build Off, How the Universe Works, It’s All Geek to Me, Death of Bin Laden, Japan Megaquakes, Creating Synthetic Life, Taking On Tyson, Project Runway, Hell’s Kitchen, Nigella Bites, The Thirsty Traveller, World Cafe Asia
8. WB -
Conan, Blade: The Series, Showbiz Tonight, The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Class, Four Kings, Joey, Loonatics Unleashed
Some shows we would like to see:-
1. Game of Thrones – American medieval fantasy show based on the best-selling novel series called A Song of Fire and Ice; it is known for high quality production and extremely well-written story lines and characters.
2. The Killing – A police investigation series, in which each episode chronicles each day of the investigation of the killing of a 13-year-old girl. Leaves you longing for more. This American show is addictive.
3. Misfits – A British dramedy (comedy-drama) about a group of young offenders who get struck by lightning while performing community service and develop supernatural powers. A dark, funny and critically acclaimed series.
4. Tremé – Packed with great story-telling, it focuses on a local neighbourhood of New Orleans whose residents are trying to rebuild their lives post Hurricane Katrina.
5. Chicago Code – Based on the Chicago Police Department, it uses the city as a character.
6. Louie – Written, directed, produced and edited by the stand-up comic Louis CK, in which he plays a fictional version of himself in New York City.
7. The Wire – Traces different socio-political issues in the American town of Baltimore. Consistently praised for bright screenplay and staggering realism.
8. Ricky Gervais Show – This famous British comic’s audio books and podcasts have been converted into an animated series for TV. Rip-roaringly funny.
Glee, Star World
Why: Hollywood calls it gay, but we love singing along with this super-hit musical. And it has a slick plot too!
Mad Men, FX
Why: Compelling drama that stylised the ’60s like never before. The Guardian called it ‘The Original Sex and The City’!
Keeping up with the Kardashians, Zee Cafe
Why Not: We’re certainly not keeping up with them because we’re seeing season 3, more than a year old by now!
The Bold and the Beautiful, Star World
Why Not: We also recently discovered it was still on air! Even the K series have ended, but B&B with all its plotting and scheming, will never end, it seems!
Dexter, Star World
Why: Tight screenplay, cerebral concept and plot-driven. This series about a serial killer who can’t decide to be good or to be bad is quite a big leap for Indian TV.
Friends, Star World, WB, Zee Cafe
Why Not: Oh come on! Seasons have no consistency, episodes are aired randomly and frankly we can watch it even in our sleep!
Dr Who, BBC Entertainment
Why: The longest running science fiction show of all the times. Iconic central character played by 11 different actors till now!
Parks and Recreation, Zee Cafe
Why: Stars American TV sweetheart Amy Poehler in the lead. Genuinely sweet without being saccharine and refreshingly different from the usual family-hating comedies seen on TV.
The David Letterman Show, Big CBS Prime
Why: He made Lady Gaga gag on his notes and actually chew them up! Latest episodes are telecast the very next day, so we see current episodes now, not three months later!
Gossip Girl, Zee Cafe
Why: Called the best teen drama ever, millions of adults confess to watching it even with the sound off. Well, for the fashion, of course!
VIP, Star World
Why Not: A secret agency of private detectives has Pamela Anderson of the 2000s kicking butt in pink leather pants and fur lined heels! Still need a reason not to see it?
It’s always sunny in Philadelphia, FX
Why: Called ‘Seinfeld on Crack,’ given the comic egocentricity of the central characters. Ground-breaking funny and constantly inappropriate.
Modern Family, Star World
Why: It actually has funny characters without relying on clichéd stereotypes. Plus no one can be a cooler dad than Phil!
Castle, Star World
why: Not your average crime drama, the chemistry between Castle and Detective Beckett is palpable. With a healthy dose of family values to spice it up.
The Bachelor, Star World
WHY NOT: We’d rather not watch random people choose a partner when we already have Rakhi Sawant, Ratan Rajput and Rahul Mahajan doing so!
- From HT Brunch, June 12
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