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The day the music died - Channel [V] GM Prem Kamath

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One of the most frequent questions I am asked is why Channel [V] is abandoning music. It is probably a question that can be asked as equally of several other ‘music channels‘.

On the face of it, it‘s a pretty relevant question - in large measure because channels like ours have built their reputation on playing music and a large part of our fan base tuned in to hear it. So if the average viewer is often left perplexed by why a music channel would suddenly start beaming a host of reality shows, their befuddlement is entirely understandable.

A big part of the answer to that question lies in how music consumption itself has changed.

Firstly, TV is no longer the primary medium for consuming music. Gone are the days when one would eagerly wait for the next episode of BPL Oye or Timex Timepass (for those of you old enough to remember these) to check out the latest in music. Today the newest track is a torrent away and the newest video, a youtube click. When one has such options of video-on-demand and personalised playlists, little reason why the classical music channel should be relevant anymore.

Secondly, the dynamics on the Indian music industry are uniquely skewed against conventional music television. The Indian music scene is entirely dominated by Bollywood. This is at once a boon and a curse for the industry. On the plus side, Bollywood brings with it an almost unlimited demand for new music. All of it is pre-paid for and this minimises the risks for artists and musicians. However, on the flip side, it has become an 800-pound gorilla the might of whom few independent bands can stand up against. What this has led to is the commoditisation of content from a television perspective.

As any television executive will tell you, the greatest monetisation in television comes from differentiation. The biggest limitation of the music television model has been that there is no scope whatsoever in differentiating the content of one channel from another. Every channel has access to the same pool of music and, hence, very little differentiates one channel from another.

Finally, whether or not a channel restricts itself to music depends on what business they define themselves to be in. Channel [V] has always been iconic to the youth of this country. More than a music channel, we have always seen ourselves as a youth entertainment channel. Time was when music was the best way for a channel to connect with the youth of this country. That time has passed - probably for good.

Youth entertainment tastes go well beyond music today and content has to follow suit. Testament is borne to this by the astounding success we have met with post our re-launch. Channel [V] has increased its share five-fold in a span of 12 months and today leads the youth entertainment genre. Over 80 per cent of our content today is non-music and we are much the richer for it. Music continues to be a not entirely insignificant 20 per cent still and will remain so as long as we believe that it is an integral youth hot-button. As we have often said, we are faithful to the viewer and not the genre. If youth entertainment tastes shift in this country, our content will shift along with it.Of course, to keep up with youth trends and remain a relevant and sought-after youth channel is easier said than done.

Too much has been said about how India is a country of the young. Too little has been done about it.

Few categories in the country have seen as much of a sea change as television has. A young and nascent industry by any standards, changes that took 50 years in the West have been compressed into just over a decade here. From DD to DTH, the changes have come in the form of newer technology, global exposure and exploding choice. And the young consumers of this country have been at the very epicenter of this whirl-wind. Whereas most marketers, including the TV industry, have ironically been on the outside looking in.

The trouble with marketing to the young is that those doing the marketing are far from young. It‘s a problem that the gaming industry in the West recognised very early on - after all over 90 per cent of its sales were to people below 20 years of age. Their solution was to hire their prospective customers - as consultants, game-testers, designers and evangelists. They rightly believed that to create a game that truly captured the imagination of a 14-year-old, you need a 14-year-old to tell you how.

But unlike gaming, the challenge of programming television for the young goes beyond just understanding their needs. Youth Television‘s challenge is a lot more fundamental - it is to stay relevant to a generation of digital natives who are increasingly gratifying their entertainment needs from a variety of sources outside TV.

Television is no longer the young, sexy and alluring medium it once was. Sure, it‘s still the largest and most cost effective medium to reach out to any segment of the population including the young. And yes, in sheer numbers, the quantum of reach it offers is truly staggering. But it is in its role as an agent of change, as a definer of trends and as a lighthouse to the young that TV has been lagging of late.

From being the only window that beamed in those wonderfully hypnotizing images from all around the world, it is now so ubiquitous and so ingrained into our lives as to be often taken for granted and overlooked. For the young who have grown up with television, it holds hardly any charm as a lifestyle medium - after all they haven‘t known or seen a world without it.

Nor is TV the beacon of information it once was. That space has quickly and irrevocably been usurped by the Internet. Granted, the overall net penetration numbers in this country still remain abysmal. But among the young, the access rates are not only higher but also growing at a blistering pace. What‘s more, mobile phones are ensuring that the net is well and truly available to anyone who wishes to access it.

TV once was the sole repository of everything cool and glamorous - from fashion to lifestyle to relationships. An entire generation of people looked up to it to tell them what to wear, how to look, how to speak and where to hang out. That‘s a position it has vacated over a period of time to various media - to a resurgent movie industry with its new-found urban acceptance, to one-for-every whim lifestyle magazines and even to newspapers in their dolled up page 3 avtaars.

And finally to top it all, even in its most functional gratification, as a means for just killing time, the young are finding options that are newer, more alluring and certainly much cooler. Ask any teenager and he‘ll tell you how much more fun it is to while away at the mall than to be watching TV at home. Or how much cooler it is to be hanging out with friends at the local Barista than to be watching it on TV.

So is TV doomed to exist as a once cool has been medium with as much relevance to youngsters as the blocky black telephone that still sits in the corner of some living rooms? Or is there really a way that TV can reinvent itself to once again be a central part of every teenagers and young adult‘s life?

At Channel [V] we believe there is.

The only way to counter change is paradoxically through change.

When Apple decided to stray from its mainstay of computing and venture into the ultra competitive world of personal electronics, few gave them a chance against the might of giants like Sony. But the iPod has not only gone on to redefine the way people consume music, it has changed the very face of the music industry and its commerce for ever. It did so through some audacious imagination and some good, old-fashioned trend spotting.

Exactly what television needs if it has to fire the imagination of the young again.

The trends are all around us for anyone who cares to look.

Today‘s youth are characterised by their ambition and their impatience. It‘s really an ‘AND‘ generation not an ‘OR‘ generation. It‘s career and personal life; it‘s work and fun, it‘s this and that. TV cannot buck this trend. We cannot expect people to choose between TV and hanging at the mall. We‘ll have to make both possible. It‘ll have to be TV at the mall, TV on the Internet, TV on the mobile and TV while driving. Thankfully, we have the technology today that makes this possible. What we now need is the mindset to see it through.

This is also the ‘NOW‘ generation. When impatience is a virtue, attention spans can only be non-existent. Bollywood has recognised this and our movies are getting shorter. TV will need to reinvent its format too. Mobisodes have often been written about but not really been worked upon. If 30-minute episodes are the norm merely to aid commercial scheduling, I‘m afraid we‘ll get little sympathy from the viewer. We‘ll have to find ways of monetising formats that our consumer prefers rather than the other way round. Once again, streaming video on the net has been a step ahead of TV in this regard.

Other signs and trends abound. The rise of user generated content, the voracious appetite for reality, the extreme need for self-expression and individuality, unbounded ambition, the increasingly transactional nature of relationships, friends being the new family, urban atomization - the list goes on.

It is said that those in the midst of great change rarely recognise the momentous nature of it. India and its young are in the midst of exactly such a change. It is change that will leave very few things in its path untouched - including the way we buy, organise and consume our television. And there are untold spoils for those who recognise this and exploit it.

To remain relevant and preferred, Youth TV will have to constantly reinvent and recharge itself.

And oh, by the way, those who mourn the passing away of music channels would do well to not shed a tear. The music hasn‘t died. It has merely shifted screens.

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