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World TV Day: Six decades of TV in India; three of democratisation and splintering

On World TV Day, a look at the evolution of 60 years of TV & how brands communicated this journey.

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MUMBAI: From 15 September 1959, when television was first introduced in India, to 2019, when India had over 19.7 crore TV homes, having a reach of over 83 crore, the medium has truly come a long way. So much so, that the earlier wooden cabinet-box TV, transmitting grainy black and white pictures, respectfully draped in a cloth and displayed proudly in our living rooms, now seems like an object from another planet.

Out of the six, the journey for the first three-decades (1959-1989) - the era of single channel Doordarshan that became synonymous with TV - has been smooth and unadventurous. In the following three-decades (1989-2019), however, the ride has been a roller-coaster with fair-share of bumps and hiccups. India now has over 800 licensed channels —broadcasting 24X7 programming in all genres of channels, ranging from news, sports, kids, entertainment, music, business, infotainment and even spirituality in Hindi, English and more than two dozen regional languages.

The Indian TV industry as a whole, as per a recent KPMG report, currently stands at Rs 714 billion, growing at a CAGR of 11.2 per cent, and remains the biggest platform for advertising and the most effective means of mass communication.

No less audacious has been the evolution of content transmitted on this medium. From Hum Log (1984), India’s first TV serial, we moved to the era of Ramayan and Mahabharat in the late eighties that showcased the power of TV in India. And from early 2000, that saw the rise of the K phenomena (Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi.. Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Kahani Ghar-Ghar ki), stories of nouveau-riche, urban, joint-families firmly rooted in Indian traditions that were in-sync with the evolution of middle class in post-liberalisation phase to shows like Choti Sardarni (a hit serial on Colours on the life of a Sikh-village woman), the characters on Indian TV serials have evolved and shows a democratisation of the demographics of lead characters.

However, along with the democratisation of lead characters, there has also been a splintering of TV-audiences and the content we watch. Television used to unite the whole country in late eighties with shows like Hum Log, Buniyad, Ramayan and Mahabarat, something that only Cricket is doing off-lately. As broadcasting opened to private players following the landmark 1995 Supreme Court judgement ruling that “airwaves are not the monopoly of the Indian government,” private television channels like Star, Zee, Aaj-Tak, CNN, BBC, Discovery, flooded the market, targeting different segments of audiences with different genres of channels and shows. Now there is no one size fits all, and shows are written, produced and marketed based on the interests of each segment - rural/urban, house-wives/kids, business/news, entertainment/spirituality.

Nowhere is this splintering of audiences, and viewpoints, and ideologies more visible than in the news segment. While Prannoy Roy’s The World This Week (DD National) and The News Tonight (DD2) and SP Singh’s Aaj Tak, transformed the Doordarshan’s press-release style news reading in the late nineties, by 2010, news-segment was a different animal altogether with celebrity news anchors humbling the who’s who of business, politics, chit fund owners, investors and political parties. Anyone, howsoever mighty and high, can be put on media trial and humbled on TV. The monologue news-reading of nineties has transformed into a contested space, with a plethora of voices from all realms of life fighting it out on TV screens to validate their own point-of-view. While this has given expression to many underprivileged voices, it has also made us a much-more fragmented, polarised society. Today there are close to 900 channels in the news segment alone, transmitting in more than two dozen languages and funded by corporates, builders, bankers, chit fund owners and even politicians. Today, TV is not the great unifier it used to be, but an enhancer of our schisms along the lines of ideology, region, religion and political parties.

The same democratisation of TV, and its content, can be seen in the evolution of reality TV shows as well. While Zee’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and Sony’s Boogie Woogie were early frontrunners in this genre, it was Star’s Kaun Banega Crorepati that truly showcased the potential of this genre. A prominent KBC feature was, small-town people from normal walks of life, teachers, tax-officers, shop-owners, sitting face-to-face with Amitabh Bachhan - a cinematographic equalizer that symbolically flattened the class differentiation between the two. No wonder that talent hunt shows remain sure-shot eye-ball grabbers even today, mirroring the restlessness in small-town aspirational Indians.

Much has been written on the spread of small-screen smartphones and how it will disrupt video distribution and video consumption patterns. The TV, however, will maintain its place of prominence. The number of TV homes in India is expected to rise from the current 197 million to 209 million by 2023. At the same time, the TV industry is expected to rise from Rs 714 billion in 2019 to Rs 1,215 billion by 2024. It is also important to note that TV, cornering 45 per cent of the total ad spends, continues to be the largest medium for advertisers and ad revenues for TV are expected to grow at 13 per cent this year. The advertising revenues in the broadcast industry, currently at Rs 205 billion, are expected to rise to Rs 455 billion by 2024, as per a recent KPMG report – India Media & Entertainment report 2019.

Going forward, not only our TV screens will be digitised, but with the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence, television will become the centre of our homes and transform it into a seamless gadget, helping users control other smart home devices, ranging from ACs, fridges, to our cars through voice-enabled-commands.

The march of the idiot-box in India seems unstoppable, at least for the foreseeable future.

On the occasion of this World Television Day (21 November), we take a look at how TV, cable and DTH brands connected to their consumers and celebrated the spirit of television.

Panasonic India

Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd

Jio Chat

Sun Direct

Zee TV

Star Sports

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