TV – the opium of the masses…and it’s role in nation-building

I had visited an office on the 10th floor of a building in Bandra East, and saw the view from there. The view was brilliant since there were no tall buildings close by, and hence one got a clear view of a few kilometres. As I saw lower and closer to the building, bam ! Dotting the many terraces of the LIG buildings (Low Income Group – believe it or not!) and the roofs of the shanties were at least 2000 DTH dish antennas – in a radius of 500m!

And this is the scene of a country, of an economy which has seen one of its worst times in the past 4-5 years, almost ever since DTH started mushrooming across India. Easily, television is recession-proof. In fact, I almost think that it is counter-cyclical, i.e., worse the economy goes, more the usage of TV increases in Indian households. After all, eating out has become more expensive, movie tickets are Rs 290 a piece, a roadside tea costs Rs 8…in such an environment, families are best placed in front of their television sets.

I have heard somewhere that TV viewing per person is 28 mins per day in India vs 42 mins in developed world. But I think that the huge denominator of our population spikes this indicator adversely, and am sure that the weekend viewing of all the households that I saw from the 10th floor must surely be at least 3-4 hours per day. This time in front of the TVs is a sure-shot way to forget the worldly worries – of onion prices, EMIs, falling bonuses, disappearing jobs, fees for computer classes, withdrawn job offers, and so on.

TV is indeed the opium of Indian masses…along with Bollywood and cricket!

So, how are media companies addressing this need, while simultaneously making a profitable business model ?

I would say quite well – news channels are a constant watchdog over politicians and the bureaucracy. And easily is a strong pillar of our almost fragile democratic system. Holding the fort on the other side are Entertainment channel s, which are feeding the insatiable appetite for entertainment of different segments – the housewives, the working women, kids, the youth, and the lifestyle builders. Tough considering that India is a nation of nations, a melting pot of cultures. Am sure the top 5% elites might be feeling a bit left out from the barrage of programs on such channels. But then, the P&L of channels will dictate putting their minutes where their money is…or going to come from. (I don’t know if there is a business case for an elite channel…I think Fox History, National Geographic serve some of that purpose).

Where I feel some of our mainstream channels missing a trick is in educating the backward segments. There is so much education to be done – from basic medical programmes of the Govt  to hygiene guidelines to traffic guidelines to even character-building (corruption is not the “normal”). I discovered to my pleasant surprise that Doordarshan National plays that role quite well – there are many filler educational programs there. Even their re-plays of Chanakya, Mahabarat etc play a great role of teaching our history, our culture and Values to our kids.

We are a young country, moving very fast – partly on our own, and partly being pulled ahead by global forces. I think Television has a great role to play in building our nation – we should not miss that opportunity…actually, it’s almost a responsibility….I also think that if TV doesn’t do it, Internet might…but then, that’s a different topic for some other day…

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