Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The TV metaphor

I still remember the first time a television set came in our building (yes, in those that’s what we called apartments) to Mr. Shankarnarayan's house. Mr. Shankarnarayan had to keep his door open so that practically the entire building could sit  - starting from the front row for kids to chairs for seniors and up until the stairwell for the rest of the folks. For most of the folks, it was indeed "Door"darshan. And all this was for those old days of Doordarshan and black and white propaganda. Now, Mr. Shankarnarayanan had no choice but to keep the TV in his main room. There were two reasons. One, houses in Bombay were small and second, his main room was the only place where the TV could be kept in a way that this audience could be accommodated.

As time progressed, more and more people began to acquire televisions, so the crowd thinned out. But the TV retained the place of pride in most middle class households. It was meant to be in the drawing room where it was exhibited. It was, also, incredibly like a banyan tree. Conversations flowed and around television – regardless of whether it was a cricket match or a television soap opera. Except, in the heydays of Ramayana and Mahabharata, when conversation stopped, but then atleast in India those were the days.

Over the years, the monopoly of Doordarshan broke, mainly due to their far sightedness (or lack of it) and a thousand channels came in addressing the so called needs of various audiences. There are today childrens channels, movie channels, cookery channels, sports channels, spirituality channels and some news channels as well. What it also did was it created clashes, between the sports lover and the news addict and the serial watcher and the cartoon maniac. The number of channels necessitated (even in middle class households) many families to go for 2 television sets. And obviously, the TV moved into bedrooms. The big plasma display still occupies space in many a drawing room (especially for those family type events like a cricket match), but other than that, it is only in corporate lobbies that one finds a television at the entrance.

So, over the years, the televisions place in the house is reflective of the status of electronic media. From being in the hall, it has since been relegated to the bedrooms where people watch a few things while they channel surf - and mostly when they don’t have better things to do. In the newer generation, audiences are slowly moving from one sided entertainment to contributed participation via social media and the internet.

And in these days of divided attention spans, you can at best get a bit of fragmented attention from the person sitting at the other end of the idiot box. So, all you television channel owners out there, we are talking of some heavy fragmentation which means that many a time, the audience you want is already being fought for by three other channels.

And also, by the way, on TV in general people want entertainment, not too much of gyaan. (More on this later – I have a theory which I will expound when the time comes.)

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