It is a constant claim as well an unanswered question to the content creators in a competitive TV Medium environment. It is popular belief that viewership and the quality of content go hand in hand. Higher viewership would mean very good quality of production of an absorbing theme/ story on a well-distributed platform. More often than not most of the broadcasters and content creators complain that their content is not getting the ratings in proportion to the content they have created and broadcast.
While there are many reason for the perceived under performance of the content, the content creators and the broadcasters fail to acknowledge that there is no qualitative parameters measured in any reported viewership measurement. However, the sulking continues.
In order to understand how the content in Tamil media particularly Tamil Television Media has evolved over the years, consider the following illustration.
The period up to 1990 the television entertainment was provided by the state run Television Doordarshan only. While it was a select preferred few Producer’s were active owing to the allotment process, it was also a period where a few path breaking television serials were made. It is a period that saw the Doyen of the Film Industry Mr. K. Balachander taking a plunge in Television content production while he was continuing to be a popular Director in the Tamil Film Industry without any inhibition. The Popular novels of reputed writers were made into Television serials and drama’s. Most of the stories dealt in intricate interpersonal relationships and preserved the traditional cultural values and Tamil ethos.
Satellite TV Era:
With the skies being invaded with satellite television in the early 1990’s, many an opportunities opened up and content creation for Television saw a boom. Several production houses were born. Each of them produced various forms of content and depending on the content popularity the viewership has grown and along side grew the popularity of the broadcasting platform.
During this period a variety of content were produced and saw the rise of Sun TV as a pioneer in Tamil Satellite television even thought there were other TV channels. Sun TV had a variety of offering ranging Film Based Programs, Weekly Soaps, Home grown Mystery and Comedy serial besides a library of films. This period saw BalachanderinChinnathirai, Marmadesam, RamanyVsRamny and the popular Pepsi Ungal Choice, a request film songs program. These became the faces of Sun TV during this time. The competition had also had several programs in a similar offering and they have caught a luke worm reception in the hands of the viewer and Sun TV grew strength to strength.
Introduction of Daily Soaps:
The Tamil television saw a paradigm shift in late 90’s and early 2000 by the introduction of daily soaps the weekly soaps. Even though there were experimental efforts of a daily soap in the name “ Raguvamsam: on Sun TV. The first long running serial “ Chithi” produced by Radhika under Radaan Media Works Banner found immense success and since then Radhika and Radaan have become a standard offering on Sun TV in the prime time.
The advertisement spends have also increased during this period and saw a continuous increase in a steady manner over the years. During the same period Vijay TV which has changed several hands before and have landed with the current disposition attempted differentiated content which had equally immense reception by the viewer. However, the qualitatively better content did not give a run to the content on Sun TV. Amongst several reasons distribution issues have also been sighted as an important reason for low viewership numbers. It is pertinent to note that there were attempts to consolidate distribution in the hands of a few MSO’s across Tamil Nadu. However, undeterred, experimental programs and formats were continued to be commissioned by Vijay TV with the content creators
Distribution Road Block:
The issue of distribution of the TV channels was seen as a stumbling block for any new entrant in this market and Sun TV continue to dominate the viewership. However, during this period also saw a significant drop in the standard and content quality and evasion of values in the content. The grind of daily soap took a very serious toll on the creativity and stress was on the productivity. The best of television happened outside of the leader in the market and yet did not garner numbers, this period being the golden time of Tamil TV, though.
With the Distribution platform being competitive and the entry barrier being lowered saw new entrants with deep pockets entering this market. However, even they have not made an impact to shake the leader leave alone beat and surpass the leader. Some of the entrants during this time, owing to low viewership numbers consequently affecting revenue were vary of investment in good content. They adopted to the cheaper method of acquiring successful Hindi serials and dubbing them into Tamil Language as the trend continues until this day.
Dubbing Content Era:
With the dubbing content equally competing with the original content amongst the TV channels, the promoters of TV channels vied with each other for the content the distant markets. This plague has hit even the leader who is also sourcing content other languages for showcasing in its broadcast.
This has resulted in unreasonable ad unviable price demands the content creators these markets. The cost of acquisition of the dubbed content has become as costly as the cost of original production. However, the promoters of TV channels have lost confidence on the creativity of the local talent and are continuing to scout for content and format other languages. This has severely affected the Production Houses and in fact has stunted their growth and in certain cases have challenged the very existence.
Death of Innovative Attempts:
Having detailed the Industry content scenario since 90’s it is pertinent to speak on the apparent lack of reception in terms of viewership reported is equally important. In the fore went paragraphs it was mentioned that the best of television and innovative attempts in differentiated content were being made in platforms outside the leader. The viewership measurement attempts to provide only quantitative values of viewership and does not reflect the qualitative aspects of the content broadcast. This is definitely a deterrent to the investor confidence to sustain such efforts as the revenue is mostly advertisement. Many a brilliant efforts have been aborted half way through owing to this. Now, a stage has been reached where only TV channels with deep pockets can attempt new formats and differentiated content. The test incase being BIGG BOSS Tamil on Vijay TV. Despite being criticized as a content foreign to Tamil Nadu and eroding Tamil culture and values, if it were not to be on Vijay TV, the show could never would have become a reality in Tamil Market.
Women projected as Symbol of hate and Crime:
It is equally important to discuss the impact of the content on TV channels making on the viewing audience. being a reflection of the society and holding the mantle of high ethos of Tamil Culture, the content over the time have become very voyeuristic and moved away being a work of art. Some of the content both in the leader’s platform and other platforms portray illegal relationships, hate, revenge, distrust and self centered characters. None of the characters in many of the tele serials reportedly popularly viewed are capable of being emulated or inspiring. The narrative and production are much to be desired. It is best to leave unsaid about the so-called “ Reality Shows” which are totally un-real and concocted. Introspective and inspiration format of “ KadhaiAllaNijam”, which was styled after “Oprah Winfrey” show, has many a clones and each of them equally damaging the Tamil values and eroding into personal space of fellow human in an inhuman way.
No Brand Safety Measure for TV:
In the earlier days of Tamil Satellite TV evolution, the advertising brands were very particular about the type of content with which they would associate with. But today, brands that stand by women empowerment advertise in serials where the content show women in bad light, subjected domestic violence and even the serials where women are physically abused. While the Brand owners are very particular about Brand safety in Digital platforms after the recent issue on YouTube, There appear to be no brand fit evaluation is being done and the advertisement decision merely on the quantitative numbers of viewership. In an environment where the bulk of the revenue is arising out of advertisement, mere quantitative popularity of these tele serials enjoy the benefit of higher revenue as compared to innovative and path breaking TV content. Consequently, the alternative television in Tamil Television could not become a reality and continues to be a dream.
Mere Quantitative Analysis enough to judge Viewership, Why not a Qualitative Analysis:
It is a fact to recognize that viewership data collection is an expensive affair and the accuracy is dependent on sample size and robust statistical analytical algorithm. We can not fault the existing viewership methodology for its quantitative measurement of viewership. If one were to include the qualitative aspects too in the viewership measurement, that would bear a demand of increased sample size and the consequent investment for the same. The Industry bodies and the stake holders should come forward to consider to invest in this exercise for the benefit of the Industry.
It takes financial capability and most importantly the “WILL”
Guest Article Authored by VC Bharati – The Author is a veteran Media Professional in South Market with vast experience in the areas of Creative, Project Designing, Strategy and planning for Channel launch with Sound technical knowledge too etc.. He was associated with many leading Media and Broadcast companies during his Journey of three decades at a senior management level and he was instrumental in launch of leading GECs and News Channels in South Market. He can be reached on: [email protected]