With 650 million television viewers in India spread across over 153 million television households, the TV business is indeed huge. And, what keeps the mass medium ticking is content.
On the first day of the 4th Indian Film Writers' Conference, held in Mumbai on Aug 3, 2016, the topic of discussion was just this. Organised by the Film Writers Association of India, the two day conference discussed how in India, the majority of the television content is commissioned by a broadcaster, and is created by a production house.
Eventually, the fate of the show is decided by the recognition it gets which is defined by its ratings. The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC India) is the television ratings auditor body which does the calculation following a globally recognised sampling phenomenon.
During the panel discussion held, the focus was upon the role that ratings played in the success of television channels and their shows. According to the panelists, the ratings of a show is the most critical part in the process as it guides advertisers too, and the television industry in India is heavily dependent on advertising revenue.
The biggest question during the discussion was: Has the chase for ratings skewed the content to take a dumb turn?
Speaking on the occasion, Gaurav Banerjee, deputy chief creative officer, Star India, said, "I think in our TV industry, we speak way too much about ratings. All the channels are trying vigorously to enhance their respective ratings since last five years. And, what's the outcome? Where are we today? If we look at the cumulative ratings, we will see that by no means our time spend is going up," said Banerjee.
He was also of the opinion that the people who are going away from television are not actually shifting to the digital platform. Instead, they are spending more time interacting on social media platforms. "The last time when the industry witnessed an increase in time spend was when Colors was launched in the GEC space in 2008. And, then in 2010, when Star Plus launched Sasural Genda Phool and Pratigya," he informed.
Describing the current scenario, Banerjee said, "We have launched 200 Hindi shows in the last two years, of which only one garnered a rating of over 3.5. When I joined the industry, if a prime time show garnered a rating of 3.5, we would take it off air. This thoughtless chase for ratings has got us where we are today."
Banerjee also criticised the generalising attitude of the ecosystem. He feels that shows or channels cannot be measured on the same scale and then later compared.
"When Star Plus does a show, the thought is whether four crore people will watch the show or not. If the same show is aired on EPIC, and manages to reach three lakh people, and we have a proper way to measure that, through certain advertisers who want to cater to a niche audience, the cost can be recovered. If we look at the film industry, we will see that movies like Sultan and Vicky Donor are both finding space on the big screen, and are catering to their respective target audiences. This is not happening on TV, as our measurement system is yet to attain such sophistication," he said.
Though Banerjee was upbeat about the roll-out of BARC India and termed it as a "huge development", he felt that it was time to bring in the "next level of innovations" in it.
Another big move that Star took a few months ago was to enhance fiction programming to seven days from five. Months later, he calls it a mistake. "Going seven days a week is a mistake because it takes away the time from actors and writers to think and evolve. We always overrate the power of excel calculations and somehow those calculations signified that there won't be any serious change in the number of hours that one puts in. It was a mistake. We (Star Plus) took immediate measures to rectify it, and have now decided to stop the seven-day programming from next month and go back to the earlier schedule.
Banerjee hoped the development will help directors, writers, and actors to think and perform better. "This will, in return, produce quality content which viewers will embrace," he announced as the auditorium resounded with a round of applause.
Gaurav Banerjee was quizzed by renowned producer Saurabh Tewari.