It’s all about TV

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Over the past few years, both popular and academic writing on the changing mediascape in India has focused mostly on Bollywood – take one look on Amazon and you’ll see for yourself. To be sure, there are countless topics to explore and a growing group of scholars and graduate students are mapping and analyzing the substantial changes in the film industry (mostly Bollywood). My own research is very much a part of this space, and I decided to focus on relationships between film, TV, advertising, and the “new media” sector for my dissertation.

But now that I’ve had some time away from the dissertation, and as I begin to think about turning the diss into a book, I find myself looking more closely at developments in the TV sector and wondering about how much more dynamic the TV industry has been this past decade. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that all the experimentation going on in the film industry is largely being underwritten by TV – be it through the entry of TV companies like UTV into the film business, the fact that TV rights allow producers to recover half or more than half of a film’s production costs (link), or the countless film-based shows on TV that serve as promotional vehicles and much more.

It did not come as a surprise, then, to hear about NBC’s decision to acquire 26% share in NDTV Networks (link) and the possibility that NBC will raise this number to 50% in the near future. NDTV has expanded beyond news and launched NDTV Imagine (a general entertainment channel), NDTV Good Times (supposedly India’s first lifestyle channel), NDTV Emerging Markets (a consulting unit), and NDTV Convergence (a digital media business that controls all Web/mobile content). And NBC isn’t alone here – both Sony and News Corp. have been involved in the TV market in India for much longer, and just last year, Viacom and Disney entered the picture as well (Viacom teamed up with the TV-18 group and Disney bought a 15% stake in UTV). It’s becoming increasingly clear that all the buzz surrounding the growth of the Internet and gaming sectors has been a distraction at best (mobile phones are a different story). It’s time we paid closer attention to developments in the TV sector – not only in terms of mapping changing ownership patterns but also re-assessing TV’s role as a cultural center for every imaginable audience demographic.

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3 Responses to “It’s all about TV”

  1. swati Says:

    Aswin,

    It is interesting how the 1980s were all about TV research and then Bollywood monopolizes, takes over from the late 90s – in mainstream academic circles . What was interesting though is that much of what we read during MA at Hyderabad was about TV, its connections to ICT initiatives etc. I guess it depends on what academic discipline you belong to. This remains the case even now. Ofcourse, what gets on Amazon and what gets published is largely dependent on location and access, no?

  2. aswinp Says:

    Swati – yes, there was quite a bit of TV-related research, but much of that was stuck in the “info-tainment” mode (evaluating Hum Log’s “pro-social” messages, for e.g.). With the exception of Rajagopal and Mankekar, no one paid close attention to 80s TV. This changed a bit in the 90s with 5-6 dissertations (some turned into books – vamsee juluri, shanti kumar, divya mcmillin, etc.) on satellite TV. And you’re right, the focus on ICT initiatives remains strong but in different disciplinary locations.

    Do you know of any writing that actually documents the trajectory of mass communication/media studies programs in India?

  3. aswinp Says:

    More from Swati:

    I remember the ‘Writing for TV’ and ‘Analyzing TV’ courses we took at Hyderabad – that had us read on this topic of television’s changing face. It was an
    especially exciting time (we did not think of it as such then) since some of the guys teaching us were leading the cable television boom in the South. There were lots of stories and a bunch of my classmates joined ETV and GeminiTV when those networks were just beginning to expand. My seniors had moved to Bombay before this boom in the South since that city had more television jobs then – 1994-2000.

    What I am trying to do here is really look at how Media Studies was not only taught but also learnt. A large section of those graduating from GT go on to TV careers – either in regional or national networks. Most times there is no doubt about that. While, in GT
    atleast, the program leaves you with a undeniably, uncomfortable developmentalist guilt, careers in TV are almost always the first choice.

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