NDTV Imagine: A Family Drama

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I am participating in a TV promos-themed week over at MediaCommons and my piece is featured on the site today. Here’s the video along with my note.

Over the past two decades, the landscape of television in India has shifted from one dominated by state-regulated Doordarshan to an increasingly fragmented environment in which numerous transnational (Star Plus, for e.g.) and translocal (SUN TV, for e.g.) channels compete for attention. In a post-Doordarshan world, success has been defined by carving up Doordarshan’s “national family” into a number of identifiable and marketable units – youth, children, women, and so on. In many ways, this is hardly surprising.

However, in an environment in which every major television channel is scrambling to devise further levels of differentiation (AXN’s “elite weekends,” for e.g.), it is surprising to learn about a new channel – NDTV Imagine, launched in January 2008 – that positions itself as TV that will cater to the “6-69” demographic and re-unite the “national family.” As Sameer Nair, the CEO, announced, “NDTV Imagine heralds the return of the General Entertainment Channel, the return of family entertainment for the entire family…bringing the entire family together to watch television.”

At first glance, and as several trade analysts noted, this does seem like a smart branding tactic. As the NDTV news reporter in the video suggests, perhaps the nation is tired of watching conniving mothers-in-law and extramarital flings and ready for other stories. But as I see it, the real story about NDTV’s imagination of the “national family” emerges only when we pay attention to NDTV Imagine’s brand ambassador, Karan Johar. A Bollywood filmmaker who has been responsible for redefining the “national family” with immensely popular diaspora-centric narratives, Karan Johar offers us a glimpse into how the “national family” is being re-imagined. At a launch party, Johar announced: everyone is saying that India is on its way to becoming a superpower. But the one thing we need to keep in mind is India’s biggest strength: family. And this will be NDTV’s strength…NDTV Imagine will also be a family, a joyous and hope-filled family…a happy, positive, and real family.

Karan Johar’s imagination allows us to consider how television channels’ branding strategies are caught up in broader struggles to define the “national family” in an age of globalization. In the Indian context, where a specific vision of “India Shining” has been aggressively marketed by a neo-liberal state with the help of media corporations, it is becoming increasingly difficult to carve out a space for other imaginations of the “national family.” For all their problems, I can’t help wondering if we’re better off with conniving mothers-in-law and their dysfunctional families than with Karan Johar’s “real,” positive, joyous, and shining families.

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4 Responses to “NDTV Imagine: A Family Drama”

  1. Sudhir Says:

    Nice post, Aswin. A few things struck me as noteworthy. First, the fact that much of the TV viewing population comprises single-TV households as the promo puts it (is this true?), and its figuring in NDTV calculations about how to brand this venture and imagine its demographic limits. I’m equally surprised as you are at this counter-intuitive attempt by NDTV at “homogenization” but wonder how it fits within a longer history or perhaps genealogy of the relation between programming and access to technology (thinking here of radio and your presentation from a few weeks back).

    Second, I noticed a few interesting slips in the promo – apart from Anchal being a city “sleeker” , the voice-over named the show as Main teri pehchaan hoon (I’m your identity) when it seems the show is really called Main teri parchain hoon (I’m your shadow). Interesting slip given the content!

  2. aswinp Says:

    Hi Sudhir – thanks for those comments! Your point about the relation between programming and access to technology (and I would put that as viewing practices) is an important one, and I did consider including that here. But to be honest, I don’t have a clear understanding of that relation as yet. To begin with, I think some sociological work around this question of viewing practices would be very important. In fact, I can’t think of any work on how TV fits into the daily rhythms of different kinds of homes across the country (with the exception of Mankekar’s ethnography which does provide some insight here). And then, as you point out, one would need to trace changes in viewing practices historically – from the community TV set to single-set homes to TV sets in public spaces. Third, we also need some information on whether the last decade of “niche” TV has in fact translated into segmented viewing in the home (and whether programming decisions factor in ideas re who at home watches when). This would make a great topic…

    And nice catch with the title of the program – I didn’t notice at all!

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