Held in the Time Warner conference center in New York City, the South Asians in Media and Marketing summit opened with a keynote address by Peter Ligouri, Chairman and CEO of Fox Broadcasting. Neal Shenoy, one of the founding members of SAMMA, set the stage for Ligouri with a quick opening note about South Asians making quite a splash in the media world over the past few years. Mohinder-Heroes, Sanajaya Malakar-American Idol, Kal Penn-Namesake, Spielberg-Ambani, Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty kissing…you get the picture.
However, Ligouri himself did not address the question of media production focused on South Asian-American culture . He chose to speak generally about challenges facing media corporations, and why he thought it prudent to ignore hype surrounding new distribution platforms. “Content is king,” he reminded everyone present. But given the setting, the question of why South Asians continue to remain marginal on American television came up as soon as he ended his talk. And his answer, predictably enough, was that demographically speaking, South Asian-Americans were simply not a commercially viable niche market yet. Ligouri, and everyone in the room, ignored the underlying assumption that no one else in the U.S. would be interested in watching, say, a sitcom that revolved around a desi family.
Here, then, is the trouble with desi culture and television. On the one hand, desi youth in the U.S. are stuck with American television institutions and their advertising revenue-based logic. And on the other hand, they have to contend with Indian television corporations (ZEE, Star, SUN, etc.) that couldn’t care less about desi culture in the U.S. and continue to churn out saas-bahu dramas. Unless media professionals in the U.S. are willing to learn from what shows like Goodness Gracious Me were able to achieve, television, I’d argue, will always remain marginal to desi culture and identity in the U.S.