Sneha Venkateswaran channel surfs through decades of TV viewing, to find how both audience and content has evolved
Television viewing has changed over the past 30 years. If you are someone who grew up in late 80s and early 90s, Doordarshan was the only source of audio-visual entertainment. Family members, friends and sometimes neighbours would assemble in front of the TV set waiting for the song and dance show Chitrahaar or the epic retelling of Mahabharat to begin. The only channel then available was the national TV channel Doordarshan, which was widely appreciated for its content and for promoting our rich culture, religions and various art forms. The 80s were noted for TV series like Hum Log (1984), Buniyaad (1986-87) and Nukkad and comedy shows like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (1984), Ramayan (1987-88) and Mahabharat (1989-90), which paved the way for mythological and historical shows. Such was their popularity that the country almost came to a standstill when these shows were aired.
Crime thrillers like Karamchand (starring Pankaj Kapoor), Byomkesh Bakshi (starring Rajit Kapur) and Reporter (Shekhar Suman) were so splendid that they ensured audiences were glued to the TV screen. But if we take a moment back and reflect on the same, people probably watched Doordarshan because there was no other choice and TV viewing masses knew no better. But this changed when new private channels cropped up and Doordarshan did not adapt with the change. These channels were known for providing content in different Indian languages.
Ekta Kapoor’s highly popular shows like Hum Paanch, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki added variety and more drama to the shows. The viewing habit of audience changed because content provided by these private channels touched the hearts of many Indians. People wanted content that they could relate to themselves and their life.
“Computerji, lock kiya jai” entered the Indian lexicon and Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) enthralled us. KBC became India’s first official adaptation of a big international reality franchise. And today all channels at least have one reality show running. The best thing about a reality show is that it is real, it is interactive: the viewers have a say in the outcome and that empowers them.
When DTH (Direct-To-Home) service came by, people got to choose the channels they wanted to see and pay only for those channels. Youtube and Netflix brought in the APP era. Today families still gather in front of the screen to watch their favourite show or program, but each member is watching their own program and on their own small mobile devices. I am sure most of you would agree children these days are glued to smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, which enable content viewing on apps almost anywhere. And one can watch an array of programs without a cable or satellite subscription. Small streaming devices provide dozens of entertainment, sports, news and movie channels app-including foreign channels, along with video-on-demand choices. Today the audience can record and pause their shows and view it in their convenience.
Vageesh Ramakrishnan, 33, says, “Thanks to the advancement in the technology, today I can watch cricket match without interruption from my wife as she is busy watching serials on her mobile.” Because the audience is losing their connect with long-running shows and never-ending tracks, broadcasters are providing content that is apt and palatable for them to watch.
We have all been enjoying great epic series like The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, but The Viral Fever (TVF) bought the same to India in a web series. TVF today is one of the biggest players in original web series genre. With original story lines of shows like Chai-Sutta Chronicles, Pitchers and Permanent Roomates, they have set their excellence at par. Vijay Balasubramaniam, 22, says, “I prefer watching web shows more because they represent stories that are real with no over drama and watching these series in mobile gives more privacy.”
We have gone from an era where television networks dictated what, when and how we watched, to a time where consumers are firmly in control. The TV content today is consumer driven, where the user is increasingly in control of their viewing practices and will mix and match the services they like and eliminate ones they don’t like.
Do you remember those moments when you sat glued in front of the television set, longing to jump through the screen and land inside your favorite TV shows? You wanted to help the Smurfs beat Gargamel or do some action sequence along with actor Rajnikanth. Maybe you still have those moments today. I think the future of viewing television may be virtual reality (VR). Because with virtual TV one can watch anything from the comfort of one’s home and feel the thrill of being there with one’s favourite character. All 3D experiences can come alive, with virtual TV.
TV is about to go under the most radical transformation imaginable. Lines are going to blur. When the current chaos ends, a wonderful new landscape can emerge. A simpler way to watch what we like; fewer but better and more-targeted, shorter TV advertisements served to individuals. Greater access to the things we love from around the world. The future of viewing TV is going to be amazing, don’t you think?