Friday, May 12, 2006

In traveling between Delhi and Mumbai, am missing out on the political media activity in my own town, namma ooru Chennai, where election results came out yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, am reading the papers and following it on the web, so am in tune with most of the activity, especially the free offers going around. Both the main parties involved seem to have hired a soap marketing discard to do their policy work – you get a free computer or a free TV depending on who gets elected (the question seems to be - would you like or will FTV do?!) But, this piece isn’t about that... it’s about the channel wars and the way these will shape Indian TV as we know it today.

What channels you say? These channels - Sun TV and Jaya TV. A brief history of these channels can be found here - Sun TV history and Jaya TV history. They are quite unabashed in their political preferences, with the channels' logos matching their political parents' symbols. While I was channel surfing a few days ago, I chanced upon the ruling party’s channel which had an interesting half hour telecast. The Hindu-CNN-IBN poll had been published the day after the elections, predicting that the ruling party would be out of power. So what did the channel do? They picked two of their star campaigners, put them in front of the camera with a popular journo-chat show host, trying to convince voters that the poll was inaccurate and that the ruling party would win at a canter. Of course, yesterday’s results had quite the opposite verdict. And going by the pre-poll propaganda on the rival channel, wouldn’t have put it beyond them to have done something similar if the shoe was on the other foot.

To be honest, I have nothing in favour of or against either party, and am not cribbing about them doing this. What excites me is the opportunity the wars might have unearthed, quite accidentally. For about a month, this was riveting entertainment. People actually tuned into this stuff on a daily basis. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill “unbiased, objective reporting”. This was hardcore, (pie-)in-your-face reality TV… and it worked. This initial success, I think, will inspire a future TV world, which would look something like this…

Cable channels for each party – you’ll have the national channels – INC, Bhajpa TV, CPI TV, Janata Dal TV – and the state-specific regional channels. Each time a party splinters, they’ll form their own channel. There’ll be spycam shows (“Watch the other party MP/MLA stash his suitcase”), news shows (“As our esteemed leader said for the 50th time...”), history shows (“This party was founded in the blood and toil of a brave man”), event coverage (“Watch the largest crowd gathered anywhere in the world at our rally”) and advertisements from affiliated sponsors (“One ad slot for every crore in the party kitty”). There will be soaps where the good family is in the right party and the bad family is in the wrong one. There will be movies telecast of star MPs/MLAs and also star campaigners.

Depending on the alliance formation, the cablewallah will charge you for a bouquet of channels – arre baba, political parties will ensure Conditional Access System comes in, na, otherwise how will channels make money? For example, in this election, Star, INC, DMK, etc. could be a bouquet, and Zee, Bhajpa, AIADMK, etc. could be another bouquet. All party members have to ensure they get their bouquet of channels at home, and if caught watching other party channels will be summarily suspended.

Pipe dream, you say? Stranger things have happened, say I.


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