Cut the debate, show the prep: How India's TV industry is tackling the coronavirus

This week, the Indian TV industry will be passing through the worst phase ever since the advent of private TV channels in India. In the wake of the corona pandemic, there will be no shooting for TV shows till March 31.

“Good riddance! At least the audience will be saved from all those horrible soaps,” says a young entertainment buff who loves a more eclectic mix of shows on OTT platforms.

Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the reality is that there are literally thousands of common people involved directly or indirectly in the making of TV shows. And many of them are daily wagers, who are looking at a tough time ahead.

Although all the TV and Film Associations have declared that they will support these workers through this lean phase, it remains to be seen what kind of support this will be. The TV industry is estimated to lose Rs. 100 crore because of the shutdown.

TV channels, whose daily soaps will be impacted the most by the shutdown, are bracing for the ‘dry’ period of 10-12 days. Most TV channels have said that they have a bank of episodes to rely on, but few have a clue about what they will do in case this period is extended.

Some channels, like Zee TV are promising that they will be airing special episodes that will keep viewers glued to the TV. Some reality shows, like Mujhse Shaadi Karoge on Colors, in which participants try to find their romantic partner, has ended 10 days before its scheduled date.

Cut the debate, show the prep: How India's TV industry is tackling the coronavirus

This sudden development due to the corona pandemic once again brings into sharp focus the question discussed in this column previously – wouldn’t TV channels be better off airing short TV series, lasting from six months to one year, instead of a few series that run for years? Short series would not suffer much in case of a sudden lock down, while the audience will get the opportunity to enjoy much more fresh content.

Besides, the makers of such series will not have to stretch the stories to absurd levels to keep the series running for years. And more importantly, it will generate creative opportunities for several other talented professionals from the industry.

After all, why should the TV industry remain a monopoly of just a few soap factories? Now that the TV channels have been forced to take a break, they would do well to reflect upon the quality of their content.

Do they really wish to continue with the same old formula of combining insipid soaps with Indian versions of western reality shows? As internet connectivity expands in India, the demand for entertainment on OTT platforms will continue to grow, driving advertisers to these platforms.

Where will that leave TV channels? Therefore, it is high time they take a serious look at their programming content.

Meanwhile, the only channels that have been really raking in the viewership are the news channels, thanks to the corona scare. In Week 9 (February 29 – March 6, Urban + Rural), Aaj Tak was at the top with 123507 impressions, followed by India TV (102710), Zee News (100538), News18 India (99504) and Republic Bharat 85184. Among the English channels in the same category, Republic TV topped the list with 589 impressions with Times Now at number two at 416.

The focus of every news channel is, of course, on the rising number of corona-infected patients, the political circus in Madhya Pradesh and the now ubiquitous, Shaheen Bagh protests. For most of these top TV channels, India seems to begin and end in Delhi and the areas around it.

For instance, in their coverage of the spread of Covid-19, many of them are focusing on isolation and checking facilities in Delhi alone. But not a single one of them has shown what preparations have been made in smaller cities and towns.

For instance, why are many people scared of isolation wards? There are numerous horror stories of these wards in the print media, but nothing on these leading news channels.

Why? Instead of having long, useless political debates with ‘political analysts’ who have nothing better to do, why don’t these channels show people exactly how each state government and local bodies have prepared for the increasing cases of Covid-19, IF they have?

This information is far more important for their viewers rather than knowing who will become CM of MP.

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