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The right kind of content

  • Published at 12:01 am December 17th, 2016
  • Last updated at 01:50 pm December 17th, 2016
The right kind of content

An important discussion has begun in media about its content and business. It started with a few TV channel owners alleging that advertisements worth about Tk400 crore went away to Indian channels. They demanded a remedy to this so that the native channels are not deprived of this revenue.

In the meantime, social media and online news portals have started discussing the content of our TV channels. They claim that the content on our channels don’t meet the expectations of the audience and that’s why viewers are turning towards Indian TV channels. And that is leading our advertisers to invest in those channels.

Let me cite a few examples.

One of my friends wrote on his Facebook: “There may be complications regarding putting up advertisements on Indian TV channels but no one, especially the local artists, should decide for us on what to watch.

“We may want to watch Real Madrid and Manchester United instead of the Brothers Union. At the same time, we may want to watch anything in Hindi, English, Arabic, Chinese etc, in spite of the junk that we watch on our local channels. Entertainment is entertainment, no matter what the language is.”

A journalist friend of mine commented: “Many are blaming us for the quality of the content. I agree; but what about the quality of our movies, threatre, literature? In the yesteryears, everything was good? Since when has our quality declined? What’s the reason behind it?”

A few years ago, on an Eid evening, sitting at home, I switched on my TV to watch something. One of the channels was airing an entertainment talk show in which Dilara Zaman, Bindu, and some others were discussing how their dear ones were celebrating their Eid.

I heard that one of Dilara Zaman’s two daughters was in Canada and the other was in Japan. Then, Bindu and the others started talking about her family members’ Eid celebration.

I asked myself: “Do I really want to know where Dialara Zaman’s daughters are?” No, I don’t, but there may be others out there who might.

I changed the channel and found two singers along with two anchors discussing themselves; the singers were talking about their friendship. I myself again: “Do I want to know about their relationship?” No, not really; but maybe others do.

The following day, I ran into the program-maker as my office was also in the same building. I wanted to know the reasoning behind creating such programs for Eid. He replied that it was the program sponsor who suggested it. I questioned: “Why did you agree to do this program?” He replied: “Bhai; they’re paying; why would I say no?”

I realised where the problem was. There’s another side to it. When I was working with ABC Radio, the advertisers would come to us and design the program themselves; sometimes, they used to brief us on their campaigns and sought program ideas from us.

We had to hatch the idea and we had to come up with a program even if they didn’t like it, because they had to spend their budget.

However, we never thought about seeking audience opinions regarding our programs. Radio has an advantage, as the listeners participate and ask questions on air directly to the broadcaster. That’s how our radio station assesses the quality and popularity of their programs.

The TV channels, on the other hand, don’t have any such mechanism to assess what the audience is thinking about their content.

When I was working at a TV channel a few years ago, I suggested we run a survey at the universities of the country. That kind of survey could be done at minimum cost.

That’s how we could know about their expectations. However, no one cared. And I think that’s the reason the Indian TV channels won; they’re investing in and airing what the audience wants to watch.

Of course, you need money to produce good programs; quite a lot of money. I remember we, in that TV station, had thought of a program in which the audience directly participated.

The program producer demanded a vehicle and two cameras for the production, but the management couldn’t provide them due to fund constraints.

The program was based on people’s daily suffering; the sufferers would directly lodge their complaints and the authorities concerned would reply to their questions. I’m sure this program would be a hit, but it never got the green light.

If we consider the number of TV channels, there are about 24-25 on air. More are in the pipeline. Now the question is: Do we need so many channels for a homogeneous audience?

Would the audience watch all these? Let’s say yes, they’ll watch, but is there a market for all of them? Will all of them be sustainable? When our entrepreneurs initiate any TV station, do they keep any business model in mind? I doubt it.

I was in Nepal a few years back and I watched an Indian channel named “Care World.” All of its content is related to health; the news is on health, the talk shows are on health and the programs are on health. I watched that channel for a long time and saw a huge number of advertisements  there.

On the contrary, we’re not thinking anything like that. We could very well focus on health, sports, business, children, and music.

When we talk about advertisements, we should discuss another aspect -- the relationship between the media and the advertisers.

If we consider the number of TV channels, there are about 24-25 on air. More are in the pipeline. Now the question is: Do we need so many channels for a homogeneous audience?

I think the two should complement each other. One cannot advance without the other’s help.

The entire income of the media comes from advertisement and it is the media that publicises the products that the advertisers produce.

If an advertiser thinks that they have provided advertisements to a certain media or news organisation and that organisation cannot report anything against that advertiser, that wouldn’t be a healthy thing to think.

At the same time, it would be also unfair if a business house reduces its advertisement budget from a certain media organisation, and that media organisation starts putting pressure on that business house. This creates a kind of enmity between the two.

We need to discuss many aspects such as these. We the audience think that it is the fourth estate that can benefit society and the state to a great extent.

Starting from our Liberation War, it has already given the nation quite a lot.

That’s why we need to discuss the issues related to media in important forums. The media and the nation would benefit from that discussion.

Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.