Unreality show

Published: Monday 30 June 2008

do we deserve what we are shown on television? Or how are tv programms created?

The answer goes at least two ways. There is the intuitive route what a journalist's family/friends want to watch becomes the bottomline for editorial decisions. Then there is the 'scientific' way, called trp, where programmes/channels are rated according to viewers' preference. Higher the rating, higher the advertising revenue. But anyone who knows how this rating is done will know the exercise is as good--or bad--as a crime programme or ghost fiction.

The fact around 7,200 electronic monitoring boxes--up from 4,000 since 2007--are fixed to tv sets in India (around 120 million sets in all) to create an index of popularity. More than the sample size, it is the sample quality that is worrisome. This exercise does not reflect India's cultural or ethnic diversity. With no box in Bihar, Orissa and the northeast, the sample is heavily tilted towards more homogenized megacities; Mumbai and Delhi have 40 per cent of these boxes. Smaller towns like Kanpur may have 60-70 boxes; no boxes exist in rural or semi-rural areas. Advertisers and tv marketing bosses are guided by these boxes, and in turn prompt editorial bosses about what the viewer wants.

This statistically innocent exercise is probably not an innocent act. It is geared to gauge the mood of those with spending power, so that advertisers can create a 'narrowband' within the broad picture. Who wants to show products to people with no money? Thus all programmes look the same. Analytical/critical programming goes out the editorial window; happy entertainment comes in, especially in the news segment! Over time, via 24x7 violent streaming, such programming has become the dominant culture. Also, advertisers have created an aspiration level in society that has brought in a host of socio-political problems.

Is it an accident that there is convergence between what a journalist's family wants to watch and a 'scientific' viewership exercise? Most likely, this is matched by recruiting tv professionals from households similar to the ones the boxes are kept in. Reality the industry has actually solved the jigsaw well!

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