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TV channels losing ground

24-08-2023  Gday India

A lot of people still use local cable networks for television as well as for the Internet. I was the first one in the locality to avail of the Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL)-based Internet service when it was brought to India by a company that is now defunct. 

After using the dial-up service, it was bliss. And this was before the full-fibre broadband, also known as Fibre To The Primes (FTTP). 

It was a great experience initially till the time one could talk to the engineers and technicians concerned in case of a hitch. Since the service was one of its kind and good for the user, obviously, the customer base grew. 

This growth meant that the personalised service was replaced by call centres and untrained technicians. The call centre would promise you that the complaint would be attended to within 72 hours! 72 hours without the Net? Latest technology and all that is fine, but the company probably did not understand what kind of business they had got into. 

Then came the more reliable FTTP. But the service providers were the same. So, the same pattern followed when dish TV entered. The same call centres, the promise of 72 hours and when a complaint was attended to, the technicians were totally at sea on how to solve the problem. You gave feedback and even if you wrote, "problem not solved", the money was deducted from your account. This particular dish service collected payment in advance. 

Another problem with the dish, which occurred occasionally but was a major irritant, was the phenomenon of signal breakdowns during heavy rains and thundershowers. Nobody liked to miss an episode of a TV serial because the weather inflicted disruption and your television went on a blink. 

So, it was back to a good neighbourhood service provider for both, cable as well as Internet. One call and a guy would appear within minutes. For a change, again, you knew who you were dealing with; the personal touch was back. 

In this process, as the hot-shot service providers took their customers for granted, the ones to get abused and insulted were the call centre kids. Few customers understood that these kids just took your message and had nothing to do with your problem, nor could they solve your problem. 

Better technology pushes old technology out of contention. Mobile phones and Internet data ousted link-up modems and service providers such as VSNL. The video discs put paid to video cassettes. Thousands of video libraries renting pirated video cassettes went out of business. And then video discs lost out to satellite-beamed television channels. 

Now we have Over The Top (OTT) platforms providing all the entertainment you can imagine and beyond, including content from all over the world! 

Thus far, the talk has only been about how the OTT streaming platforms are affecting the film exhibition business. But, if the Hindi film industry is suffering, it is not due to OTT, because both Hollywood and films in South Indian and other regional languages are sustaining well. The problem with Hindi films is the content. 

Yes, but OTT is proving to be detrimental for the survival of television channels. 

The fault lies solely with television channels. Take for example our national news channels. What is national about them? These channels are dedicated to national politics. Hardly do you see any news channel discussing states and, for them, South India does not seem to exist. 

If I want to know what is happening in Maharashtra, I need to watch a regional channel as also for the neighbouring states. Knowing about them matters, especially in a season like the monsoon. Less said about the prime-time debates the better. 

These channels specialise in bestowing the title of Political Analyst on all and sundry and that is so funny! These channels break the news in the morning with all news channels calling the news 'Exclusive' and 'We Broke It First'.  The same news is broken all through the day. Now, that is taking your viewer to be a fool! 

Coming to film channels, they have no content, nothing new at all. English film channels, the half a dozen of them that survive, are in a bad state. They show C-grade films over and over again. Hindi film channels are surviving on dated content and dubbed South Indian films, all repeated day after day. 

I think Doordarshan in its heyday had more appeal and following than these private channels do today. And, imagine what they charge you for watching the same old trash! New films are rare and content is filled with old Hindi and South Indian-dubbed films shown at regular intervals; a couple of channels show English movies in Hindi when not showing Chinese rerun. No wonder then that compared to the so-called national channels, regional channels are doing much better. They have a captive viewer base because they provide what one wants to watch. 

Television channels enjoyed a great run, each bidding for a new film and that drove the price of a new film high. There was also a system of syndication whereby a channel which had acquired the rights of a new film, premiered it on its channel and later rented it out to other channels. 

One can't blame OTT for the fall of movie channels. They were losing out on viewers long before OTT caught the fancy of people during and post the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Earlier, the cable operators charged you Rs 400-600 per month and provided all the channels you wanted to watch. They even showed a new film the same day it was released in cinemas! Then came TRAI directives. 

Each channel carries a price tag (most of them don't give value for money) and most of them have just one serial to offer you during prime time. TRAI offered an a la carte option: choose your channels and pay only for them. But most providers refuse to let you opt for a la carte. They even charge more than the stipulated rates for channels. 

The TRAI order mandates you to pay Rs 160, which includes some free channels and the service provider's fees. Almost all of these free channels are not what you would want to watch. So they are forced on you. 

People are cancelling their cable subscriptions. A few channels you want to watch are available online and there are a lot of links available for you to catch channels aired from other countries as well. 

If you buy a full channel package, it would cost you no less than Rs 10,000 or more a year. Imagine how many OTT platforms you can subscribe to for that amount! One also has the option to opt for a certain mobile phone package which provides some OTT connections for free.  

By Vinod Mirani 

 


24-08-2023  Gday India

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