Survival tricks of Telugu TV channels

BY Padmaja Shaw| IN Media Practice | 03/04/2008
The channels are leading a wave of religious revivalism purely because religion and culture can also be packaged and sold.
PADMAJA SHAW is dismayed at recent trends

Over the last several months, Telugu TV channels have been  resorting to a new revenue generation strategy: carrying advertisements for precious stones with magic remedial powers (Divya Diamonds) and rudrakshas that can fetch a seat for your son in medical school or a visa to the US! The ads are generally of several minutes in duration and appear like talk shows with the presenters talking directly to the audience, often endorsing the magical powers of the stuff from curing disease to all manner of other wish fulfilment.


It is believed that the advertisers pay Rs 80,000 and above for 10 seconds for these long commercials on some of the stronger channels like TV9 and ETV2. The channels air several insertions a day. TV9’s tag line proudly proclaims that it is ‘for a better society’ and Eenadu has always resisted even horoscope columns in its many publications. The easy revenue provided by the products of this kind seems to have broken through to these channels.


This was unthinkable on public broadcasting channels till the golden age of media liberalization dawned on us. The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1955, explicitly prohibits such ads. "The Act is to control the advertisement of drugs in certain cases, to prohibit the advertisement for certain purpose of remedies alleged to possess magic qualities …... The Act defines drugs and registered medical practitioners besides defining magic remedy. According to Act the Magic remedy includes a talisman mantra kavacha, and any other charm of any kind which is alleged to possess miraculous powers for or in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation treatment or prevention of any disease in human beings or animals or for affecting or influencing in any way the structure or any organic function of human beings or animals." AIR and Doordarshan more or less steered clear of such ads.


Two other phenomena also frequently appear on the leading channels. One, they carry live coverage of Brahmotsavams from Tirupati/ Rama kalyanam from Bhadrachalam. Hours of transmission time is devoted to religious events that excludes all other programming needs of the viewers. When Doordarshan carried such coverage, there was considerable amount of criticism, questioning the secular credentials of the state broadcaster. The commercial channels have no such answerability. The channels are leading a wave of religious revivalism purely because religion and culture can also be packaged and sold. 


Two, the established channels also have explicit crime shows, ‘Neralu-Ghoralu’ on ETV2 and ‘Crime watch’ on TV9. The tone, tenor, vocabulary, graphic and detailed visualization of these programmes and the anchors who host these programmes appear to be a direct invitation to crime. Each episode of these programmes is like a distance education primer on how to commit crimes. The opinion in both the channels about the shows is similar, both claiming that the shows are mostly watched by women!


Several news channels have entered the Telugu market and more news, Bhakti and general entertainment channels are waiting in the wings. Already the new news channels have proven themselves adept at challenging the market leaders through sting operations and sensational coverage of film releases and petty misdemeanours of state functionaries. The competition is likely to heat up with many more channels coming into the market in the run up to the elections. New channels, instead of aiming to excel with better programming, are dishing out more of the same in much worse taste.


If the commercial channels do not believe that they should be governed by any voluntary and in-house vetting of content, a public outcry may provide the government an excuse once again to find ways of reining in TV channels.





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