The ratings War

Posted: July 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

The ratings War.

I grew up in Ahmedabad, the once capital of Gujarat, India’s western most state bordering Pakistan. Like any desert part of the world, the climate was extreme. While in winter, though the mercury never did dip to the minus, summers were terrible at 47 degree Celsius.

Television viewing was a ritual we indulged in as kids. Home after school, was spent in front of the TV. With the frying heat, sneaking out was not a choice. Cable TV hadn’t started and the options were limited to local content.

 As I grew up in the late eighties and early nineties, Ahmedabad was a booming TV station and the richest TV station amongst all regional TV stations with lots of sponsored programs. Gujarati stars came from Mumbai to act there and it attracted a host of directors and editors also from Mumbai. A few big time Mumbai (them Bombay) producers also had serials running there.

Then the competition got hot and all sorts of people started coming in. Not understanding what TV/films are all about, they started undercutting each other. To compound matters, a small poor production got good ratings. There being NO established co-relation between ratings and expensive productions, ratings became the sacred mantra.

Some overzealous well meaning higher up, without adequate understanding of the media, allowed the rates to dip. Since the per episode rate became low, the artist rates, writer rates and technician rates as also production value had to be cut. It resulted in bad production. Because of bad production, the viewer ship fell. Because the viewer ship fell, the ad rates also fell. So the per episode rate dipped even further and so began a vicious circle that destroyed the industry which impact is felt to this very day.

It has been 20 years since, but Ahmedabad still hasn’t recovered from those disastrous happenings. With the rates falling so low, all the good artists, technicians had no choice but to migrate to Mumbai. The left overs were non-artists and technicians who wouldn’t have been accepted anywhere. Only monkeys work for peanuts.

I am glad, that we at Astro are doing the reverse. We are paying good money to the good producers who make good productions. More per episode money will attract the intelligent well learned, qualified people to the industry whose parents otherwise will not allow their sons and daughters into the TV industry if there is no money.

So more money, more intelligent people coming in, better productions, more viewers, better ad rates, and the cycle goes higher and higher. This indeed, is the way to build the TV industry.

Yes the important thing is that Astro should be all ready and prepared to milk the benefits when it grows bigger. If you expand the pie and others partake of it that would be stupidity too. I would say as industry leaders who invariably stand to earn, when the market grows bigger, the onus is on Astro to build this industry and the best way indeed is to pay well.

 I was quite impressed with Zainir in the May 19th Pitching Forum, when he said that EPICS costs are very high and he was aware that they may not fetch big ratings. But it showcases the Malaysian legends and history to the world and it is an exercise above the ratings game. He cannot recover their cost by running it only on Citra. I am sure he has ideas to sell it to the international market. Looking at the good budgets and the production values, I am confident the HISTORY channel and DISCOVERY will lap it up.

Astro has had the foresight to have foreign tie-ups. Foreign tie-ups, by its superior production values, international scripts with universal appeal tweaked to drama perfection, with good camera work, editing, music, mixing, styling, etc gives the local industry an example to aim at. That alone is worth the premium it commands. It will surely raise the industry standards, and expand the industry. At the moment, so research tells us, that many upper class Malaysians prefer watching English content.

Slowly but surely, superior content produced locally will win them over. I am glad that even when sometimes ratings are not all that high, good productions are being appreciated and that, we are not succumbing to the pressures of the ratings game. I am glad that we have the vision to understand that what wins the ratings war is King only for the day, but good content will always rule.

We at Astro understand that Ratings won, is just a battle won. There are other countless battles that make up with this war; and an important component of it is MONEY which increases quality exponentially, on all fronts.

How I wish somebody had shown the same mature understanding, 20 years ago in Ahmedabad. It then would have been a thriving hub of great cultural activity and the local TV station would still be teeming with talent. Well, all’s not lost and I see signs of the industry being resuscitated.

I am glad we have such examples to guide us through, but my heart still asks – why does it take an Ahmedabad to …………. and why did it have to be My Ahmedabad……….

See ya.

Dev.

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