In the early days of satellite television in India, MTV and Channel V were on their way to becoming the defining elements of popular youth culture in India. It was also a period when Indian music was not the coolest thing to listen to, suffering from a sound trap that would only be broken in the late ’90s, in the AR Rahman era. But it was only a matter of time that the element that has defined the short but chequered history of Indian television, made its presence felt, that is, ratings. Bollywood music and music-based programming came in. There may have been resistance in the initial phase but better sense prevailed and to be fair, these channels played their part in making Hindi music cooler. As daily soaps came in, television in India moved from being a variety-led medium to a ‘tentpole’-led medium. If you did not have a big-ticket programme that could bring the audience back week after week (ideally day after day), you were in trouble. That’s when music channels began to morph into youth channels. Roadies and Splitsvilla on MTV, and a host of fiction shows on Channel V were launched in the last decade with the intent to create appointment viewership. In many ways, these shows achieved what the VJ-led content of ’90s could not — they made these channels a part of pop culture.
But television viewing in India is not exactly ‘young’. An Ormax study defines the average age of the person controlling the remote in prime time (7-11pm) as 33 years on weekdays and 27 years on weekends. Youth often have to ‘sit along’ and watch what their parents are watching, an idea most youth would hate. Internet has played its part in hurting this genre too. With attention shifting to social media and online content consumption, habit-led television viewing for the urban youth has become an elusive idea. With the rise of web-series and other OTT content, which carries a big advantage of being censorship-free, the youth have some real options now. With youth content not working on television, the back-to-music strategy is in vogue now. Channel V has brought the curtains down on its youth programming and is going back to pure music.
Many experts believe the Indian youth have turned off the television altogether and can now be targeted purely via the digital medium. While that’s a gross exaggeration, there’s definitely a trend in that direction. And with each passing generation, the volume of such audiences will grow.
The onus is on the broadcasting industry. Will it sink into depths of irrelevance for the Indian youth over the next few years or will it reinvent in time? What happens in 2016-20 may shape how the next two decades of Indian television, especially youth-centric television, look like.
(Shailesh Kapoor is the founder and CEO, Ormax Media