Lost in transmission

Published: December 9, 2012

The writer hosts a show called “Capital Circuit” for News One

Television. The bane of all our woes. Conservatives accuse it of spreading vulgarity and obscenity, challenging our family values. Moderates and liberals complain about growing sensationalism, voyeurism and a cacophony of political shallowness. Courts find it a vehicle of contempt, political parties of persecution. Armed forces find the intentions of people associated with it highly doubtful. Bureaucrats keep plotting course to gag it and be done with it for good.

But despite all that, television content mutates only in a mind-numbing fashion. And there is a pattern to it which keeps repeating ad nauseam. And before we try to dissect it, it is imperative to grasp the fact. The above-mentioned complaints — and many more — cannot, under any circumstances, all be true for they are in negation of one another. But those which are true present a big challenge to the future of TV journalism and entertainment alike. Now to the business and let us only focus on the news channels.

Perceptions, they say, are often more important than reality. And television business in our country, like any other, is built on reality. Internally, the perception is driven by a list of numbers called ratings. There are target rating points (TRPs) and gross rating points (GRPs). Together, they tell us which channel and which programme is most popular. Please also remember that the man usually in charge of making sense of these numbers is not a professional journalist or entertainer but an MBA in marketing or sales. This gentleman sees today’s trends and advises the owners and the content managers to tailor the output in accordance with today’s success stories. With very little innovation this is done, which ensures that like a stuck gramophone, television keeps repeating itself.

As I have mentioned in an earlier piece, the rise of television news coincided with the collapse of the Pakistani entertainment industry. This ensured that all viewer traffic meant for entertainment channels would end up on news stations. In view of the demand pressure, these channels were asked to overcompensate. When shouting matches on talk shows were not found enough, comedians and, in one distinct case, a dancing girl were introduced. The ‘boring’ senior journalists discussing newspapers in morning shows were replaced by showbiz actors and hot models conducting wedding-like ceremonies and dance parties. Smaller channels resorted to providing carte blanche to the advertisers who would cut an important transmission short to show an astrologer, a cooking recipe or then a long song. Hence, the good that could come out of a boisterous news media was lost in transmission.

Now that the entertainment and sports industry are reviving, the ratings spikes are becoming a rarity as they were actually supposed to be. But a station owner’s fixation with the news channels is also understandable. News-related content and talk shows are the cheapest content that you can produce in an ordinary day. While sports broadcasts need expensive equipment, the expenditure on entertainment programming is usually mind-numbingly phenomenal.

If you want to understand the true share of news viewership in the country, just undertake an experiment. Just find ratings of the three most successful channels for three ordinary days and locate their most successful news (not talk show or breaking news) transmission. Usually it is the 9:00 pm slot. Take an average. That, as a rule of thumb, is the actual share of the news channels.

It is important that the rest of traffic is lured back to the channels where they were meant to be. Most of the news channel owners have entertainment channels, too. They can help bringing back the focus on them. Those who do not have more than one should be requested to consider converting their news channels to a news and entertainment combo. As equilibrium is reached, most of the complaints with the news networks will fade away where a tad more professionalism and less salesmanship will not be out of place.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2012.

Reader Comments (7)

  • Maula Jut
    Dec 9, 2012 - 10:05PM

    @ Author
    What’s your point? Are you some kind of TV cop?
    Let a thousand programmes go on air. I possess a remote. Believe me it is mightier than the marketing wizards.

    Recommend

  • thinker
    Dec 9, 2012 - 11:22PM

    An honest piece on Pak media. Wish people in power could understand such ideas are in everyone’s interest.Recommend

  • Vicky
    Dec 10, 2012 - 12:37AM

    Entertainment channels should ensure that the content they are producing is in actual entertaining. It is unfortunate that the content in our entertainment channels is mostly depressing and not something one can relate to.

    Recommend

  • abu-uzhur
    Dec 10, 2012 - 1:12AM

    @Pitafi Sahib : TV you say is the “bane of all our woes” for the reasons reproduced

    below .

    “Conservatives accuse it of spreading vulgarity and obscenity, challenging our family values. Moderates and liberals complain about growing sensationalism, voyeurism and a cacophony of political shallowness. Courts find it a vehicle of contempt, political parties of persecution. Armed forces find the intentions of people associated with it highly doubtful. Bureaucrats keep plotting course to gag it and be done with it for good.”

    But these I believe indicate its resounding success. TV should keep all these
    quarters on toes , and tread over them as frequently as possible .Recommend

  • Purza
    Dec 10, 2012 - 3:58AM

    I am amazed at the failure of the people above to grasp a simple concept. The writer is clearly telling us that media is not bane of all woes, it has some small issues that can be resolved. As a professional who faces all these challenges daily I respect his opinion. And is it a crime now to call for more professionalism?

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    Dec 10, 2012 - 8:50AM

    Nobody should blame the news media. It is the choice of the channel owners to give their side of the story especially in commentary and discussions. It is their right to be honest or dishonest about the news the same way it is the right of the viewers to choose to watch them or switch to another channel. Sensationalism and negative politics sell and the owners exploit the fools who watch them. The day most people start watching the TV for real honest news and entertainments most of the channels banking upon lies and sensationalism would go off the air.

    Recommend

  • goven
    Jan 30, 2013 - 5:17PM

    It depends upon what we watch is entertainment or vulgarity. It depends upon what we are and what we see. it depends upon our thoughts! we should have control on our thoughts.

    Recommend

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