This is what the marketing gurus of FMCGs chant when describing their consumers. These consumer goods manufacturers develop their products not on the likes and dislikes of the CEO’s wife or his mother in law, but purely on what the consumer demands. It is exactly the same with television audiences. The viewers have a right to say what they want. The viewer is king.
Ten years ago there was an outcry over the advent of Indian content on Pakistani television screens, and today we are hearing the same indignation over the arrival of Turkish soaps. But the critics need to ask themselves one simple question: Why have the viewers switched over to the foreign content when they had a choice of the local? The answer is simple: the foreign content is superior.
Why do Pakistani viewers like it? Because they are tired of watching an actor playing the boyfriend in one drama on one channel, show up as the father in another drama on another channel, the villain in the next and the village idiot in yet another. People are sick of watching the same faces over and over again. And with the exception of a few stellar serials, the majority of the plots lack creativity and imagination.
The critics cannot even argue this time, as they did in the face of competition from Star Plus, that our culture is being corrupted by the foreign content. Turkey is as much a Muslim country as Pakistan, albeit with different customs but, fortunately, you don’t hear of acid throwing or women being flogged there.
Content aside, the United Producers Association (UPA) cannot stem the tide of technology. Whether they like it or not, new channels will become more easily accessible as more direct-to-home delivery platforms are launched. Additionally, as television and the internet converge, even more choices from beyond our borders will open up. This is already happening in the West.
What will the UPA say when there is competition from, say, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia or Kazakhstan. It must realize that Pakistani viewers have tasted foreign content. They love it and they want more. All of this means that the UPA and its lot had better pull up their socks. They need to sign new faces to compete, roll out quality plotlines and produce slicker productions.
If they are smart, they will learn from the fate of the film industry which evaporated for the same reason. Even then, actors, producers, directors and other hangers-on took to the streets. And we know what happened there. The rest is history. You cannot force the viewer to watch your product. Make a better mousetrap and the world will come to your doors. Content is king.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2012.
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