|MUMBAI: As 2008 draws to a close, we decided to jot down the “Top 10” highlights in Indian television during the year. The list is not exhaustive and is not chronological nor in order of importance, but it randomly represents what we thought were happenings that impacted the business in a significant manner.
1 TV Workers shutdown: The TV industry strike which led to reruns appearing on TV for the first time in the history of Indian television. The strike continued for two weeks, until a settlement was reached wherein producers ended up paying extra for technical, and other crew.
2 General entertainment warfare:The emergence of Colors – a partnership between US media giant Viacom and Indian titan the Network18 group – as a strong No 2 to Star Plus, and a great competitor to Zee TV which was pushed to the No 3 spot. Colors use of differentiated and disruptive programming enamoured viewers and was inspiring imitators as the year was ending. The subdued but consistent performance of NDTV Imagine from the NDTV stable, and the expensive expansion of INX Media under the stewardship of Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, followed by its collapse, and resuscitation all added to the GEC drama.
3 A new programming era: Long running saas-bahu soaps such asKyuunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kasautii Zindagii Kay, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii – were phased out by Star Plus impacting production superstar Balaji Telefilms to a large extent. It was the end of a long successful partnership even as Ekta Kapoor was battling to bring Balaji back in the success sweepstakes as the year was ending. The year also saw the emergence of Sphere Origin (Balika Vadhu), and Directors Kut (Sapna Babul Ka-Bidaii) as major production powerhouses. Talent hunts and reality shows proliferated during 2008.
4 Cash-rich IPL: A new entertainment format of the game became a runaway success as the largest cricket viewing nation in the world got a taste of the 20-20 over format, and took to like water to a thirsty man. A new sports czar was anointed in IPL commissioner Lalit Modi who believed in the format. And the Sony Entertainment Television group’s gamble paying nearly a billion for its television rights paid off handsomely for its CEO Kunal Dasgupta.
5 Terror Strike on Mumbai: The shocking and unbridled coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks by news television channels and the public outrage against that, followed by a realisation by all concerned that media crises management needs to be understood and implemented by all those involved including government, army, news media etc.
6 DTH spreads: The growth of direct-to-home sector with the launch of Big TV and Airtel Digital TV, along with DD Direct Plus, Tata Sky, DishTV and Sun Direct makes India one of the few multiplatform markets in the world. Low ARPUs still remain a concern.
7 Skyrocketing costs: The runaway increase in cost of producing television. Artiste costs rose as almost every second show signed on celebrities and helped create or rescue careers of no names and has-beens. Distribution costs of channels too rose manifold with cable operators and MSOs demanding unimaginable carriage fees for priority carriage on their networks. Distributor Star Den was promoted by two rival groups Network 18 and Star India even as MSOs like Digicable and DEN made their debuts.
8 Peace pipe: As the year was ending, Sun TV’s Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi Maran and his grand uncle DMK chief M Karunanidhi decided to bury their differences and not work against each other. The rapprochement could result in the emergence of an even bigger – almost unsurmountable – powerhouse in the south. This also resulted in a PE firm Nalanda Capital buying seven million shares in Sun TV for Rs 1 billion.
9 The slowdown: The subprime crises in the US lead to a slowdown worldwide. Even though India has been insulated, the pulling out of money from the country lead to a stockmarket crash. It in turn has impacted the balance sheets of big advertising spenders and media companies. The second half of 2009 is expected to bruise media companies badly as corporate India struggles with a slowing economy. Layoffs were becoming rampant as almost every player looked at ways to survive in the imminent tough times.10 Specialisation spread: The year saw the launch of specialized new channels to cater to the needs of upscale and urban audiences. For movie and entertainment buffs it was a feast galore. Showbiz, NDTV Lumiere, World Movies, E24, Firangi, Topper TV, were some of the new specialized niche offerings. The year probably will go down in history as the one which had the maximum launches. How many will survive only time will thrive as the Indian television industry continues to attract investment from both overseas and domestically.