‘You’ & democratization of TV content

By Bikram Keshari Jena

“…the World Wide Web became a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter”

Time Magazine, 2006

When the Time Magazine named ‘You’ as the person of the year in its famous annual list of newsmakers in 2006, it arguably generated some polarizing responses. Whatever it did, it did spot a ripple, which over the decade has become a tidal wave ever eroding the established pattern of media content creation and consumption.

If television content was made ‘for’ the people, proliferation of reality shows showed us how it became ‘of’ the people and the current pattern makes it no less ‘by’ the people with user-generated content leaving their footprints on the air waves. The democratization of television content is happening now!

A few days back an incomprehensibly peeved follower of our Twitter handle broke us the news that we are airing abstract user-generated and social media-sourced video clips which for a news channel is a gross digression from the preamble of news reportage.

The case that was being made here was of the increased number of shows on news channels featuring user-generated content sourced from social media and other platforms. Viral videos, shocking videos, funny videos et al along with photographs have now made their way on to the small screen. These are being capsuled into dedicated programs and are now broadcast regularly with increased frequency.

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But branding it as ‘insane’ and criticizing its telecast would relegate it to some entity or individual’s whims and fancies – which it is anything but. It is a phenomenon which we all are a part of and a television channel is only one of the mediums that manifests this trend which is too pervasive to ignore.

“It is not an experiment. We have observed how user-generated content is garnering higher TRPs for us. A significantly successful long-running program like News Fuse is a great example which has made us realize that there is a great deal of interest among the viewers. There is a huge demand to which we are catering to,” reveals Jayant Seth of a leading Odia news channel.

There is no doubt that it is demand driven, and in this cutthroat sector not to respond to such changing needs of viewers is like running a huge risk and running the course towards insignificance.

There are two sides to this phenomenon – the demand and the supply side. Both are governed by a number of factors. Let’s try to understand the demand side. An independent Brand and Input consultant, Sudhir Mishra makes an interesting observation, “People these days are demanding more from a news channel. They are not interested in daily run-of-the-mill news feeds. It has become too mundane for them. They want something different, creative and funny to break the monotony of the incessant deluge of news feeds.”

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This brings us to the question: has anything gone wrong with news? Well, one thing has changed – the way and the amount of news that is served up to us. This is led by a technological change. In fact given the pace, it’s all encompassing and permeating effect technology has been more a revolution than a change. Advances, both in hardware and software has created an ecosystem where an individual is easily hooked on to the relentless flush of information, data and news. Smart phones, apps and social media ensure that the information that we have signed up for is accessible at our fingertips.  In fact these changes have rendered traditional mediums of news delivery gray. If news at 7 PM or 9 PM on the news channel seems dated, then the morning news paper seems to be a historian’s compendium. As soon as news breaks, a notification breaks into our screens. There is more likelihood that by the time news is served up on our plates by newspapers and channels, one would have already received, consumed, and shared it in some form or other. Hence, popularity of user-generated content can be largely attributed to its quality of being a break from the mundane.

Now a look into the supply side of the story reveals why user-generated content is so widely used and broadcast?  As discussed above, the strides that have been made in terms of hardware and software have empowered an individual like never before. If information is being fed to an individual in spades it is being generated in truckloads. Individuals armed with smart phones and other gadgets have been at the forefront of this crusade. If shooting a snap or a video has become easier, sharing it has become equally effortless.

With all these changes, a sense of empowerment has dawned upon individuals who now feel that they can make their voices heard and seen, in more ways than one, and that too with a mere click of a button.

“People now want to see what they and their likes are trying to say and show. There is a huge motivation among individuals to create content and see it broadcast in whatever medium is available. From a broadcaster point of view, it all boils down to Television Rating Point (TRP). We follow what our ratings indicate and there is no hiding the fact that viewership trends are forcing us to air user-generated content. In fact it is very easy to adapt to this change. The content is readily available and there is virtually no production cost involved,” says Jayant.

So where are we heading to? “New things will come up and people will lose interest and latch on to something else. Things will get mundane and more so because everybody else is following and emulating it. But the whole idea here is doing something creative and thriving to build a creative niche,” Sudhir Mishra points out.

There is no doubt that we have arrived here because things moved on. While discussing with many of the professionals from the industry, one would realize that things will continue to move on and move out.