chapter  7
13 Pages

The ‘Bollywoodization’ of Indian TV news

ByDAYA KISHAN THUSSU

The digital deluge that hit India a decade ago has transformed television news in what used to be one of the most regulated broadcasting environments of any liberal democratic polity. The rapid liberalization, deregulation and privatization of media and cultural industries in the world’s largest democracy, coupled with the increasing availability of digital delivery and distribution technologies, has created a new market for 24/7 news. This chapter examines the implications of the exponential growth of Indian television in the past decade, from Doordarshan – a notoriously monotonous and unimaginative state monopoly – to more than 300 digital channels, including 70 dedicated news networks, making it home to the world’s most competitive news arena, catering to a huge, increasingly Westernized Indian audience, and indeed South Asian diaspora. The growing purchasing power and lifestyle aspirations of the expanding

Indian middle-class have attracted the transnational media corporations, notably News Corporation, Sony and Viacom, into India. Focusing on news media, I examine how changes in television news in India, as elsewhere, demonstrate the global trend towards infotainment – soft news, lifestyle and celebrities – and the decline in journalism for the public interest. Given the size and diversity of India’s television landscape – arguably the world’s most complex television system – what is happening to TV news in India is likely to have a wider impact beyond its territorial borders and its diasporic constituencies. While news outlets have proliferated globally, the growing competition

for audiences and, crucially, advertising revenue, has intensified at a time when interest in television news is waning. Audiences for peak-time news bulletins on network television have declined in the United States from 85 per cent in 1969 to 29 per cent in 2005. With the growing commercialization of television news, the need to make it entertaining has therefore become a priority for broadcasters. They borrow and adapt ideas from entertainment and adopt an informal style with an emphasis

on personalities, storytelling and spectacle (Gitlin 2002; Hamilton 2003; Postman 1985). Such a move has been reinforced by the takeover of news networks by

huge media corporations, whose primary interest is in the entertainment business: notable examples include Viacom-Paramount (CBS News); Disney (ABC News); the former AOL-Time-Warner (CNN) and News Corporation (Fox News/Sky News and Star News Asia). The shift in ownership is reflected in the type of stories – about celebrities from the world of entertainment, for example – that get prominence on news, thus strengthening corporate synergies. In the process, symbiotic relationships between the news and new forms of current affairs and factual entertainment genres, such as reality TV, have developed, blurring the boundaries between news, documentary and entertainment. Such hybrid programming feeds into and benefits from the 24/7 news cycle: providing a feast of visually arresting, emotionally charged infotainment which sustains ratings and keeps production costs low. The growing global popularity of such infotainment-driven programming indicates the success of this formula. ‘Infotainment’ – a term that emerged in the late 1980s – refers to

an explicit genre-mix of ‘information’ and ‘entertainment’ in television news and current-affairs programming. This new news cannibalizes visual forms and styles borrowed from TV commercials and an MTV-style visual aesthetic, including fast-paced action, in a postmodern studio, computeranimated logos, eye-catching visuals and rhetorical headlines from an, often glamorous, anchor person. Such style of presentation, with its origins in the ratings-driven commercial television news culture of the US, is becoming increasingly global, as news channels attempt to reach more viewers and keep their target audiences from switching over. As I have discussed elsewhere, this form of journalism has been very

successful: in Italy, infotainment-driven private television catapulted Silvio Berlusconi from a businessman to the office of the Prime Minister. A study of journalism in post-Soviet Russia found that the media were ‘paying huge attention to the entertainment genre’, while in the Chinese news world, the Phoenix channel regularly runs such soft news programmes as Easy Time, Easy News (Thussu 2007a). The globalization of a market-led television news culture can be explained

by what Hallin and Mancini have described as the ‘triumph of the liberal model’ (Hallin and Mancini 2004: 251), arguing that the ‘liberal model’ is likely to be adopted across the world ‘because its global influence has been so great and because neo-liberalism and globalization continue to diffuse liberal media structures and ideas’ (ibid.: 305). In a market-driven broadcasting environment, Indian television news has

borrowed heavily from popular cultural artefacts devised and developed by its thriving film factories – at the epicentre of which is Bollywood – the world’s largest film industry in terms of the number of films produced

annually (Credit Suisse 2006; Kavoori and Punathambekar 2008). They have skilfully adapted Bollywood conventions of melodrama and spectacle, peppered with song-and-dance numbers, to gain new viewers or retain existing ones at a time when many, especially younger and urban Indians, are accessing their news from other sources than television. It may not be a coincidence that many of India’s television news networks are based in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital and a centre of its cultural industries, particularly film and television. Like many other countries, India too has experienced its public broad-

casting being undermined by the forces of the market in a complete departure from the traditional state-controlled television. Television was introduced in India in 1959 as a means for disseminating government policies and public information. The ostensible aim of the national broadcaster Doordarshan was to educate and inform, though it remained a mouthpiece for the government of the day, reflected especially in the haphazard and unprofessional way its information bureaucrats ran news operations (Mehta 2008). The partial privatization of the airwaves started with the introduction of advertising onto the state broadcaster in the 1970s, followed by sponsored programmes, and received a boost as India opened up to transnational media corporations in the 1990s. The gradual deregulation and privatization of television in the 1990s

transformed the industry: by 2009 more than 300 digital channels were operating, including some joint ventures with international broadcasters (Butcher 2003; Kohli-Khandekar 2006; Page and Crawley 2001; Price and Verhulst 1998; Thussu 2007a and 2007b; Mehta 2008). This unprecedented growth has been spurred on by massive increases in advertising revenue as Western-based media conglomerates tap into the growing market of 300 million increasingly Westernized, educated middle-class Indians with enhanced purchasing power and media-induced aspirations to a consumerist lifestyle (Ganguly-Scrase and Scrase 2008). Cable and satellite television have increased substantially since their introduction in 1992, growing annually at the rate of 10 per cent; by 2010 cable and satellite households are likely to touch 85 million. The media and entertainment business, one of the fastestgrowing industries in India, is projected to reach nearly $23 billion by 2011, according to the 2007 report Indian Entertainment and Media Industry: A Growth Story Unfolds, prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) for the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). The Indian television broadcasting market is projected to reach nearly $12 billion by 2011 (FICCI 2007).