We hear it all the time. That India is getting younger. That we should think of the 13-24 years segment as “screenagers”, not as teenagers or youth. That Facebook is bigger than Star Plus, Zee TV, Sony or Colors for them today. That they would rather watch edgy fiction content on Channel V than (what some believe are) afternoon soaps masquerading as prime time entertainment on television.
Our marketers are obsessed with the young generation. Arguably, they have their reasons. “Consumption” is being increasingly fuelled by the youth, making them the low-hanging fruit for several product categories.
But when it comes to television, there’s another story we need to know. A story that’s in sharp contrast to the oft-stereotyped tale of the screen-agnostic, gadget-happy youth. It’s the story of religious and mythological programmes continuing to succeed like never before. A story that may appear to be counter-intuitive to the young Indian theory, but is actually firmly grounded in the reality of our fascinating country.
Over the last two weeks, the newest GEC on the block, Life OK, has scaled new heights, riding on the popularity of its flagship show Devon Ke Dev Mahadev. The recent ‘shaadi’ track, where Mahadev and Parvati get married, has been a runaway success. Mahadev now features in the top 7 Hindi GEC characters on popularity in our monthly research ‘Characters India Loves’, ahead of iconic characters like Akshara and Archana.
Last Sunday, Zee TV launched the third television adaptation of Ramayan, with a simulcast on Doordarshan. The second adaptation provided a creditable launch pad to NDTV Imagine in January 2008. Skeptics argued that it worked because it came 20 years after the original Doordarshan version. However, that theory has been disproved with the encouraging response to the Zee TV show.
To their credit, both Mahadev and Ramayan are well-produced programmes that manage to engage and entertain. But that’s not enough to explain their wide acceptance, especially in the wake of the young India theory. But there’s another reason indeed.
We conducted a nation-wide study recently to understand the profile of the ‘remote controller’ in single TV households in India. The results were anything but ‘young’. In weekday prime time, the median age of the ‘remote controller’ is… hold your breath… 35 years, with almost 70% of them being women. So, from 7-11pm on Monday to Friday, when a large amount of advertiser money is being spent, a 35-year old housewife is the bull’s eye answer to “who decides what plays on TV”.
On weekends, the median age gets a bit younger, but is still 25 years, with a near-equal male-female ratio. Technically, even this audience is outside the stereotypical definition of “youth”. After all, a large section of urban Indian audience (70%+) is already married at the age of 25.
Can you see the chicken-and-egg question here? Do “youth” prefer Facebook and co. to television because they have no control over the remote, or do they lack control over the remote because they have voluntarily given it up? Complex as the explanation may be for this medium, I can safely say that the former is more accurate than the latter. In the way our family viewing patterns have emerged over the last two decades, the all-important remote control has acquired an ownership configuration completely divergent from what the young India theory should suggest. And these viewing patterns are unlikely to change in a hurry, till the multi-TV phenomenon begins to become a significant factor in India.
That brings me back to mythology. It’s content made for the 35+ females segment. These are mothers whose kids are on the verge of entering their teenage. Reinforcement of religion, culture and values is of paramount importance, to both her own self and for her child. NDTV Imagine promoted Ramayan as “Ek Achhi Aadat”. Zee TV is promoting it as “Jeevan Ka Aadhaar”. Both messages aptly reflect the mindset of a 35+ woman who is battling generation gap and upbringing issues around her children. She loves to watch the “mythos”, and also hopes that her child watches along. Sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly.
When Ekta Kapoor tried to push the envelope with Mahabharat, the audience rejected her idea of glamorizing sacred material instantly. But give it to them within their values framework, and there’s nothing more potent than good mythology on the small screen.
So, for all the talk of being a young country, the pre-liberalization generation still decides what gets watched on TV. But then, we have always been a dichotomous country. One where Rakhi Sawant and Mahadev can get married with equal fanfare and razzmatazz.
This post first appeared on mxmindia.com, on my weekly column ‘TV Trail’