It’s not often that you get to talk to an author whose book you love, but lucky for me I got the opportunity to interview Naomi Datta! She is the author of The 6pm slot, a book I had read a few summers ago. Along with writing this intriguing 294-pager, she is also a media professional with 20 years of experience in broadcast media and journalism. (“Yeah, I am old,” she had said when I had expressed my surprise at that fact.) I had contacted her, seeking help for an assignment regarding the future of Hindi daily soaps. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation.
As a part of this assignment, I had also written an essay. You can read it here.
If you were to predict the next five years of Hindi daily soaps, what would it be like?
Naomi: It is difficult to be sure because our consumption patterns have completely changed. There is too much content available online, which is taking the affluent audiences away from the television. However, it is not that these people are not watching these shows at all, it’s just that they are not watching them on television. Rather, they are consuming the same content online. If the television wants to stay relevant to these people, it will have to reinvent itself, but I doubt if it cares because that’s not the audience it anyway targets for.
What is it the target audience that such shows cater to?
Naomi: With the kind of money that goes into making a daily soap, they don’t have a choice but to target masses. Mostly, I feel that they target tier-II town audiences or households that still have only one television set, where the entire family watches it together, and this reflects in the kind of content they produce. In such a scenario, it’s pointless for them to tap on niche subjects because it’s not a feasible option for the broadcasters. They don’t want people who watch The Game of Thrones, they are happy with the ones who help in getting revenue and ratings for Naagin. Even the movies are suffering because of the internet as the multiplex going audiences have enough content to consume online. So, they tend to think hard before spending movie to watch a movie.
Is there a trend of sticking to the safe path in terms of content? Is it likely to happen in the coming years too?
Naomi: I feel there has always been a trend wave of going with what clicks with the audience. We had many saas-bahu shows with joint family systems as their core at one point of time. Then came in shows that talked about social issues and grassroot problems. Now, the trend has veered towards supernatural content. I feel television needs to keep reinventing itself from time to time. However, no matter what innovation they bring in, at the end of the day, the story comes down to the same essentials of women trying to get married and the drama that ensues from it.
Why do you feel the story has to come to the same line in the end? Is talking about social causes, for example, not profitable?
Naomi: It’s not like the channels haven’t experimented with content. Star Plus, for example, has been recently trying really hard to produce different kinds of shows, but they don’t get the required ratings for such content. So, in the end, they have to go back to the content that gives them the revenue. The Zindagi channel had the kind of content that was liked by the ‘classy’ audience. However, despite the loyal viewership, the ratings weren’t enough to sustain the channel.
What do you feel are the challenges ahead in the future of Hindi daily soaps?
Naomi: One of the biggest challenges is that India is not geographically or socially homogeneous. Even if we are talking about tier-II town audiences, we don’t just mean the ones that stay in such geographical areas, we also mean the ones that stay in the pockets of bigger cities and have the same sensibility and reality. These are the audiences that give channels the required revenue and ratings. When you have to target the masses, you have to cater to the lowest common denominator, which is a very difficult task, especially when you are dealing with such a diverse audience, and it always reflects in the content.
What do you feel can be done to ensure that the quality is not compromised for numbers?
Naomi: TV business needs numbers. It is for the masses and it’s not feasible to make niche content for TV. For that, online is a much better option, and that is being flooded with local content, and a lot of experimentation is happening, which is great and someday we can definitely hope to produce content like Netflix Originals. So, the online medium is definitely something worth targeting for the Hindi daily soap makers.