Opinion: Why isn’t the audience ready to accept progressive content on Indian TV?

Is the Indian audience ready for progressive content on television? Let's explore the evolution of television content and how the current scenario looks like.

Published on Apr 19, 2024  |  06:37 PM IST |  58.7K
Opinion piece
Is the Indian audience ready for progressive content on television?

An orphan girl comes to the city and unexpectedly falls for a rich boy. Following another set of unexpected events, they get married. Now, the girl faces the challenge of winning over the boy’s family or fighting with some vamp ex-girlfriend of the boy, who miraculously appears after years. Sounds familiar?

Welcome to the world of daily content on Indian television. It’s illogical, melodramatic, and …how do I explain? 

While there have been many debates around whether Indian TV content has evolved over the years, well, it has. With the introduction of new formats of reality TV shows, and different types of shows on air, the content has become bolder and better. But are we seeing progressive content on TV? In fact, the typical saas-bahu dramas and cliche love stories still continue to reign supreme. And why? Because the audience prefers to watch them.

So, this gives rise to the question – why isn’t the audience ready to accept progressive content on television?

Good old days of TV

We often hear our elders talking about how they would leave all their work and gather together to watch TV. Doordarshan was the only channel back then and Hum Log was the first serial to air. Each episode was 25 minutes long. It concluded after 154 episodes, a sharp contrast to today’s serials, which celebrate milestones like 500 episodes and more.

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Back then, the target audience of Hindi TV serials was not just women, but also children, and even men of the family. The shows brought families together in front of the television.

Later in the 80s, several other serials like Buniyaad, Bharat ki Khoj, Malgudi Days, Ramayan, and Mirza Ghalib became immensely popular. The television industry was a small-scale industry, and shows were made on a limited budget, but it was the Golden era of Doordarshan.

In the 1990s private channels came and the scenario evolved. In October 1992, India saw the launch of the first privately owned channel to broadcast over cable and it is none other than Zee TV. Earlier that year, in February, Star Plus was launched, but it primarily showed English content, thus reaching limited viewers.

What went wrong?

From TRP to production time, everything has changed. Today, shows are made on a huge budget. Characters are shown wearing glamorous clothes, living in luxurious mansions, driving swanky cars, and everything to fascinate the audience. It seems every show today is made on the same formula. 

Check out the following reasons which to some extent are responsible for the shift in the quality of TV content:

  • In the 80s and 90s, shows aired once a week, allowing ample time for creators to develop storylines, characters, and dialogues. And now, most of the shows air from Monday to Sunday,  resulting in rushed storytelling and compromised quality.
  • Unlike earlier times when shows had clear beginnings, middles, and ends, today's focus is on longevity rather than a good story, leading to the introduction of illogical plot twists and characters to sustain viewer interest. 
  • Additionally, the TRP system introduced in recent years has further prioritized mass appeal over quality content.

When Ektaa Kapoor remarked Indian audience isn't ready for progressive TV content

Back in 2016, in an interview with Mid Day, producer-director Ektaa Kapoor who is one of the forerunners of bringing desi soaps to television, said, “I can openly say that the Indian audience is not ready for progressive shows. I have tried it with Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh and I can't even tell you the research that went into it; I really wanted to cry. They just don't want to see a married woman move on even if her husband has made her life miserable." 

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How daily soaps continue to keep viewers hooked

In an interview with Hindustan Times, during the promotion of The Married Woman, popular actress Ridhi Dogra, who made her shift from television to Bollywood said, “What normally happens in TV shows is, just to get the audience to root for her, we end up making her look like bechari. We make everybody else do bad things to her, she is crying, so we feel for her. She is laughing when she wants to cry, so we feel for her.”

And I couldn’t agree more. TV content, especially daily soaps, weave narratives in their daily plots that manipulate audience emotions. The trick that makers employ is to create characters and storylines that resonate deeply with viewers, keeping them hooked on a world of melodrama, romance, and intrigue.

For instance, currently, in Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, one of the top-rated shows on television, Ruhi is shown as the villain acting as the roadblock to Arrmaan and Abhira’s love. The audience sees Abhira as the ‘bechari’ who has no family, trying to prove her worth every day at her in-laws, and figuring out Armaan’s feelings for her. 

By tapping into universal themes such as love, betrayal, and family dynamics, these shows create an immersive experience that fosters a strong emotional connection between the audience and the characters on screen. Whether it's rooting for a beloved couple to overcome obstacles or empathizing with a character's struggles, daily soaps have mastered the art of engaging viewers on an emotional level, making them an indispensable part of many people's daily lives.

Check out the promos of two of the top-rated shows on TV:


Does television viewership play a role?

There is no doubt that this is the major hindrance in the whole progressive TV content criteria. The audience is the most important consideration for content.  Showmakers tailor their content to meet the demands and preferences of their viewership, aiming to attract and retain a large audience.

The serials are made to target the masses which include a domination of women who are married and other ones who are aged. It seems they can relate to the stories of what they have been through.

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And people who want to watch good content have the option to shift to OTT today. OTT streams not just movies and reality shows, but also series. In fact, television is not the preferred medium for many wanting to watch a serial.

Netizens' opinion

We conducted a poll to ask netizens if the audience is ready to accept progressing content on TV. Surprisingly, 67% of them said YES! This shows that a section of the audience is up for a change and it's high time makers experiment with the shows. Of course, not everything on TV is trash. To cite recent examples, we have Shark Tank India, The Kapil Sharma Show, and more, but television dramas surely need to offer more.

Check out our poll results here:

Poll result

In conclusion, the audience has the power to influence the content landscape of Indian TV. They do not have to watch mindlessly everything that is shown on TV. If the makers detect a shift in the audience’s preference, there will be a change in content, too, hopefully. However, it won’t happen overnight. Indian television and its sappy serials will continue to reign supreme for a long time before good content replaces them.

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ALSO READ: OPINION: Will OTT take over Television? Here's why the small screen reign isn't ending anytime soon

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About The Author

With a master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, she has always been interested in writing and telling

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Credits: Hindustan Times, Mid Day
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