Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bangalore TV channels: Trick or treat?

Households in Bangalore may have witnessed a sudden spurt in the number of Tamil cable TV channels – virtually all and sundry – that they have started receiving in their set-top boxes. There is a strong possibility that this could be linked to the upcoming general elections, by providing much-needed eyeballs to poll campaigns of TN’s political parties

Tamil TV channel viewers in Bangalore have never had it so good. Over the last couple of weeks or so, the number of these channels has nearly trebled – from around 10 to nearly 30. Viewers who would have to otherwise restrict their options to those offered by the big four -- Sun, Jaya, Kalaignar and Star Vijay -- now have a smattering of options to put the TV remote control to further use. As if this weren't enough, any talk of subscribers being charged extra has gone unmentioned, at least till now.

Viewers on the other side of the Cauvery have now started confronting hitherto unknown channels such as Sathiyam TV, Moon TV (why not, when there can be a Sun), Imayam TV and many other 'cable' channels, a euphemism for one in which the operators screen the latest movies, days after their release. And hold on to the sentiment that cable TV/ dish operators have decided to turn Santa. Set-top box subscribers who were until recently receiving Star Sports’ four channels discovered that they no longer received them, and had to tune in to the dreary DD Sports to watch the India-Sri Lanka World Cup T-20 final on Sunday, as yours truly had to.

So who has decided to play benefactor? A plausible explanation could be the political parties of Tamil Nadu themselves, keeping in mind the upcoming general elections.

With polls hardly a week away, it is natural that parties reach out to as many people as possible. Now is the time for every channel to offer maximum, nay saturation, coverage to their political masters (after all, the concept of an apolitical TV channel is alien to the state). Further, political allegiance or not, elections would be THE agenda in any media house worth its salt.

But why Bangalore? The answer lies in its demographics – at least 20-25 per cent of its 96 lakh-odd population speaks Tamil. Now those are numbers any political party would keep their eyes peeled on. That this has not escaped the attention of TN's politicos can be gauged from the fact that candidates of the DMK and AIADMK regularly contest elections at all levels from Kolar and Bangalore, where the Tamil population is in large numbers.

Assuming that even a fraction of this number turns back home to vote, then the cost of airing of the channels for free becomes negligible; broadcasts of campaigns, even if they are sparsely attended, turn invaluable. Every candidate has now a recall value among the Tamil ‘diaspora’, just like a bar of soap or toothpaste, which could determine the poll verdict.

The million-dollar question would, however, be: would this channel treat be for eternity? Let us bear in mind that disappearance of power cuts and water supply shortages in the days leading to the election, and its subsequent emergence, is a pan-Indian phenomenon. Or would the cable operator turn up with an inflated bill?

Blame it on the ballot.