The problem of plenty

  • Feb 07 2022
    11 month 23 days

It was one of those days, a smile crossed my face as I sat reading Pather Panchali, it was a maudlin moment. A sublime reminder when Satyajit Ray adapted the book beautifully into a movie and was aired in our school auditorium where we watched it with rapt attention. A thought lingered as I delved; today we have too much to watch and viewers are gobsmacked in the incredulous world of content. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the content available across disparate streaming platforms and miss out on some exemplary content worth seeing. Those years back then we waited with baited breath for Chitrahaar at 8 pm and English news at 9 pm on Doordarshan. With limited choices we depended on the broadcaster’s choice of content, while  today it is diversified into long form content for those who have the leisure of time and short form content for those who squeeze time to watch something that is for mere entertainment or something that adds value.

Time and technology have come a long way I reckon.The OTT platforms have redefined television with personalised content for all ages. There has been an undeniable boom in the sphere of quality content. Growing up we were presented with the option of television much later, let alone shows for children and teens apart from a few dedicated ones on Sundays as opposed to an entire streaming platform dedicated to children now. With parental control, children can actually delve into some fun learning and meaningful entertainment. Artificial Intelligence aligns with personalised content understanding and analysing the genre and preferences regulating and restricting content from their purview.

Television back then was a social gathering, almost like a house party, with few people who had the television sets, people would gather together in the houses of those lucky few and indulge over chatter and laughter. It reminded me that there was no live cast until India got into the semi finals.The Prudential World Cup finals between India and West Indies on 25th June 1983, had broken transmission, poor resolution yet the exuberance of India taking the Windies at Lords extended in our living room. Perhaps akin to the game nights as the millennials call it, the atmosphere at home was nothing short of electric, the entire neighbourhood rejoiced, with their own personal commentaries. When Kapil Dev lifted the trophy for the first time in the history of Indian cricket, the sport turned into a mania for generations to come. Today every sporting event is telecast in real time with 4k resolution, almost negligible latency and also with the plausibility to watch an event at a later time. 

I realised there is so much content that discoverability is impossible without personalising it. AI did a fine job at understanding the interest, analysing the content you watched and the meta tags you followed (which in fact spoils one for better.) However the biggest problem was where to watch? With so many simultaneous streaming partners, viewers are lost and confused about what to watch rather than spend time watching it. Back then, when television was linear, we were loyal viewers glued to the channel that brought good content. I remember as a teenager, being glued to DD National especially on Sundays because it telecast a series called Indradhanush that was all about building a computer that could teleport people into the Andromeda Galaxy. Later with the satellite channels being aired, we bid our goodbyes to aerial tv antennas and welcomed MTV and Star TV that gave us a glimpse of the other side of the world. We learned about cultures through series like the Bold and the Beautiful and Santa Barbara. Content then was limited and loyalty went to those who consumed that content. I also fathom that content was then limited to a certain segment of people who knew the language, but today anyone who has an access to a smartphone and a reasonable internet connection can view any content in the language or subtitles of their choice. 
The perks and perils of then and now are prodigious, with every one in the family having streaming access, everyone is a viewer and every one has options and preferences. However everyone is watching content of their choice, the perils I’d say is the togetherness and bonding during television hours. The perks that baffle me is the tumultuous task of having loyalty to one streaming partner, when one has a tough competition in terms of good content and a plethora to choose from.

The host of content that is available has made viewing a baroque marketplace where each platform is trying to grab the attention of its customer through data and video AI analysis, comprehending the preference palette and then creating content to remain in the race. Not just that, broadcasters have an additional onus of growing the audience, add inventory and ROI to expand and garner viewers. The viewers are all around, every single person is a potential viewer, whether it is for bite size videos or the long form content but the cake goes to the one who creates high- quality content and keeps viewer’s loyalty both ascendable and deftly. It reminded me of the book that I had read, a Wall street journal bestseller by David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott called Fanocracy, where they talk about turning fans into customers and customers into fans. I typed the meta tag Pather Panchali, clutching the book closer, the search engine showed that it was streamed on Prime Videos, clicking on the icon, I sat back and watched the master director bring a forgotten world to life.