Entertainment. A word that requires huge seriousness carries a very passé meaning to the people involved in this sector. They tend to misinterpret it, underestimate the essence of it and the potency it has if cracked rightly. The discussion should reach to the bottom of it and find the real problem underneath. We should realize how to look at it and understand the way of doing things.
So, the whole discussion should cover the whole spectrum of entertainment: television, the highest reaching media in our country; all the over-the-top (OTT) media platforms, from the local ones like i-flix and bioscope to the international ones like Netflix; movies and theatre. Theatre or live performances have, by now, made their own space and niche, as the experience can't be replicated and remains unique to the viewers. But the discrepancy arises when you try to compare television and the OTT media. They need to be understood from the core and molded that way for our country.
The basic difference between the two media is that one is appointed or guided viewing and the other one is personal or customized viewing. In the case of the later, you can decide when and what to watch. This difference in nature makes the nature of the two media very different from each other and the content strategy for each media needs to be fixed basis the core principle.
And all the problems start from there. Lack of understanding of the media has created a he crisis of content – both for Television and digital media of our country. And platforms like Netflix have made their in-roads and are earning a lot of money in our country.
You see, language is a lesser barrier today. People understand English, a lot of people also understand Hindi. So, after a while, you start to watch and understand the contents made in those languages. For the same reason, people are now being crazy over teledramas from Korea, Japan, and Pakistan.
Coming back to our media reality, all our problems lie with the quality of our content. There are two things whenever we want to discuss our digital conten. Firstly, we cannot second guess our quality. We cannot say "I cannot produce good content as I do not have enough budget for that". Secondly, we lack cultural understanding. Our content can be more popular than the ones on Netflix because they will be according to our taste, understanding and consciousness. But our makers lack this. We do not have proper research on anything. We have some controversial and at times politically incorrect realities.
The producers or creators, that we have, are not really from the urban background and they are far from the realities of our urban societies. I think that's fine though. They have their own strengths and understanding. But due to the lack of makers from urban background, our urban realities are not being captured in our content, creating a distance with our urban audience.
Moreover, 65% of our population are aged below 30 years. Our content creators are not ready to cater to the taste or to understand the mindset of these youth. To overcome this, you need huge support of research. There should be researches on their liking, disliking, and lifestyle. But nothing of that sort is happening.
As a result, you do not know who watches TV at a particular point in time. For example, we do not have the data regarding which age group watches TV on Wednesday at 9 pm. So, you do not know, who is watching TV and for whom you are creating the content.
In the 1980s and 1990s, we used to have teledramas like Bohubreehi, Kothao Keu Nei. The makers of the serials had an understanding of society, culture, and the collective consciousness. They used to represent those.
Today we have a fragmented society. You cannot put the responsibility of knowing the collective consciousness to the creators only. Firstly, all of them are not that educated or knowledgeable. You can think about representing the society only when you know about them, you read, you know the pulse. No one reads nowadays. For example, you will find very few people, who read Mahmudul Haque's 'Kalo Borof'. I had to buy 10 copies of the book and made my colleagues read.
None of them knew about the book. In a way, it is not their fault. We have created such a society. You will hardly find a bookshop in Gulshan. Where will you sell a copy of "Kalo Borof", "Nirapod Tondra" or the works of Syed Haque (Syed Shamsul Haque)? Even there are rarely any readers of Ahmed Sofa in any of the offices. But the same people are making ad-films, and are writing in newspapers.
There is an intellectual vacuum in the country. You cannot handle entertainment with an intellectual vacuum. Audio-visual is a very complex form of art. You need sound, music, dialogue, camera-work, and acting in a single form of art. All these have to come together to make sense.
Whenever this kind of a complex art form will be handled by uneducated people, there will be problems.
Also, our mainstream newspapers do not put emphasis on entertainment. To editors, politics is more important than entertainment.
This is another crisis for us as we cannot take entertainment seriously. On the other hand, the American political hegemony was established through culture. Why do you love to eat pastry more than you love 'pithas' (rice cakes)? It is not that our pithas are less tasty than the pastry, it is all cultural hegemony. We did not have an answer to fight this. Our intellectuals could not establish our own cultural hegemony.
There is a lot to discuss. Our content creators do not have enough research. Research work is measurable. If you ask the content creators what was the sample size or what were the areas of their research, you won't get a comprehensive answer.
We all see a large gathering at classical music fests in Dhaka. But we all know all of the audience do not understand the music. But if you consider classical music as a person, then he surely would want the people to know more about him and what he is all about. The credit should go to the marketing policy. At least it pulled the crowd to the stadium.
Why can't your content attract people? There is a marketing failure for sure. Let's assume we produce 10 or 20 good teledramas out of a hundred. But the audience does not know when those 20 dramas are airing or which channels are airing those.
Also, there is another big problem with our TV channels. All of them are free to air. There is no such instance in the world. Whenever foreign media planners visit our country, they get surprised by this fact. The size of the TV advertisement market in the country is about Tk2,000 crore, whereas the size of the cable business is around Tk8,500 crore.
You are catering to a market of Tk8,500, but your own market is Tk2,000 crore. That should not be the case. Let us assume a regular household spends Tk300 per cable connection. Out of that Tk300, TV channels should get Tk50. Even if the TV channels get a share of Tk1 from every individual connection, they will earn at least Tk100 crore per year. Only then, they can spend a good amount on their content. Through this process, the quality will increase and dependence on TVC revenue will decrease.
This is the norm throughout the world. India has set strict rules to implement this. You have to buy a digital box to watch TV or you will be penalised or even jailed. But we are lagging behind. Our policymakers chose to keep mum in this regard. They should understand its importance. The government can earn at least Tk60 crore to Tk70 crore in taxes.
Another important issue is a lack of institutions. There are no institutions to teach things like acting, cinematography, sound engineering in the country. As a result, we do not have qualified DOP or Foley artists. I recently had a meeting with some members of the Directors' Guild. I told actor and director Salauddin Lavlu bhai that he should tell every actor that they should work at least for a year with a theater group before joining the industry. By doing that, the actors will at least have some sort of training.
One thing you have to keep in mind that the viewers will choose whatever they want for themselves. It is not their fault that they do not watch the local content. They have the remote control. The power is with them. Whether they would watch your channel or content depends on you.
Secondly, we should keep in mind that we are weaker in making non-fiction than fiction. As non-fiction, we only have talk shows. We invite two guests for Tk2,000 each and let them talk, that's all about it. We did not even learn to handle non-fiction programs other than dance or singing shows. As this is a specialized genre, we lack proper learning. There remains a problem in the basic.
We could not even get the basics in most of the cases. For instance, we do not know how to have a proper HR policy for a TV channel. Or what sort of people we should have to run a TV. Do you have a creative director? Do you have a costume designer or an aesthetic manager? Who manages the screen? Who decides how many scrolls should be displayed? BBC had research on how a channel can go ahead in the competition just by improving its logo and graphics. We need to answer these basic questions.
Television watching is a habit. And how to capitalize on the habit? You have to telecast the same show for five days a week. For a week it builds up. If you take a look at the American channels, they had sitcoms like Friends and The Big Bang Theory. They say American Television was made by the sitcoms. We could not develop a single sitcom show in all these years.
I do not think the people who are running TV channels are serious enough. I feel they all are into the power game. Why a GEC (general entertainment channel) will have a news bulletin? Here all the channels have news bulletin as it gives them a sense of power. Entertainment is not serious business for them.
However, it has to be taken very seriously. Recently, I spoke in a show on RTV. Ashim Kumar Ukil, MP was also there. There I said that the government has to take the entertainment sector as seriously as the RMG sector. The government should provide the entrainment sector with incentives and tax rebates to invite investors, only then it can survive. The private sector alone cannot fix the existing crises in the industry.
Then there are policy issues. Netflix is taking money from our viewers without paying any taxes. Though there is hardly any Bangladeshi content on Netflix. Also, the cable TV market that we have is very disorganized and controlled mostly by the local thugs. A large portion of the market is controlled by an industrial group whose share is almost 35%, which amounts to around Tk1,500 crore to Tk2,000 crore. As they do not have to pay the government anything, they are not serious about it either. The information ministry is there. It is my hope Information Minister Hasan Mahmud can fix things as he has political commitment.
Syed Gousul Alam Shaon is an actor and producer. He is the Managing Partner and Country Head of Grey Bangladesh.