On Timers, Adverts and Indian TV

Many television channels display a countdown timer which shows the time after which the program returns. This timer starts ticking 2 minutes before the program ensues. I recently observed this and wondered what psychological effect this has on our channel surfing behavior. After observing the behavior of family and friends, I concluded that this timer is highly successful in preventing the viewers from going away. That’s because the timer confers a sense of urgency and lets the viewer know that they’re just seconds away from the program they’re waiting for. The more I thought about this, the more I appreciated the way the seemingly trivial psychological ‘nuggets’ influence the way we behave.

With hundreds of television channels offering ‘expert’ opinions, airing documentaries, broadcasting movies and giving breaking updates at the same time, it is difficult not to flip channels obsessively. With the remote control at their disposal, viewers quickly flip between channels as soon as an ad shows up. Considering the average adult’s attention span of a mere 8 seconds, it’s a really challenging task for the advertisers to create an efficient advert. This makes the advertisers ramp up their costs by including celebrities or creating nifty graphics interspersed with emotion or humor to create a well-timed ad that entertains the viewer and persuades the viewer to purchase their product.

Adverts are the main source of revenue for TV channels. In order to get adverts, they should produce good appealing content- something that strikes chord with the majority of their audience. That brings us to the Indian TV Scenario. Indian shows are highly stereotypical with each show easily touching the 1000-episode mark without much advancement in the storyline. The introductory recaps last for 5 minutes, followed by commercials for another 10 minutes, ultimately leaving the viewer with 10 minutes of unintellectual stuff filled with melodrama and emotion.

You may find the saas-bahu (daughter-mother in law) stuff really bland, but for the lower-middle class household i.e for about 50 million people in various parts of India out of which 20 million still live in joint families led by the patriarch with women still confined to the kitchen, this comestible pabulum is what entertains them. It not only entertains them, it becomes an integral part of their day-to-day lives. You can find people, ranging from children to grandparents sitting together and watching the serials after the hectic and stressful day. They don’t want to risk losing even an iota of their favorite TV show. So they are usually not in the habit of flipping channels unless they’re catching up with two shows at the same time- that is.

Because TV channels don’t want their viewers to go away as soon as the ads start, they make it a habit to include the stereotypical ‘Aap kahi jaayiye mat, hum abhi lautenge! (Don’t go away, we’ll be back soon!)’ irrespective of the impact that phrase has on the audience. News channels have an advantage over reality shows and sitcoms. They can display ads on the tickers running below and can instantly garner user attention by displaying huge red bands saying ‘breaking news.’

So those were a few things I observed. Anything else? Do let me know!

On writing

“On writing”… with due apologies to Stephen King.

You have amazing thoughts lurking in your mind — vivid thoughts and strong opinions yet to take a form where they can be seen by others. All you have to do is let them out. But unfortunately, that’s where the beginners usually stumble and find difficulty. Our inability to express our feelings sometimes makes us doubt our own volition. But the truth is, we are either bound by our lingual abilities or we’re too lazy to make any effort to improve our skill  set. It is up to you do decide where you belong.

From my brief experience as a writer, here’s what I have to say.

  • Writing is like making a sculpture that everyone likes. You are given a huge monolith and now you’re faced with  the task of making a beautiful sculpture out of it. If you want your sculpture to be liked by everyone, you should give it your  best effort. Similarly, in writing, language is your tool and you should  make the most effective use of this tool to create an elegant essay.
  • The beauty of the end product depends on the time you’ve spent and the aesthetic gain the on-looker gets. Just like an efficient sculptor who carefully marks an outline of what he has to make, you should initially develop an outline an idea of what you have to express and think about how you’re going to do it.
  • There are a lot of sculptors around — so work on every sculpture the way you’d work on your last. After you make the outline, you’re into the business of actually making stuff. Step back regularly and watch the baby you’re about to conceive with the  sternness of a father and the love of a mother.
  • Fix the things you’ve  previously missed, carefully chiseling out the appendages and only leaving out what’s necessary.
  • Now brush the tiny bits here and there with the diligence of an elderly watchmaker working on miniature objects.
  • And now, after giving it your best effort, stand back and marvel at your wonderful creation! It’s up to you to decide if the above task is ‘easy’ or ‘difficult.’

Good luck!