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!

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