Shamim Ahmed, a businessman by profession, lives in a flat opposite my one. As a neighbour I have good relationship with him. We often spend quality time together. Sometimes he comes to my place and I also pay a visit to his unit on Fridays. During my visit to his flat I observed that none of his family members watch our local television channels. Out of curiosity I tried to understand that why they avoid Bangladeshi TV channels. Ahmed’s widow mother is an elderly lady who most of the time remains busy with observance of her religious rituals. She hardly watches television. Ahmed’s wife and their house help watch daily soaps aired in two of Kolkata’s Bangla channels every evening. Ahmed’s teenage daughter likes Hindi serials and movies albeit she depends on youtube contents to meet her entertainment demands. On the other hand, Ahmed’s preference is English movie channels and sports channels. Once he used to watch news and talk shows telecast on Bangladeshi TV channels. Now Ahmed keeps him updated about the current happenings through online news portals. He doesn’t watch television talk shows because of repetition of discussants and topics. Shamim Ahmed’s family is not a lone case rather they are just an example out of numerous such families who already have stopped watching local television channels. When our living rooms are being dominated by foreign television channels and our viewers are becoming uninterested in local television programmes, is it not an issue worth digging into? Don’t we need to know why such a situation is being created, and think about how to turn it around?
Currently at least 30 private and 3 public television channels are operating their programmes in Bangladesh. Besides, 6-7 more private TV channels will be ready to go on air after they get frequencies from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. More than 40 TV stations in a country of sixteen million people is a huge number. Most of these TV channel authorities don’t have any previous experience of managing a media house and running such a complex business. Yet they got license as political affiliation and economic ability were considered as key criteria for allocating TV channels! It seems that the responsible authorities didn’t conduct any research regarding the commercial viability of the TV channels before allowing them in large numbers. Thus most of the television channels are now struggling to survive in a limited market. And it gets reflected in their policy. As per an international practice, television channels air up to 14 minutes of advertisements per hour without irritating the audience. But in Bangladesh, TV stations are airing advertisements for 15 to 22 minutes per hour. And it expands to half an hour when they air special programmes! This trend of airing excessive advertisements in the mid of programmes is annoying the viewers and consequently they are losing their interest to watch our local TV channels.
When did we last watch a local TV serial or other programme that was so compelling that we managed time to watch it? It will be difficult to find the answer of this question and we may not get a recent example of such drama or other programme. It is because maximum Bangladeshi television channels don’t offer quality contents to their audiences. Almost all of them air similar kinds of programmes and they hardly feel the necessity to bring variation in their presentation. Programme division of the channels doesn’t have the courage to make any experiment and catch the attention of the viewers through their innovative programmes. Rather they just want to attract maximum number of audiences following the trend of other local channels! For example, almost all the television channels of Bangladesh telecast news and talk shows at the same time. And many of them air drama serials and cinemas at a certain period of the day! This is happening continuously as they never consider the taste of the audiences who love diversified programmes. Thus the viewers who seek variation use their remote control to switch to the foreign channels for watching their desired programmes.
Television channels of Bangladesh are divided into two major categories- entertainment channels and news channels. With 25 entertainment channels and 8 news channels our television viewers often get confused. Sometimes they cannot differentiate between them as most of the entertainment channels air news and talk shows and news channels air programmes based on entertainment! With the peculiar combination of entertainment and news most of the entertainment channels of Bangladesh have failed to create impression as pure entertainment channels while with a number of quiz shows and celebrity talk shows news channels have lost the character that a specialised news channel should have. And this lack of specialisation has become one of the vital reasons for which the TV channels of Bangladesh are struggling to get viewers. Except a few examples such as Sangsad Bangladesh Television (parliamentary affairs related TV channel), music channel Gaan Bangla Television and children’s channel Duronto TV, Bangladesh hardly has any other television channel that can claim them as specialised ones.
If we look at the programme planning pattern of some of the entertainment and news channels of other countries, we can easily understand the difference. They don’t run after the choices of the audiences blindly rather they prefer specialisation and place their unique contents before the viewers so that they eagerly watch their programmes to go through a new experience. They have specialised channels on different subjects including entertainment, news, sports, music, movies, fashion and lifestyle, food, tourism, and wildlife. Their entertainment channels produce such television programmes which have universal appeal. And apart from news and talk shows, their news channels produce excellent documentaries which truly meet the audiences’ thirst for knowledge. Instead of thinking about the limitation of language they target a wider audience as they believe that their quality contents can attract the viewers of all the languages and cultures. As a result they can invest a good amount of money to produce contents of international standard. A good number of these foreign channels conduct research on a regular basis to understand the psychology and know the expectations of their target audiences whereas this practice is completely absent in our country.
Our television industry, particularly private television channels, began its journey at a time when we didn’t have any institution to produce skilled professionals for running these television channels. Since then twenty years have gone but not so many institutions have been set up to produce efficient manpower for this booming industry. As the television channels have scarcity of qualified people, it seems that the top figures who direct TV stations feel complacent. Our TV channel authorities have to come out of this feeling of complacency and concentrate on developing and motivating true experts who can play with new ideas and produce exclusive contents for their viewers. They need to understand that at the end of the day it is the quality contents that will make the difference.