‘Regionalize’, ‘Localise’, ‘India-nise’... seem to be the mantras Channel Managers swear by. Almost all international channels are now scrambling to localise their programming to expand viewer base. (Doordarshan 2 started it three years back with some of the most popular Hindi serials having limited appeal in Tamil Nadu being dubbed into Tamil resulting in some of these serials registering higher TRPs Madras as compared to the Hindi belt).
The three broad areas that the Channel Managers will need to focus on while devising strategy to customise are :
a.Language Customisation: We are already seeing a trend towards language Customisation. English programs including movies being dubbed into Hindi or sub-titled. The slogan seems to be to India-nise the channel.
b.Content Relevance: We are also going to witness more and more Indian specific programs being added to the schedules (programs produced locally with Indian locales/Indian anchors). It is not only desirable but also makes economic sense.
c.On-air-Promotion: The on-air-look of the channel will also reflect both the language Customisation and content changes. Program promos will not only have Indian voices but also Indian motif/colours reflecting the mood of a program, a season, a festival....
This new thrust towards localisation by the international channels has, therefore, created an urgent need for upgrading and expanding the production and other related facilities in the country. However, the recent spate of Hindi dubbed programmes on various satellite channels has put a sharp focus on the quality of dubbing on the one hand and what is dub-worthy on the other. Apart from the growing need to cater to channel requirements of both domestic and foreign networks, it has become imperative to upgrade these facilities to international standards so that the channels do not lose their edge in respect of technical and production values while attempting to ‘Indianise’. It is a sad commentary to see some of the most outstanding foreign productions dubbed and or sub-titled amateurishly resulting in negative viewer reaction.
Most of the professionally-run production houses in the country offering dubbing facilities are essentially engaged in software production. True, most of them started off as technical vendors offering facilities like studio floor for shooting, special effects for commercial production... However, as a result of more and more channels targeting India, the demand for good quality software increased manifold; most of them contributing upward of 5 hours of original programming a day to these foreign satellite channels. The result of all this is that there are very limited facilities available that specialise in dubbing only.
The other area of concern is that the channels are dubbing programmes rather indiscriminately without any thought being given to the format and presentation technique of a given programmes/genre. Similarly, subtitling is resorted to without taking into account the treatment of a programme.
What is being overlooked is that certain types of programmes particularly non-fiction category are more suitable for dubbing as compared to English serials? Even in non-fiction genre, programmes that are host driven and loaded with interviews make a poor dubbed copy.
Similarly, we need to ask ourselves: what is a better option-sub-titling or dubbing? We need to constantly monitor audience feed-back to:
(i) dubbing vis-a-vis original production
(ii) dubbing quality including translation
(iii) viewer empathy with Hindi voices substituting for the original.
(The exception to the localisation rule is TNT Cartoon Network. It has avoided the dubbing/sub-titling ro-ute and is apparently doing well in India. All of its programming comes from the US studio owned byits parent company, Time Warner)
In addition to upgrading the technical facilities, what is equally important is to focus on the newly emerging areas of
(i) translation for TV,
(ii) create voice-over talent bank and develop the dubbing direction department.
Unfortunately, the channels seem to be so pre-occupied with technical facilities that these important areas have not received the attention and encouragement it deserves. We all need to remember that the dubbing market is young and most of the dubbing people are first timers. They need training. Dubbing costs money. While drawing up the list of programmes to be dubbed, it is wise to keep in mind the shelf-life of programmes. It is apparent that some shows/programmes have a long life after their networks exposure, and can be reused at a later date. The folio-wing criteria need to be kept in mind to determine programmes having long-shelf life.
1. The stories remain contemporary so that new, younger audiences can enjoy them.
2. The programmes are set in a time period that does not make them dated.
3. The programmes appeal to an audiences of hard-core fans who do not tire of watching their favourite programmes over and over again.
In this category, Discovery”” Channel is probably the only channel that can claim to have programmes that outlast their topicality and remain relevant and enjoyable for a long time.
While localisation seems to be an attractive strategy to widen channel appeal, it is expensive. For that reason, many international broadcasters are keen to use their in-house production in Asia rather than buy in local content. Finding local content is not always easy for international broadcasters because most of the local production may not reach the level required. It is presumably to retain some sort of control over software that has led so many channels to diversify into software production. All existing channels appear to be ultimately aiming to achieve round-the-clock air-time. On their part, software companies and individual producers are going all out to augment their inadequate in-house production capacities to meet the growing needs for programming.
A word about local content: While it make sense to tap and source local programmes for airing, we need to avoid overemphasising ‘local content’ particularly with regard to programmes that are some what culturally-neutral like those on DISCOVERY CHANNEL Wildlife, Science & Technology... Similarly, cricket telecast (non-India matches) will presumably generate higher newership than any other game even if India is a participant. Some sports events like World Cup Soccer, Wimbledon...transcend national boundaries and literacy barriers. However, this in no way negates the need for local content particularly programmes of topical nature. What is required is a proper blend and ratio of international programming and local content?
In addition to customisation, channels will have to devise innovative scheduling strategies that synchronies audience viewing practices to make them more predictable.
The challenge is: how to come to term with television’s invisible address? And how successful channel managers are at resolving the deep contradiction between centralised transmission and privatised reception.
To conclude: Channels customising in a phased manner without comprising on the quality and willing to innovate their scheduling pattern will do well. The pace of customising in language and content on the ability of the vendors to offer professional top quality services to the channels.
Channel managers who combine in themselves the creative abilities of programmer and business acumen of an entrepreneur will out perform others.
A word of caution: all these strategies can only help to manage, not remove the basic uncertainty with which television institutions have to live. There are no guarantees that actual audience will comply to the codes of viewing behavior as designed by the institutions. Television audience membership is not a matter of compulsion or necessity, but is principally voluntary and optional. Therefore, the challenge: knowing ahead of time exactly how to ‘get’ it.
Director, Discovery Channel