Life After TV

Nirvaan Nadeem thinks about mass media, advertising and the new advertising Gold Rush – online

Life After TV
I was born in what was called the age of television. TV still was the most sought after and respectable job in the communications or arts field. I remember visiting my father’s office in Lahore Television, where artists would throng to record plays, meet fellow actors or just to seek relief from the unkind weather in the centrally air conditioned building (unfortunately the air-conditioned studios remain the only redeeming feature of PTV). Those were the times when PTV was the sole TV network and the viewers had no choice but to watch its news or entertainment channels. I used to wonder about a time when there was no TV, that whether there was life before the idiot box. I listened to accounts of the excitement generated by the arrival of TV in the 1960s, first black-and-white and then coloured. When having a TV set was a status symbol and the non-TV families in the neighbourhood would gather in the evening at the TV owner’s house to watch in awe the cartoons, songs, plays or even stare at the “intezaar Farmaiay” cards. Actors of PTV plays would instantly become stars and the TV plays shown in the evenings would be literally the talk of the town the next day or throughout the week. Then came the avalanche of private TV channels and everything changed. The proliferation of TV channels was followed by the emergence of powerful media houses and media moguls who became self-appointed king-makers. Then came the satellite dishes and cable owners and the illusion of viewers’ power to choose what to watch and what not to. Now we wonder if there was life before the remote TV button.

Media has today become an all-pervasive and omnipresent force. A huge industry not only influencing political and social life but also the consumers on a massive scale. Print, Radio or on ground advertising were pushed aside by the all powerful TV advertising juggernaut. The idea is to keep the viewers on tenterhooks, on the edges of their seats. The breaking news always gives the impression as if ‘something big’, something disastrous, is around the corner. It is the anchors and newscasters who tell you what is right and what is wrong, who is good and who is evil, what is newsworthy and what is not.

All commercials (especially the good ones) utilise primal human instincts. Tricks of the trade are taught by psychologists

All commercials (especially the good ones) utilise primal human instincts. Tricks of the trade are taught by psychologists with expertise in subliminal psychology. A mother’s instinct to love her offspring is frequently manipulated by ‘milk’ commercials. The erotic droplets of water you see on ‘soda’ bottles, are tailor-made to attract the viewer. Religious symbols are guaranteed to succeed and bring revenue especially during holy months and religious festivals. Patriotic slogans are a sure shot success in persuading consumers to buy products, which in some cases are imported from the “enemy” country. TV commercials permeate not only into our homes and our bedrooms but even in our dreams. You sing not great songs in the bathroom but great jingles.

Then come the TV plays, serials and soaps. Although now there are over a hundred plays screened in a day on 50 or more channels but there are people who are still hooked to them. They anxiously wait for the next episode to find out if the “bahoo” insults the “saas” or vice versa. Whether the step-sister has succeeded in winning her sister’s boyfriend or not. Housewives wait to find out if the oppressed wife is still being beaten and humiliated by the “zalim” husband and their tears for the poor wife are mixed with those of their own, or those caused by onion peeling.

Now you wonder if there was a way of shopping, making choices without intervention of the ever-present, intrusive TV ad fairy, if there was a life before TV advertising. The consumer, with smart phone in hand and laptop in lap, has no time for TV timetables. He cannot wait for the soap time and cannot withstand the endless ads in between the scenes.  He now has the keypad at his disposal.

Beware, another communications revolution is in knocking at your doorstep. Everything is going to change again. The subliminal imperialism has found other ways of winning over its consumers, keeping pace with the rapidly changing media scene and viewers habits.

According to latest media reports,online advertisers are expected to outspend TV advertisers by $40 billion this year, meaning 40% of the world’s ad spending is expected to take place online in 2018, according to new forecasts from advertising measurement company Zenith. Online ad spending beat out TV as the biggest ad medium last year.

Internet ad growth is being driven by social and video display ads, like those found on Facebook and YouTube. Globally, social media ad spending is estimated to rise 21 % to $58 billion while video ad spending is rising 19 % to $32 billion in 2018. At 42 percent of total spending, search ads like those on Google remain the biggest form of online advertising.

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, or perhaps this very one we inhabit, the main form of communication was verbal. Face to face, hearing the other speak, looking into their eyes, feeling the energy of their body movements. We could sense exactly what the other was trying to communicate. After the earliest conflicts started and ended, Man wanted to record it, tell his story, his triumphs, his losses, his love. Each painting, each cave drawing had a story behind it.

We then moved to a new form of communication, song and dance. Telling the same stories through an interplay of music, dance and rituals. How did these rituals come to be? Some must have been archetypal symbols manifested in their actions, while some may have been a simple part of everyday life, necessary for accomplishing tasks that later man followed. As humanity grew, and prospered, so did our elements of communications. From being a way of telling stories, it became an urgent necessity. Messages had to be sent by horseback or pigeon to distant lands. The intensity of warfare made it necessary for faster communication. As the world grew and grew, it became evident to a few mad scientists that an invisible form of communication, much like brain waves, which could magically travel across spaces and reach the intended target, was indeed important. Thus the first radio came into being.

After warfare became covert, more subtle, deeper ways of communicating were needed. British intelligence agencies frequently included hidden messages in many of their favourite songs, which the Soviets gladly listened to and the allied undercover forces decoded whole heartedly. The whole warfare its main system, consisted of encoding and decoding hidden messages. The biggest battles, and the biggest victories were on the digital and analogue battlefield. It was not the strength of armies that counted, but rather the time and place where they would be at. Gradually even this necessity faded away. Because distances grew even more, and wars became even more covert, a need arose for manipulating the very subconscious of a human being.

Unsurprisingly, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) makes more from advertising than any other company in the world. In total, Alphabet made close to $73 billion in net digital ad sales in 2017. In fact, a staggering 33% of the total ad revenue in the world goes into Google’s pockets. The majority of the ad revenue of these companies comes from mobile users, with $32 billion of Facebook’s $36 billion total ad revenue coming from mobile users. This year, global ad spending is predicted to rise 5% to a whopping $579 billion by the end of the year, with an upward momentum from markets in China, the Philippines, Argentina and Ireland.

There’s a fear that TV will become “so fragmented and ratings will drop so much that it will be hard to generate reach and frequency,” according to Mr. Lehrfeld, senior VP for global brand marketing and communications . New ad opportunities and approaches could mitigate that.

Now, more and more people, especially the youngsters, are slowly shifting their focus on portals like Netflix and other online entertainment options. Whereas in traditional media it is just a couple of people who decide what the viewers should watch. They decide what the public likes and dislikes. The amazing thing about online entertainment is that it is you, the viewer, who makes that choice. You decide what to watch, at your own discretion and responsibility. There are no censors, no ‘pg 13’ or ‘pg 18’. Directors and producers also have the opportunity to say what they really want to, in ways they choose to.  It also leads to a richer culture, since there is much more diversity. The West has slowly shifted that way. It is about time the East does too. Before the censor board is ‘madina-ised’!

The world is moving ahead.