Opening 'The Pandora's Box' Office

TO the extent that Rajdeep Sardesai 24x7 broke the news on TV, this column can't ignore it.

BY BHARATAN

TO the extent that Rajdeep Sardesai 24x7 broke the news on TV, this column can't ignore it. The Rajdeep Sardesai who, as a `blue', played for Cambridge-Oxford Combined. This presumed Rajdeep had the long-term interest of Indian Cricket in mind. Even while pitchforking Abhijit Kale, Kiran More and Pronab Roy into national telefocus. Was it a mere coincidence that Rajdeep chose to go public with his NDTV `story' just when Sourav & Co were so dauntingly due to tour Australia? Grim truth to tell, since NDTV 24x7 (English) and NDTV-INDIA (Hindi) were launched on 1 April 2003, both channels have struggled for TRPs.

Abhijit Kale — Pics. N. BALAJI & AFP-

Maybe we English viewers still (especially in the South), almost by reflex action, switch to the 24x7 mode. But do we, quality angrezi viewers, make up numbers? No way! What about the Hindi NDTV-INDIA? This vital segment of NDTV certainly fared better than the English 24x7 as far as viewing ratings went. Yet NDTV-INDIA's competition was — and is — with two of the sturdiest Hindi players in the field. With INDIA TODAY 's AAJ TAK and with ZEE News. Not to speak of Sahara Samay. Add to this the fact that STAR News (in its Neo All-Hindi Avatar — after Prannoy Roy broke away) succeeded, almost overnight, in breaking new TV ground. With daisy fresh faces. There you have the enormity of the challenge NDTV- INDIA and NDTV 24x7 faced from the word go.

So some 7 months and a half after its launch, NDTV, willy-nilly, had to come up with something `newsy' enough to recapture viewer attention and, traumatisingly, hold it. In this objective it certainly succeeded eminently as, Eden or no Eden, the spotlight still was on cricket on the eve of India's tour of Australia. Where Rajdeep & Co sadly slipped up was in identifying India 'A' as the team into which backdoor entry was sought. BCCI President Jagmohan Dalmiya put things in perspective when he clarified that the approach made was for a slot in Sourav's India team. Sourav himself reacted from the gut when he all but publicly absolved Abhijit. Only to switch Hero Honda gears once in Australia! Any expose, falling into the category of `match fixing' or `selector fixing', has the after effect of brutalising the spirit of cricketing man. Here I was, perturbed by the fact that EspnStar had still to come to view in the Kalanagar area where Sachin flowered as a strokeful street-corner prodigy. There was NDTV lending the game a different hue altogether.

It is pertinent to dwell upon the course NDTV-INDIA and NDTV 24x7 have taken. In NDTV's original two-way STAR format, the channel combined English and Hindi by turns. But once Prannoy Roy branched out on his NDTVIP own, there had to be two separate channels (both full time) for Hindi and English. NDTV 24x7 is thus now on its own angrezi steam. There's the new ball rub! The eyeballs 24x7 urgently needs are just not materialising. Nor is 24x7 the only nascent English channel to plough a lonely furrow. In the test case of INDIA TODAY, its AAJ TAK Hindi channel might have regained ground lost to the new All-Hindi STAR News. But its English HEADLINES TODAY has attracted viewers no more than has 24x7. The problem, in sum, is spawning mass viewership in English. Something Navjot is no longer there to do by air-hostessing the show.

Abhijit Kale was all but publicly absolved by Sourav Ganguly, but the skipper switched gears once in Australia. — Pics. N. BALAJI & AFP-

The more sophisticated `spots' are designed primarily for the English channel, where it is all quality, not quantity! In a knee-jerk effort to enlarge its reach, NDTV 24x7 & NDTV-INDIA opted to generate the scale of cricket controversy calculated to win instant notice for its English as for its Hindi channel. No telewatcher ever doubted the telly talents on NDTV parade — in English and Hindi alike. Abhigyan Prakash, momentarily brushing aside Poonam Dhillon, visibly gave NDTV-INDIA a new dimension. Only, the attempt came The Day After The STAR News Fair! It came after the All-Hindi STAR News, greatly daring, had already made its impact with a 'brand' new cast and crew!

As for NDTV 24x7, the telecasting lesson to be absorbed here is that you cannot just 'transplant' a channel onto the small screen. 24x7 leaned on its Barkhaas names to see it through. See through it, in the twinkling of a third eye, did viewers. NDTV thus made the belated discovery that the neo Hindi STAR News had stolen a full-time march over it. By beginning to Hindi air on March 31 itself! NDTV swiftly updated itself. But where it was action by STAR News, it was reaction on the part of NDTV Hindi. Actually the Hindi News Channels long ago overtook the English ones in sweep and reach. The phenomenon is on view in cricket telecast too. It is the Hindi belt that really has been tightening its grip on the English game. The process began with Kapil Dev as India's World Cup Holder. It has crystallised into Viru Sehwag stylishly leading the `spots' way.

Let us recognise that TV in India has witnessed a sea change. A mermaid sea change by which Mandira's emerged as the Vatikamaal Kii Cheez. Fevistuck on cricket the Hindi channels became from the moment their viewers fantasized the still to be identified Katrina Kaif as the videsi vixen setting off a dream debate on Form and Content. Ultimately, maybe it was the English 24x7 that opened the 'Pandora's Box' Office. Yet, even here, the ever alert Hindi channels were the ones really to `fan' out and draw `remix' kilometreage from the Abhijittery controversy. A controversy that could fade only as the Bane of Brisbane takes hold of Indian Cricket?