On 2nd February 2020, America celebrated a national holiday: Super Bowl Sunday. Here’s the interesting thing about the Super Bowl - many Indians have heard about it, and they will associate this year’s event with a blazing performance from JLo and Shakira, but few will know which teams were facing off against each other. In fact, not many people will even be able to tell you what sport is being played without googling it first. For the uninitiated, it’s American football. But that performance from the gorgeous artists, well… now that had everyone talking.
Closer to home, our national pastime, cricket, took on a shiny new avatar just over 15 years ago in the form of T20 matches. The new format of the game came with a healthy entertainment quotient in the form of cheerleaders and the game itself which was more aggressive than one-day cricket and a far cry from test. Bright lights, lots of colour, and trendy music completed the package that was set out to capture audiences from around the globe.
Sports and entertainment have always been interconnected so the fact that the two have merged into a new beast is no surprise. But somewhere down the spectrum, another medium is also upping its entertainment value. News channels have over the last few years started favouring attention-grabbing content over straight-cut news reporting. Debates, parodies, and fun elements are all gaining more importance. The structure of these segments is also designed to create sensationalism with the intent to entertain.
Why is everyone big on entertainment?
It’s all about ratings. And it works! A T20 match between India and Bangladesh showed an unbelievable increase of 700% in ratings over a test match played between the same teams. According to an article in LiveMint, advertisers were willing to pay up to 2.5 Lakhs for a 10-second commercial during the T20 matches. That’s double what they paid during the ODI World Cup. Making the sport more entertaining has certainly paid off by attracting viewership by the droves and in turn, better sponsorship.
As far as news channels go, you can’t really blame them for diversifying; there’s only so much breaking news coverage and live reporting they can do in 24 hours. But the need to over-hype certain issues and deliberately pit two opposing sides against each other in a discussion has met with some criticism. How reliable is the news when it has been scripted to invoke an emotional response? Also, when news anchors stray from reporting the facts and choose to add their own opinion to current affairs, the lines between news and entertainment get blurred even further.
The ratings, however, are clear: among Indian news channels, it is the one that is most political and most opinionated that holds the number one position. Said channel raked in well over 600-lakh impressions per week in 2019. The reality has never been clearer – entertainment sells. You want to increase sports ratings, you make it more entertaining; you want more people tuning in to a news channel, you find a way to report the news in more interesting ways.
The audience makes the rules
Sports and news transforming to entertainment is a clear example of giving the audience what they want. As soon as viewership started to drop, channels had to find a new formula, they had to understand how to grab an audience. The way people are consuming content has changed. There are so many options available that every programme has just a few seconds to catch the attention of a channel surfer. The only thing left to do is to go loud and to go bright. Add a generous serving of drama, and if nothing else, you can shock your audience into stopping and watching. Not all audiences are in favour of this new format, but even they are not critical of the entertainment itself, but more of the degradation of honest journalism.
However, giving your audience what they want is not a bad thing and the crux of great marketing. The grey area of course still remains. How far will channels go to get their audience? Is hardcore journalism being sacrificed at the altar of ratings? And has the quality of sports diminished in an attempt to provide short bursts of entertainment? That is another debate altogether and best sorted out between organisations and their conscience.
For everyone else who wants to explore the avenue of being more entertaining, follow your audience around for a while (not literally of course). Use data, find out what interests a certain demographic and develop your content so that they will be drawn to it. Stay aligned with your core values and you won’t need to blur the lines between authenticity and entertainment.