In a bizarre move, the government's decision to implement an ad-free or clean feed broadcast has forced cable operators to stop broadcasts of all foreign channels—including the BBC, CNN or the very popular ZeeBangla—from Friday.
This move was apparently prompted by the lobbying by Bangladeshi TV channel owners—who were concerned that they were losing advertisement revenues to the popular Indian channels where most advertisers were betting their money on.
While the local channel owners' concerns may have valid arguments, the government decision is one-sided and leaves us baffled. It certainly did not take into consideration the viewers' interest; the older generation and the working-class people who watch a lot of airtime in their leisure hours. Most of them watch the Indian Bangla channels—because in contrast to their content— like it or not, most Bangladeshi entertainment channels fail big time.
Clean feed is such an attractive concept. We all want to watch clean TV programmes. If the foreign channels show advertisements, block them. If you want to totally cut them off as North Korea does, then why not implement the same for the local channels?
The local channels fill up the airtime with advertisement segments way longer than the programme itself. A 20-minute drama may take one hour to complete with 40 minutes of advertisements.
Why do the local channels pump in so many advertisements? It's because of excessive competition among the channels to grab advertisements leading to astonishing price cuts. Whereas BTV charges per minute up to Tk90,000 during peak times and Tk45,000 during off-peak times, some private channels sell per minute airtime to advertisers for a few thousand taka to merely Taka15,000 during their peak times.
Less revenue per minute means they allocate more minutes per programme to cover up their programme cost.
Then again, advertisers are not very interested in their channels. Why should they be? These channels do not invest properly in making content that people would watch. In contrast, Indian channels invest professionally to make whatever the content they are making.
The BTV still spends around four-five lakh taka to make a 50-minute TV drama; whereas, the best private channels do not want to spend more than two lakh taka for the same drama. For a 20-25 minute drama, some channels offer producers/directors 60k-70k; some 40k, and some even do not bother paying for the content. This is the reality. Who would want to take a loss making good programmes for TV?
As a result, good writers and directors have moved away from making creative content. The Indian channels have found an empty goal post to score and win the prize money. You may not like what they are making, but the fact is, older people and working people overwhelmingly watch these because they are entertaining; whereas the Bangladeshi channels are not.
The local channels will die without whatever advertisement revenue they are getting. But are most of them really viable as commercial entities? No. Most of them lack creativity or vision. They do not invest in anything and they just follow a 'copy and paste' formula as their business model.
Shutting foreign channels won't solve the core problems of the local channels.
Like the local tv channels, we, in the print and the online media, can also demand the shut down of Facebook and Google—because we are also losing advertisement revenues to these Internet monopolies. Facebook and Google are taking away our advertisements by a significant amount—these two rake in more ad revenue than all the media houses of the country combined.
But would it be fair for us to ask the government to do so? We think not.
Remember that the government had banned the screening of foreign movies after liberation to help the local movie industry thrive? Did the decision help our industry produce people like Fellini or Ridley Scott? Sorry, it did not. Today the Bangladeshi movie industry is on its deathbed.
Therefore, the government should revisit the decision on the foreign channels. There has to be technology that can block advertisements while not interrupting the airing of the programmes. We want the BBC. We want news. We want HBO, ZeeBangla or the Cartoon Network. We want entertainment in this crazy, stressful world. We want to remain connected to the world—like we already are through the Internet and streaming services. Stopping foreign channels is not the solution.