By Nihal Bambulkar Apr. 10, 2019
Family TV time was when we’d bond by making hapless attempts at answering KBC questions, laughing at each other’s awful guesses, and asking about each other’s day at school and office during commercials. But now, I can’t seem to remember the last time my family turned on the flatscreen in our living room.
Can you say you had a happy childhood if you don’t have delightful memories of wrestling with your sibling for the TV remote? In my house, as soon as the clock struck eight, the Royal Rumble would commence. “Doraemon!” my sister would bark while elbowing my face. “Zack & Cody!” I’d assert, pulling the remote towards me. And before anyone could change the channel, the resounding sound of Amitabh Bachchan’s deep baritone asking questions to yet another Kaun Banega Crorepati contestant would echo through the room. With the final word resting with mom and dad, we’d watch TV every night from 8-10 pm. And that, my young, binge-watching friends, was referred to as “Family TV Time”.
Now, you should know that I’ve never enjoyed watching Kaun Banega Crorepati. After all, who would like a show that reminds you of just how little you’ve been paying attention at school? But I kept watching because that was the only time I’d get to spend with my family. With most of our waking hours spent daydreaming in class and tuition, my sister and I would have very little time left to unwind. As for my parents, my father would spend most of his day behind a laptop screen and my mother would be teaching at school, followed by preparing dinner for us shortly after returning home.
So, those two hours were all we had left at the end of a tiring weekday. Slumped on the couch, with our legs stretched out, and the TV glaring at us, we’d tune in, tune out, and finally spend some time together.
Between spoonfuls of chawal and squabbling over the channel, we’d bond by making hapless attempts at answering Bachchan’s questions, laughing at each other’s awful guesses, and asking about each other’s day at school and office during commercials. Sure, we never got any of the answers right, but as Bruce Springsteen once rightfully said, “It’s the little things that count.” It continues to be one of my fondest memories from childhood.
But over the years, we stopped doing that. In fact, I can’t seem to remember the last time we turned on the flatscreen in our living room. Just last month, my father – whom I’ve never seen so exuberant on a weeknight – rushed out of his bedroom screaming “Done! I’ve finished the first season of Made in Heaven! Beat that!” And faster than one could say “Sobhita Dhulipala”, my mother retorted with “Too late! Finished it last night while you were asleep.”
Indians’ love for binge-watching has turned us into the second-highest public binge-watchers in the world.
That night, I figured out why I can’t seem to watch a single episode of Brooklyn 99 on Netflix without it buffering for an eternity – my parents had not only stopped watching TV altogether, but had in fact turned to binge-watching TV shows on OTT platforms.
In a Forbes article titled “Streaming Services are Vying for Dominance in India as Cord Cutting Finally Takes Off”, the author suggests that 2016 was in fact the year we stopped watching TV and found the perfect excuse to buy a second phone. “The two biggest streaming services – Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – launched in India, and there was also increased mobile data consumption in the country, triggered by promotional offers by the new carrier on the block, Jio, and a closing of the gap by existing carriers.”
And the switch to streaming platforms doesn’t merely comprise of Netflix and Amazon Prime. A Livemint article provides a ranking of India’s top 10 streaming apps by app analytics firm App Annie Inc, showing that Hotstar stands first followed by JioTV, JioCinema, Voot TV, and Amazon Prime, while Netflix stands at the ninth position.
So is it just my parents who’ve abandoned their TV sets?
The answer it turns out, is a resounding “No”. Indians’ love for binge-watching has turned us into the second-highest public binge-watchers in the world. An India Today article cites a survey conducted by Netflix, which explains that 88 per cent Indians have been watching on the go. And that’s 71 per cent more than last year. “Almost 65 per cent of us are binge-watching on trains, 58 per cent on buses and 52 per cent on a flight, according to Netflix,” says the author.
Well, now you know why passengers get so restless when asked to turn off their electronic devices on airplanes.
As for families that used to watch TV together, in a Guardian essay titled “Watching TV is the only wholesome family time we have most days,” the author rightfully says that, “Thanks to the much-vaunted golden age of television and enabled, not hindered, by on-demand and streaming, we manage to reach a sort of consensus, finding shows we all enjoy, or can at least watch without mutiny.”
There was a time when families watching TV together was an essential bonding exercise. In the 1970s, there was even a federally enforced “Family Viewing Hour” in the USA, which decreed that all broadcasters must air “family-friendly content” during the first hour of prime-time, 8-9 pm. Today, at a time when hectic work schedules seem to be endless, and our patience exhausted, perhaps two hours with our families is just what we need to de-stress and dare I say, lighten the mood.
This only brings me to the conclusion that, maybe the answer isn’t to turn back to cable TV but to find something to binge-watch with your family. That way, everybody wins and nobody has to sit through another episode of KBC again.
Nihal likes to believe that darkness is more beautiful than frightening. He likes to be called Bambi, a nickname, his friends gave him.