It all started with the Gulf War. When bombing began on January 17, 1991, American news television channel CNN broadcast it live from Baghdad across the world through satellite television. Since journalists were mostly removed from the actual violence, what they telecast and the world watched was chiefly a light-and-sound show, a bloodless “video game” war served for entertainment.
That winter, Indians too were thrilled to find the violent events in faraway Baghdad unfolding live in their drawing rooms. Sensing a golden business opportunity, Star TV Network in December 1991 introduced five television channels into the Indian broadcasting space that had so long been monopolised by the state-owned Doordarshan. Next year, Zee TV, India’s first privately owned Indian channel, was launched.
With a bouquet of channels like STAR Plus, Star Movies, BBC, Discovery, STAR Sports, ESPN, Channel V, Cartoon Network catering to every taste and inclination, Indians were glued to their television sets. Doordarshan was now passé: its staid programmes no match for the spiffy content being belted out by satellite television. Cable operators, who brought the content home, thrived: the skies of cities and towns were criss-crossed by the ubiquitous black wires, which came to symbolise the upward social mobility of middle-class families. It was all in tune with the liberalisation of the economy, which made the larger world a smaller, more accessible place.
The fight for TRPs resulted in channels adding more and more programmes. For the serious adult, there was Star Movies, BBC; for the cricket-crazy, there was ESPN, STAR Sports; teenagers swooned at Rahul Khanna belting out the latest George Michael or Green Day hit on MTV; children went on adventures with the Powerpuff Girls on Cartoon Network; late-nighters gawped at models strutting down the ramp on Fashion TV. The 24/7 model of entertainment had arrived and set the standard for the Internet age.