There was a time when watching TV was like a one point programme, almost like a community experience with all of us watching the same programme, at the same place, same time, day after day.

But that was when we ‘watched television’. Before long, however, there was more to choose from and we began to ’switch channels ‘. Today, with the television industry on a high tide, with more channels than fingers to count on, we are riding on the channel wave which we can now ’surf’.

So here’s news for channel surfers - T (Telangana) TV, NTV’s women’s special, called Vanitha, the chief minister’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy’s unnamed news channel, and Asianet - Telugu will soon be on air.

It is quite literally raining television channels in Andhra Pradesh. A combination of factors has contributed to this surfeit of television channels. The reduction of costs brought about by the digital satellite broadcasting technology has been a big factor.

“Ten years ago a TV channel required an uplink cost of Rs 1.8 crore per month whereas today it’s come down to 60 lakh per annum. This has encouraged many independent players to join the bandwagon,” says Hemanth Apte, a senior TV producer and director.

One can also take a cue from the timing of the launch of these channels with just about a year left for the next elections. According to Dr Padmja Shaw, HOD, dept of Mass Communication and Journalism, Osmania University, there is a rise in public curiosity ahead of elections, creating a market for multiple perspectives.

“In Tamil Nadu both Jayalalitha and Karunanidi have channels of their own and the same is happening here. Even during the last elections we saw some news and current affairs channels that launched around the same time.” Shaw says. Perhaps, this explains the launch of T-TV and Jagan Mohan Reddy’s new channel.

Although the number of channels have increased manifold, the quality of the programmes leaves much to be desired in spite of the increased competition, complains Padma Rajsekhar, a viewer. “There is a severe lack of imagination when it comes to programmes. Hopefully things will change with the increased competition,” says Shaw.

Hemanth Apte, however, thinks that that the future of television is in narrow casting. “Most channels seek to cater to the lowest common denominator among the audience as ad revenues are based on the TRP’s. But niche is the way to go in the future and we will see TV channels catering to target audiences.”

Professor Vasuki Belavadi, reader in the communications department, HCU, believes the increased competition has proven counter productive. “With the market getting more bifurcated with this onslaught it’s becoming tougher to grab attention. The competition has induced a herd mentality among the competitors,” says Prof Vasuki adding, “TV business is very cost intensive and it may take 3-4 years before you break even, therefore one needs to have deep pockets and a clear vision to stay on.”

Arun Sagar, Output editor, TV9, who says that unlike earlier, when players were directly copying formats from national and international channels a benchmark has now been set, and newcomers will have to at least match up to it to stay in business.

“Every news channel will have to balance sensationalism with enough authenticity. But the biggest challenge is to maintain quality in spite of a severe paucity of trained professionals,” says Sagar.

The low salary packages at the entry level are a big deterrent for talented youngsters as there are many lucrative career options available. Closing on a note of caution while also putting things in perspective, Dr Padmaja said, “There is a fantastic plurality of players in the industry here unlike in the West where a hand full of media giants call the shots. Unless the managements concentrate on ensuring quality there is a danger of the same happening here as well.”