The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.

French post-structuralist philosopher and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard’s theory from his 1981 text Simulacra and Simulation, that meaning in modern life has been replaced by symbols and that all human existence merely simulates reality, has become the future of television. Baudrillard claims that society has “replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience is of a simulation of reality".

Reality itself has begun to imitate the model, which now determines the real world. “It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real," Baudrillard says. He calls this hyperreal. Baudrillard’s suggestion is not merely that postmodern culture is artificial. His point, rather, is that we have lost all ability to make sense of the distinction between nature and artifice. He argues that there are three “orders of simulacra" : 1. It is the reflection of a basic reality (TV). 2. It masks and perverts a basic reality (Reality TV). 3. It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum (hyperreality).

Hyperreality has different names—augmented reality, virtual reality or connected reality. The premise of this essentially is the lack of ability to distinguish between the reality and a simulation of something, which is at the heart of all conversations around future of television or entertainment. “In five years and beyond we really imagine a world where commerce, education, entertainment are sort of intertwined very easily in living room itself or in any content consumption experience," said Amit Goenka, chief executive officer, ZEE International and Z5 Global, ZEE Entertainment Enterprise Ltd.

“For example, I will be watching a movie and I see my protagonist eating pizza and I feel like having a pizza then I can choose to place an order from the screen itself, or maybe I am watching a movie and I like the jacket Shahrukh Khan is wearing, immediately I can switch on the camera on my smartphone and see myself trying on the jacket and see if I would want to buy it," said Goenka.

The manufactured simulations appearing more real to viewers than the reality they imitate. This deeper connection with the hyperreal is amplified by the use of disruptive technologies in a post-modern world. It is not limited to visual senses. It’s about recreating digital odours, too.

“In education you could provide a fully immersive experience where if you want to go and study and get to know more about that, so that will be available to you with one click. With the immersive experience you would actually get a 360 view with information and all sorts of add on content that we are already building. Then you could also build in digital scent into this. So it’s exciting stuff. It sounds very futuristic but I feel it would be there in the next four to five years," said Goenka.

On 22 October, the company said it had secured a US patent for a unique technology platform to satisfy all five senses of viewers. The platform is something that Zee has been discreetly working on for four-five years at its technology lab in Silicon Valley, US.

Jayachandran/Mint
Jayachandran/Mint


However, Goenka was quick to add that for these innovations to thrive, there is a need for strong bandwidth, which can be offered by technologies such as 5G and FTTH (fiber-to-the-home), to work seamlessly.

Such observations also find resonance from voices coming from the West. Social platforms, virtual reality and other technology trends are transforming the future of storytelling, according to 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch .

“We will be in a place where we have entertainments that are indistinguishable from reality at some point in the near future… Innovation and enterprise is being applied to creating this environment, which is going to be a very profound environment and a very profoundly impactful change when we have virtual reality and… it interacts with our natural reality in an environment where everyone is connected," Murdoch told James Waldron in a video-taped interview at Talks at Goldman Sachs.

Content will decide the winners of future

A digital revolution is putting more than half a trillion dollars into play. Television and filmed entertainment, especially traditional broadcast TV, is being transformed by the big and fast-growing inroads of internet and over-the-top (OTT) video platforms. Indian media and entertainment sector reached 1.67 trillion ($23.9 billion), a growth of 13.4% in 2018 over 2017, according to the 2019 FICCI-EY report on media and entertainment titled A billion screens of opportunity. With its current trajectory, it is expected to hit 2.35 trillion ($33.6 billion) by 2021.

Television will retain pole position as the largest segment, but digital will overtake filmed entertainment in 2019 and print by 2021. This means a race among media companies to deliver on three things: a huge library of quality content, access to an amazing watch experience on any device and a personalized feed of the most relevant content for each person.

“First, we have moved from broadcast to unicast. The customers want personalized content and personalized offerings, they want it in their own language, so it becomes highly local and visualized as we move forward. They don’t want it to be limited to what’s available in their own region, they want to know what is available to them globally, in their own language support, " said Gaurav Gandhi, director and head, business, Amazon Prime Video, India.

Consequently, there has been an explosive growth in the production of original content. “We offer distinct things which we believe are our point of distinction for others. The fact of the matter is the story of the scale of Mirzapur or Made In Heaven have not been done before. In a big way what happened here is the same way the multiplexes came and changed the way single screen cinema was, streaming services like ourselves are doing to television and creating cinematic stories of that scale," added Gandhi. Platforms are also re-inventing themselves. “The younger audiences today are looking for something crisper, shorter more relevant to today’s time so that’s on the content side, so that is something we have started doing. We have a separate team that does this altogether which is away from our traditional team to make that difference," said Goenka.

The use of data and technology is helping them take informed decisions on discoverability, storing, cataloguing, copyrighting, and distributing digital content.

Monetization models will also have to evolve. “Every premise on which media has been built is being challenged. Gut-led calls are being changed to data-led decision making and months are collapsing to weeks in creation," said Karishma Bhalla, partner (technology, media and telecommunications practice), The Boston Consulting Group. Digital platforms are on a high growth path, according to the FICCI-EY media and entertainment report. Subscription growth has begun and advertising rates are already at levels much higher than those charged by traditional media. Programmatic advertising could further impact advertising revenue yield. The report, however, cautioned that success will depend on massive growth in reach and more paying subscribers.

Is Television irrelevant?

For Bhalla, both will continue to grow in the short to medium term. “India is content starved. We have a single screen per household in 95% plus households. The personal OTT screen will increase consumption overall. In the data we have seen connected sub consume 1.5X the media vs their unconnected counterparts," Bhalla said.

“TV viewing is part of communal viewing in India. It is in that sense a living room product where you consume and discuss content with your family. A digital platform is a bedroom product that is mobile for your own personal consumption," according to Ashish Pherwani, partner and head (advisory, media and entertainment) EY. He adds that, while formats can change, devices to consume content can change, the two basic tenets on which TV thrives—knowledge and escapism will continue to drive the future. Knowledge—well, jury is still out on that one, but escapism yes! Or as Baudrillard puts it, “The simulacrum is true."

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