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After a promising start, digital TV must deliver

Balance between commercialism and creativity is key

We have had enough glimpses of the new TV channels to see how viewers will benefit. The launch of digital TV is a step into uncharted territory and there will be unavoidable pitfalls on the path ahead. But the past few weeks have also brought to our screens what has been previously "unseen". A big plus for all of us is that producers are leaving no stone unturned in their competition for advertising revenue. Some formats might be all too familiar, even awkward, but innovation and creativity are also being wielded in the ratings war.

Producers are digging deep, going to places rarely visited, talking to people never before interviewed, seeking talent previously hidden from view. Of course the broadcasting veterans remain ahead of the game in terms of production values and slick presentation, but don't write off the newbies. They might need to sharpen their technique, but some of their content and ideas are already cutting-edge.

The key for the new breed of producers, station owners, programme hosts and commentators is to avoid falling into the trap that has brought TV content to a virtual standstill in recent decades. There will be outrageous demands from the advertisers. There will be pressure from those worried about viewer ratings. The trick is balancing the need for money with the importance of creativity. As anyone in the TV industry will tell you, commercialism and creativity mostly go their separate ways.

And then there's the issue of honesty. The lack of integrity among producers involved in talent shows is notorious. Some try to fool audiences into thinking they are watching spontaneous moments when they are, in fact, carefully choreographed. This contempt for the viewer's intelligence ruins content in the long run. It's infectious and can quickly become endemic. And it starts off so easily, with programmers kidding themselves: "We'll do it just once."

Viewers are a lot smarter nowadays, and being offered more TV channels will likely sharpen their wits. Fewer will be fooled by old promotional tricks like shows made primarily for the sponsors, not them. With a brutal war over advertising money inevitable, the TV industry must take the issue of broadcasting values seriously. Revenue is important, but so is retaining the trust of the audience.

Many involved in the TV industry, both old-timers and newcomers, will be walking a tightrope. They will have to strike a balance between seeking crucial revenue and maintaining creativity and integrity. Fighting for the same pool of money while at the same time trying to offer something different for the benefit of consumers is not easy, but that's what the TV companies must do.

Over the past few days we have glimpsed the benefits of having more TV channels. Now, let's hope the expanded industry can navigate the tricky seas that lie ahead. Also crucial to the success of this journey is that advertisers, who are an essential part of the industry, work in tandem with the content providers. The Constitution dissolved state control over broadcasting in order to enrich the public's knowledge through a more diverse, informative and creative TV diet. That constitutional aim of benefiting the public through "liberating" the TV industry has not yet been achieved, but everyone concerned must strive to ensure that these first few baby steps evolve into a leap forward for Thailand.


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