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Digital TVs should grab AEC's potential

A documentary goldmine is there waiting to be explored

The honeymoon period has come to an end and after a great, promising start, newly launched digital TV stations are running into all kinds of problems. Having interviewed people who would not have had a chance to be on air in old times, and broadcast stories that the orthodox producers would not have thought of, digital TV channels have had to struggle against the gravitational pull of conventionalism. Ratings are becoming increasingly deadly important. Funding is essential. The desire to be "different" is being overshadowed, understandably, by the need to attract as many viewers and as much money as possible.

The problems are not complicated. All operators acquired digital channels through expensive bids, and with TV technicians, personalities and creative manpower in short supply and thus costly, greater financial burdens have been added. Simply put, the starting costs are high, and so are operating expenses. Moreover, TV content, as everyone knows, gets old very fast, meaning quality programmes have to be continuous and consistent, requiring a great amount of funding.

One thing that has been lacking from the digital TV landscape is good and constant presentation of documentaries. As we all know, Thailand is a great documentary subject. We have the temples, interesting history and intriguing cultures. Both people and places can provide endless sources and ideas for good programmes.

The imminent start of the Asean Economic Community (AEC), which will bind Asean neighbours closer together culturally, economically and probably to a lesser extent politically, can generate more inspiration and public interest for TV documentaries. Digital TV stations that are able to grasp the opportunity in this regard will stand a very good chance of not only being a big survivor but also becoming regionally outstanding.

Again, there are no limits to potential content. Each AEC nation has interesting history, places and cultures. The need or urge to "know more" about neighbours has never been so strong. Singapore and water is a great subject; Myanmar's military past is fascinating; Cambodia's roller-coaster history and world-renowned cultures can inspire a few dozen documentaries to say the least; Indonesia, being the largest Islamic state in the world and having the most number of islands, must be a documentary paradise.

It will require a lot more money, one may argue. But with good planning, sponsorship opportunities will be greatly expanded as well. As importantly, if any digital TV station truly aspires to be "different", becoming a documentary pioneer is a way to achieve that goal. A firm foothold, however, has to be established soon, because when AEC really starts, everyone will jump on the bandwagon and "flash-in-the-pan" competition is never healthy.

To many digital TV operators, the conventional dilemma may be already looming. How can quality programmes be possible without the money? How can money be earned without the tried-and-trusted approaches that viewers and advertisers love? But this dilemma is the situation that even those who were not the experts knew would happen.

In the TV industry, "identity" is easier said than done. Those in the current status quo, known as the "free TVs", can tell us how hard it is to do away with corny soap operas, copy-cat game shows or "reality" programmes that have become anything but original or unpretentious. In other words, to be truly different is extremely difficult.

After a start full of promises, the new players have been pulled closer to the trap. To shake off the gravity, ingenuity and determination must be foremost and investment in the right content is essential. The arrival of AEC will open a window of opportunities for unique content with great sponsorship potential. It will be an opportunity worth grabbing.


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