Little has changed with the advent of digital TV

opinion July 29, 2014 00:00

By Achara Deboonme

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Since June, Thais have been enjoying a new stream of content aired via the 24 new digital TV channels. Sadly, apart from the increase in the number of free television channels from six to 24, the content has not really changed very much.

The original six free channels in their digital format are still providing the same content, though some are paying more attention to recording technology, which has resulted in better visual and audio quality. Their news coverage is the same as before, though – routine political, social and environmental reports with a touch of business. I do have to commend some news shows that try to be analytical, though they are still not informative enough. 
As for the entertainment slots, they are still filled with the same sad rubbish. All the channels, with the exception of Thai PBS, still provide shows that focus on trivial gossip, like who is dating whom, who has dumped whom and whether imagined couples will really end up together. Thai PBS, on the other hand, has been providing entertainment news with an international angle and in-depth interviews on subjects other than celebrity love affairs. 
An interview by a “single-digit” channel last week shocked me. It was a discussion on healthy diet with three people at an event. The interviewer began by asking the guests what they ate to stay healthy, followed by whether they “ate youngsters” to stay young. This is the point at which things became quite obscene, with the interviewer’s simpering tone and insinuations. Apparently, she wanted to find out if the guests shared her belief that having a young boyfriend made women younger. When the first guest refused to bite, saying she focused more on fresh produce, the interviewer once again simpered, asking how far her list for “fresh” items went. 
In terms of news, digital TV is offering us greater variety, with many news groups joining in. Earlier, businessmen were usually glued to TNN channel and occasionally switched over to the Stock Exchange of Thailand and Money Channel, both aired on TrueVisions.
However, one veteran businessman recently told me that he was now hooked to the Nation Group’s Now 26. 
“Business people don’t have much time for news shows that focus on irrelevant issues,” he said, adding that he was quite sick of the emotional reporting style many channels had. 
Apart from this, digital TV has not really changed the content of its series or commercials. 
For instance, I’m a fan of the TV show “Dexter”, which has won many awards. Yet the TV watchdog National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) had to slap a Bt50,000 fine on a Thai broadcaster for not blotting out some grisly shots. Now, if there were a similar Thai crime series, it could portray the personal lives of famous criminals such as Si Oui, who used to kill children and eat their livers. Or they could do a show about what makes a rapist, especially at a time when rape cases are rampant in Thai society. 
Sadly, the only series the TV channels have been able to come up with are silly stories, such as an advertising company where all account executives spend their time gossiping and eating instead of planning on saleable ideas for clients. Compare this to the Hollywood offering “Mad Men”, in which the lead character is a womaniser, but each episode takes the viewer to the competitive environment of advertising. Though the series is set in the 1960s, the viewer realises that the nature of this business has not really changed much. 
Meanwhile, AXN Asia, which previously only aired action series from Hollywood, has recently started airing promos for Korean shows. Judging from the screenplays of these shows, I can safely say it will take a long time before any Thai series can appear on a channel that is broadcast internationally.
The NBTC recently hosted a workshop where Korean TV series makers were called to help groom their Thai counterparts. That’s a good start, though I certainly don’t know if this would translate into any changes here. 
Another area that has not changed much is the TV commercials. Recently I saw one advertising bathing soap. In it, the mother is shown worrying about pollution and the impact it is having on her children’s skin. Now, I know that the ad means to sell soap, but if pollution is really the issue here, then the mother should be more worried about other impacts it might have. 
Last week, CTH and GMM Grammy announced a historic share swap for their pay-TV business. With its two digital TV licences, GMM appears to be enthusiastic about the pay TV business. Why? Because digital TV is still not able to deliver many of the things that society requires, such as in-depth and informative content. 
This is also possibly why the biggest pay-TV provider, TrueVisions, doesn’t seem to care much about the birth of digital TV. Of its 700,000 subscribers, some 200,000 subscribe to its Gold and Platinum packages, paying more than Bt1,400 per month for their viewing pleasure, and by the end of this year, TrueVisions expects to see a 30-per-cent rise in its subscribers, particularly in the premium segment. 
Obviously, some people out there are still willing to pay for content they really want – things that the 24 new digital TV channels are just not able to offer.