Early on Monday morning, we got back from a three-week holiday to the United States of America. Here are three observations from my first ever trip to the world’s largest media and entertainment market and the industry with the biggest global footprint.
One, local news dominates. Sure local newspapers are dying and there is phenomenal stress on national ones too. But switch on the television and irrespective of the city you are in, the options for local news are huge. On news channels in Niagara, the news was all about Niagara, the little town that houses the falls. Move a little further to Buffalo and that town dominates. Go to Chicago, Houston or New York and the leading story could be a local accident, a weird fight between two women in the local mall or even the weather that determines each day for the working American. This is peppered with news on scientific discoveries, research, holiday tips by reporters in a city or a suburb who are part of that community.
Of course, there is political news but it is not the only thing and there are none of those ten-window discussions pretending to be news. Given the stressed, unprofitable and overcrowded news television industry in India, can a few channels try this simple trick of reporting pure news, at a very local level? You could argue that India has 400 news channels, scores of them very local. For example: Andhra Pradesh or Kerala have several Telugu or Malayalam channels. However, local in India is more about local languages, a bit of regional news and most of it political. Maybe exploring the possibilities of news other than political could be a first step — it is rare for Indian news channels to talk about research, science, or even interesting local developments at length.
Two, marketing and advertising of anything in the US is at another level. We flew United Airlines throughout the trip and as luck would have it, it had a tie up with the about-to-be-released Spider-Man: Far from Home. From the napkins on the flight to mini-trailers of the film on our in-flight screens to the posters at airports among scores of other things, there is no way anybody could have not remembered that Spider-Man: Far from Home is releasing on July 2 and that United has a role to play in the film. Of the half a dozen cities that we visited, every single one had some stuff around Spider-Man. Not just Spider-Man, the local realtor, lawyer, medical centre were all big advertisers, on posters, on TV channels or even on the screen inside taxis. In India, not all brands manage to break through the way even small local businesses in the US do. Maybe it is something to do with the way media is planned or with how strong local media — especially outdoor — is in many of these cities.
Three, Americans, to my surprise, are more polite and friendly than Europeans. Every one of the people we spoke to or asked for help, responded, some beyond the call of duty. But what struck me again and again was the feeling that everyone was talking as if they are working in a film, their deep voices and accent was straight out of a Hollywood film. That is when I realised that Hollywood films may make two-thirds of their money outside of America, but they are largely based in America, with American actors and their voices. And for decades a large part of my exposure to America has been through hundreds of Hollywood films. The accents and styles of real Americans are a part of their films. What I was hearing and seeing was reality. Art had imitated life so much that real life seemed like art to me.