Effect of Globalization on Indian Television and Culture


With the advent of satellite technology, television has been credited to bringing about the globalisation process because of its extensive international reach of programmes. In this age of multi-channel global television, the world is shrinking and the geographic barriers are being broken because of the evident flood of international television programmes throughout the world. In fact, global media have become so pervasive that media critic Douglas Kellner stipulates that we are witnessing the onset of a “new form of a global cultutre”, in which globally produced “images, sounds and spectacles help produce the fabric of everyday life… providing the materials out of which people forge their very identities” (quoted in strelitz, 2001; also cited in Chaudhary, 2005). If we are indeed witnessing such new form of global culture, some important questions arise: Do people form Western cultural identities from the globally produced materials or are they able to shape their own cultural identities? Are the globally produced materials bringing in cultural uniformity throughout the world or is there any scope for cultural diversity?

Broadcasting is an especially effective manner through which millions of people are able to become unified on the basis that they are common recipients of a particular message. One of the most powerful transmitters of these messages is of course the television; programs of which can be seen around the world to serve many purposes. In most contemporary societies, television is a highly influential medium of popular culture and plays an important role in the social construction of reality. (Morgan, 1990) The effects of television should therefore be recognized as having the ability to alter social, economic and political situations in its places of propagation and beyond.

I will be exploring in this paper with the help of few examples that how the globalization has changed the Indian television broadcasting and hence, gave birth to a new hybrid culture which accommodates in itself the old Indian values along with the new modern culture.

Literature Review

In recent years, communication scholars have developed a variety of theoretical approaches to define this enlarged communication sphere. Proponents of Western cultural imperialism believe that globalisation leads to homogenisation and that it is aimed at bringing cultural uniformity throughout the world. Marshall McLuhan was one of the first scholars to address the shrinking of the world as a consequence of electronic communications. He labelled the world as a “global village’ (McLuhan, 1960). Dennnis Mcquail (1998), a communication theorist, equated “globalisation” to “Westernization” in general and “Americanization” in particular. Dr Cees Hamelink, director of centre for Communication and Human Rights in Holland, stated at the 10th Macbride Rountable Communication in 1998 that globalisation is the proliferation of cultural values and practices, and called globalization an act of “Disneyfication’ that is contributing to the world’s homogenization (Amin and Zureikat,1999). Rothkopf (1999) referred to the American cultural domination as the new world order and called it “the best model for the future”. Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times said, “…globalisation has its own dominant culture which is why it tends to be homogenizing… Culturally speaking, globalisation is largely, though not entirely, the spread of Americanization-from Big Macs to Mickey Mouse-on a global scale” (Friedman, 2000:8; also quoted in Mishra, 2003).

In the early 1990s, some media scholars started questioning the cultural imperialism theories.  According to an African scholar, Muyale-Manenji, the impression that we are moving towards a uniform “McWorld” is partly an illusion (1998). The current approaches, as opposed to the theory of Western cultural imperialism and Marshall McLuhan’s idea of a homogeneous global village, underscore the unity in diversity i.e. the parallelism of global/local and universal/particular communication structures. Anthony Giddens for example, said, “Globalisation today is only partly Westernization. Globalisation is becoming increasingly decentered-not under control of any griup of nations…Its effects are felt as much in Western countries as elsewhere” (Quoted ion Curran and Park,2000). Ien Ang (1994), another scholar, stated that we have shifted to a “post-globalised world rife with regional realignments and fracturing, nationalist and ethnic separatism, and, in parallel, a proliferation of overlapping and crisis-crossing media vectors, which undermine a unified and singular notion of the ‘global’” (also quoted in Blakley,  2001:7).

Many scholars argue that globalization has stimulated local economies and has been instrumental in pushing national cultural content to the forefront. Modern globalization theorists are using the term “global/local” or “glocalization” to refer to the convergence of the global and local, wherein indivisuals, groups and institutions are seeking global advice and solutions for their local problems (see Chaudhary, 2004).

The terminology, glocalisation” was first used by Robertson (19920 in reference to a hybrid culture of the merger of global with local. In other words the term is used to express the global production of the local and the localisation of the global. According to an anthropologist, Arjun Appadurai(1990), globalization of Western culture may be producing “heterogeneous disjunctures” instead of creating a homogenized culture (also quoted in Thussu, 200b). To explain it further, he states that the globalizing cultural forces in their encounters with different ideologies and traditions of the world produce “heterogeneous dialogues”. In describing the dynamics of present day global diversity, Appadurai further states that global media, along with other factors such as the transfer of technology across national borders, international flow of investment influence culture not by their hegemonic interaction, global diffusion and uniform effects but by their differences, contradictions and counter-tendencies-their “disjunctures”.

In the context of above theories, this paper examines the nature and impact of globalisation of television in India.

Evolution of Television in India

Media globalization and the resultant expansion of mainly Western transnational media empires have transformed broadcasting in India. An exponential growth in the number of television channels from one state-controlled channel in 1991 to nearly 70 in 1998 (18 of which are national in reach and in Hindi or English, others are regional), within such a short span of time, has profoundly changed the electronic media landscape, as India adapts its broadcasting industries to the deregulated and privatized media environment of the late 1990s.

India’s growing economy, a vast, rapidly expanding middle class (variously estimated to be between 200 and 250 million) with aspirations to a Western lifestyle, and a fast-growing advertising sector have made the Indian media market exceptionally attractive for US-dominated transnational broadcasters. With its huge numbers of potential consumers, India provides transnational media corporations with unrivalled opportunities — it is one of the fastest growing and potentially one of the biggest English language media software markets in the world. An established satellite network provides cheaper and quicker nationwide coverage of broadcasting in a continental-size country, while the diversity of cultures in India means that demand for a wide array of satellite channels, catering to different languages and tastes, is even stronger than in Europe or the USA.

On inheriting a free press and a state-controlled broadcasting system from the British, the new rulers of India argued that uncontrolled airwaves could destabilize the country, given its traumatic birth when the British divided and quit India in 1947. The violent legacy of Partition demanded that All India Radio (AIR), the key instrument of state persuasion, if not propaganda, had to be very sensitive to ethnic and religious considerations (Chatterjee, 1991). In addition, the medium was to be used as a powerful educational tool in a hugely illiterate country — at the time of Independence the literacy rate was only 18 percent. However, this educational role was gradually undermined by successive leaderships which tended to use radio to promote their own political agenda, making AIR little more than a propaganda service for the government of the day.

Introduced in 1959, television was seen as a means for disseminating state policies and public information. The main aim of the national broadcasters — AIR and Doordarshan, the national television network — was to educate, inform and create a feeling of national identity and help maintain national unity.

Expanding the reach of television was a priority for the government, which invested heavily in developing satellite technology. Following the launch of the Indiann National Satellite (INSAT) in 1982, the number of transmitters increased from 19 to 199 in 1987 and as a result Doordarshan was able to cover 70 percent of the population, as against the 26 percent it could reach in 1982 (Doordarshan, 1997: 2).

Doordarshan became increasingly commercialized during the 1980s, a decade when the expansion of the satellite network in the country enabled the beaming of ‘The National Programme’, which many saw as ‘part of the state’s effort to build a consensual cultural narrative’ (Gupta, 1998: 89). However, it may have more to do [i]with the growing commercialism of the national broadcaster, intensified by the increasingly neo-liberal governments of the 1980s, making television entertainment oriented to meet the needs of advertisers. As a result, Doordarshan began to draw large audiences and its commercial earnings rose nearly 20-fold between 1982 and 1992 (Doordarshan, 1997: 2).

Like other Indian industries, the media sector was transformed by the liberalization of the economy introduced in 1991. The new economic policy encouraged privatization, dismantling state controls and liberalizing media regulation, paving the way for the entry of global media conglomerates into what used to be one of the most closed broadcasting systems in any democracy. For transnational media corporations, India is a key ‘emerging market’ with enormous possibilities for exploiting demand for their products. The Indian metropolitan elite, having already been exposed to Western commercial television through the live coverage of the 1990–1 Gulf crisis by the Cable News Network (CNN), were keen to join the ‘global’ audience. Hong Kong based STAR (Satellite Television Asian Region) TV, now part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, was the first to exploit this demand when, in 1991, it started beaming a five channel satellite service (Plus, Prime Sports, Channel V, the BBC World and Movie). The satellite channels became an instant hit with the English-fluent urban elites because of their entertainment-led and mainly Western programming. More importantly, the advertisers saw in these channels an easy way to reach the homes of India’s affluent. Buoyed by advertising revenues, cable and satellite television has increased substantially since 1992, when only 1.2 million homes had cable and satellite television — by 1996 the figure had reached 14.2 million (Doordarshan, 1997: 48).

By 1998, nearly 70 cable and satellite channels were operating in India, including major transnational players, notably STAR, BBC, Discovery, MTV, Sony, CNN, Disney and CNBC, and scores of Indian companies. However, the transnationals have had to adapt their programming strategies to suit the Indian context. STAR, for example, felt that its mainly US-originated programming was only reaching a tiny, though influential and wealthy, urban audience. It therefore started adding Hindi subtitles to Hollywood films, broadcast on its 24-hour channel STAR Movies and dubbing popular US soaps into Hindi. In 1996, STAR Plus began telecasting locally made programmes in English and Hindi, in addition to Western programmes. Other global players have followed the market leader in Asia by localizing their products to reach a wider market and increase advertising revenues: the Discovery channel, which started beaming to India in 1995, dubs its documentaries into Hindi; BBC World regularly broadcasts ‘India specific’ programmes, including news in Hindi.

Impact of Globalisation on Broadcasting

The implications of globalization for the Indian media are strikingly evident in the example of Zee TV, India’s first private Hindi-language and most successful satellite channel. The Zee network has aimed to reach the mass market by pioneering movie-based television entertainment. Launched in 1992 by small-scale Indian entrepreneur Subhash Chandra Goel, Zee TV set the standards for private television in India, breaking new grounds in domestically-produced entertainment. The Zee network, which has evolved, in the words of Don Atyeo, Channel Manager of STAR TV, from ‘a less than shoestring operation to without a doubt probably the most successful story in broadcasting history’ (Channel Four, 1995), demonstrates how national media can indigenize global products by developing derivatives of programmes broadcast on international television. This process works at different levels — in employing metropolitan broadcast language codes and conventions and in adapting programme formats, such as game and chat shows, unknown in India before globalization.

Zee’s success is based on a mixture of Hindi film and film-based programming, serials, music countdowns and quiz contests, aimed at a younger audience. Zee’s innovative programming — such as the development of an Indianized version of MTV and use of ‘Hinglish’ (a mixture of Hindi and English) — has made it very popular with its growing audience. Hinglish, whose roots are in the spoken languages of north India, has been steadily gaining acceptance among urban youth across the country. In the past five years Hinglish has become the standard language in serials and game and chat shows, but Zee was the first network to elevate this new language by using it in a more serious genre such as news. By using English words, Zee aims to expand its reach beyond the Hindi-speaking regions of the country — perhaps more influenced by motives of profit than any altruistic efforts towards national integration.

The channel broke even within the first year of its launch, making it a prize target for media conglomerates and in 1993, News Corporation became a 49.9 percent shareholder in Zee. This facilitated the network’s expansion — according to market analysts, in 1997, Zee network had 29 percent of audience share in cable and satellite homes. By 1998, Zee was claiming to be ‘the world’s largest Asian television network’, covering Asia, Europe, the USA and Africa, catering to the 24 million strong Indian diaspora. In Asia, the network spans more than 40 countries and offers round the clock programming on four channels — Zee TV, Zee Cinema, Zee TV India and Music Asia. Having already reached approximately 23 million homes in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and United Arab Emirates, Zee’s strategy now is to expand its operations in the lucrative markets in Western Europe and North America.

Globality and Nationality (Effect of Globalisation on Content)

Music videos have been an especially favoured form of expression of nationalist celebration in India, and the fiftieth independence day celebrations of 1997 in particular coincided with a number of videos and albums ranging from box sets of old Indian film songs to newer pop releases. These videos mark a shift in two important ways, which once again converge around the emerging music television youth culture. The first shift pertains to the fact that the state (and Doordarshan) became somewhat marginal in terms of the cultural production of nationalist discourses, leaving it to private media corporations—both Indian and foreign. The second shift pertains to a clear change in the conceptualization of nationalism. Although 1950s Indian cinema was renowned for its Mother Goddess iconography of the newly born nation (featuring worshipful songs and dances before a goddess figure shining forth within the outline of an Indian map), the new music videos, such as a series sponsored by Coke, are described as representations of “the India of the ‘90s: vibrant, liberal, assertive, sexy” (Sethi 1997, 9).

The implications of some of these developments are evident in the Alisha Chinai’s “Made in India,” a pioneering music video not only in terms of its depiction of themes of nationality and globality but also because of its role in pushing—for the first time ever—the sales of a pop album to that of successful film music albums. The video uses a fairy-tale setting replete with snake-charmers, fakirs, elephants, and dancers, and tells a story about a princess turning down suitors from different parts of the world, and finally accepting a man who arrives in a box labelled “made in India.” The implications of this narrative must also be seen in light of the fact that it emerged in the early 1990s and precedes most other music video discourses about the nation in a global context.

“Made in India” was not perceived as a direct slogan about national pride in the face of global competition but as a more complex articulation of identity and place. The narrative of the song, despite the sloganistic refrain, sets up what seems like a truly meritocratic situation: The Princess wants the man with the best dil (heart) and it just turns out that the Indian man has it. For the most part, participants engage with the notion that such a “heart” or “character” are important, defining these in terms of values such as “respecting elders” and beliefs such as the sanctity of marriage as an institution. Then, in turn, these values are frequently situated as staunchly “Indian.” Such an articulation of positive relational values and national identity does not necessarily take an oppositional stance toward the perceived values of the “West.” At the same time, such an articulation is frequently situated in relation to the West in broader discourses of globalization in India by politicians and media artists alike, positing “Indian values” as a competitive export commodity.


Use of Indian beliefs and values by MNCs to advertise their products on Indian television-

According to a study conducted on Indians by Shunglu and Sarkar in 1995, Indians prefer not to wear that are considered disrespectful in society. They consider it important to obey elders and to have meals with the family and they believe that lives are determined by what is written in the stars (de Mooij 1998:107). Members of the Indian society are able to identify with these values, images, festivals, customs, rituals and other symbols due to the learnt patterns of associations and codes. These codes are mental structures that affect the manners in which the audience interpret the signs they find in the media (Berger 2005: 30).

In India, besides traditional social arrangements, sociological enquiry has to address traditional norms and values (Beteille 2004: 48). Ritual and believes contribute to the unity and identity of communities at different levels, as has being revealed in Srinivas’ study of the Coorgs (1952). Moreover, modernity coexists comfortably with traditional and religious beliefs as ‘discrete sectors’ (Srinivas 1971: 54-55). Thus Indians are still superstitious people and adopt rituals to either ward off bad luck or to bring good luck.

The advertisement of Visa credit card revolves around an old Rajasthani ritual where caged birds are released for good luck. The more birds released from cages, the more good luck the person for whom it is done can be expected to beget, explains an Indian guide to Hollywood actor Richard Gere as he walks through a colourful and crowded market-place in the backdrop of palaces. Here, Visa essentially a foreign service provider, represented by Gere, is shown not only interested in Indian rituals but also ready to adopt them. If the little girl who wants to release five birds for her brother can be taken to represent Indians, then she realises her desire thanks to the benevolence of an understanding white man. When Gere turns away towards the end of the advertisement, Visa tells the Indian viewers that the company will unobstructively help Indians realise their desire in their own ways. The Visa advertisement reviving an ancient Indian custom bringing luck is created so as to not only position the product and service in the Indian milieu, but show it as a part of the Indian cultural ethos. Though its choice of ritual is not common throughout the country, the concept behind the ritual-of wanting to bring luck-is definitely pan-Indian.

Despite the changes in the socio-economic and political, the commitment to the ‘perennial values of life at its most fundamental’ remains, this again is represented in the Kellogg’s advertisement. The emphasis on the mother-son bond in Indian families is clear in the advertisement, where the mother and son share many activities, from playing football, to watching TV and shopping (Kakar 1981; Lannoy 1971:90; Nandy 1980: 32-46). Kellogg’s breaking into the Indian urban has cashed in on to of   the most prized aspects of Indian society-the mother-son bond and the Indian mothers’ obsession with children excelling in studies.

With Kellogg’s aiming at the urban market, the advertisement is in an urban set-up with the mother, son and quiz-master being the only characters. The mother wears salwar kameez in almost all the scenes and a saree in the last one, representing an educated urban housewife. It is the boy’s style of dressing that is interesting. His clothes are more American than Indian. In the first scene, he wears his cap backwards and he is dressed in shorts and a sleeveless, loose T-shirt. Later, he wears track pants and a sweatshirt and, in the next scene, a T-shirt. In the quiz scene, he is dressed in a T-shirt covered with an unbuttoned coloured shirt, once again, a very western if not, American, manner of dressing. These items of clothing seem common now in the urban areas, especially for children, and have come thanks to the exposure to foreign cultures. The outlook of the parents in the urban areas has also undergone changes with most of the middle and upper class children moving abroad for higher education. Kellogg’s by drawing attention to all these changes, even as it reiterates the primacy of education in Indian life, also indicates the need for the change in the food habits of the new generation and places easy-to –eat nutritious Kellogg’s as an ideal breakfast for school going children.


Prior to liberalisation there used to be common programmes for the whole nation. And these programmes were unique to Indian consumers because they were totally wrapped up with Indian culture and values. There were programmes categorised under different art forms which were placed under different time slots. For example we had only two programmes on bollywood music i.e. chitrahaar on Wednesday from 7:30 to 8pm and rangoli on Sunday from 7:00 to 8:00 am. So, basically we had only one and a half hour for bollywood songs in a week. Classical music/dance programmes were shown in the late night. Programmes were entirely Indian and those which were taken from the west, needed to be Indianised first and then shown on the television because of the language and cultural difference. They could not be shown as it is because they were almost alien to the Indian population while if we talk about current scenario i.e. in the globalised world nothing is alien to almost any country. There is a continuous process of inter-cultural osmosis, because cultures are certainly not static but permeable and changeable over a time, a fact which the marketers have been quick to realise and exercise.

Although hybrid programming was introduced with private television programming in the early 1990s, the magnification of such hybridity on billboards and other spaces of expression in the city reinforced its presence on television. Film-based programming, by far the most popular genre on Indian television, represented by such shows as Philips Top Ten (on Zee TV) and Boogie Woogie (on Sony TV) changed its format to include film video countdowns and dance and singing competitions.

From the past ten years American program formats are being converted into  Indian shows, resulting in such programs as Good Morning India (from Good Morning America) on Doordarshan1, Crime Stoppers on Doordarshan Metro and India’s Most Wanted on Zee TV (both based on Cops) (Bhandare and Joshi, 1997). Star Plus’ Kaun Banega Crorepathi (an Indian clone of ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) consistently topped the ratings every week of its telecast (Aiyar and Chopra, 2000). Beside these we also have Indian Idol from American Idol, and Big Boss from Big Brother etc.

With the advent of digital television even the children also have a list of programmes to choose. They now have cartoons from Japan, China, UK, US etc in their own regional languages like Ninja Hathodi, Parman, Shinchein, Tom and Jerry etc.

For youth, a separate set of channels is also there like MTV, V Channel, and Fashion TV etc. Basically in the globalised world there are more choices, different tastes and much enlarged field for exposure is available where you can fit yourself wherever you want. Initially, the main focus of television was to make Indians aware of the outside world but if we see our television from 2008, there are again programmes which are completely based on Indian problems and culture like Balika Vadhu, Na aana is des laado etc. But these are not meant only for people living in India but for the people living outside India, because although Indian continues to receive a wide range of American TV serials, Hollywood movies and pop music, television in India is inextricably tied to its local and national cultures. A majority of programmes on television are reflective of the diversity of their audiences’ interest and their cultural values. In a geographically and culturally diverse country with 18 official languages and a multitude of dialects, television plays a vital role in reflecting the interests of its society.  A majority of Indians prefer their own music, dance and art. They like to see themselves, their lives, their concerns and their experiences reflected on the screen. As Kivikuru (1993: 167) put it very aptly: “despite all fashionable talk of global culture, homemade mass communications seems to be preferred because it is valued for its cultural identity. The world is still characterized by competing ethno-national cultures rather than a wider pan nationalism.” This truly mirrors the Indian scene because with the coexistence of multiple languages, traditions and cultures Indian pride themselves with their “Indianness”.

In conclusion, I agree with Anthony Gidden’s theory that “globalization is becoming increasingly decentred-not under control of any group of nations”. Globalization today can not be equated with Westernisation alone. With the availability of multi-channel global television, non-Western culture is being equally imposed on people almost everywhere in the world. Just as western cultural programmes and Hollywood films are being consumed internationally, non-Western cultural programmes and bollywood films are being consumed everywhere as well. To a great extent, the television industry in India is going global and local. With the availability of multi-channel global television and the development of new technologies, India is producing and exporting its own programmes. It is focussing on the diversity of their audience’s interest and cultural values; and wherever relevant, it is modifying western programmes to suit its own tastes and interests. Moreover, with present-day deregulation and privatization policies, India is joining hands with multinationals and reaching out more and more with local and national content to multiple audiences. India has thus become an active player in the global media industry, shaped by the globalisation of media economics, and the pull of local and national cultures.


Media, Culture & Society © 1999 (SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi), Vol. 21: 125–131

Thussu, D.K., ‘Localising the Global — Zee TV in India’, in D. K. Thussu (ed.) Electronic Empires — Global Media and Local Resistance. London: Arnold, (1998)

Gupta, N., Switching Channels — Ideologies of Television in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1998.

Chatterjee, P.C., Broadcasting in India, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1998.

Directorate General Doordarshan, Audience Research Unit, New Delhi, 1997.

Buell, F., National Culture and the New Global System, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Butcher,M., The Audio-Visual Media and Cultural Change in India, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1999.

Ranganathan, Maya, Rodrigues, Usha, Indian Media in a Globalised World, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2010.


About sadianasr

Road safety x digital, social, policy, media at SaveLife. AIR, Urban Justice, CAIR, ICGC, UNDP alum.

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