When the country’s first satellite television channel in Malayalam was being set up more than 20 years ago, Thiruvananthapuram seemed to be the best location for its headquarters. The State capital, with the Legislative Assembly and the Secretariat, was where the political news happened. The presence of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation and the Soorya festival also contributed to the cultural growth of Thiruvananthapuram, making it an ideal location for upcoming television channels of the early 90s.
“Thiruvananathapuram was the obvious choice because it is a political place,” says journalist Sashi Kumar, who launched Asianet channel in 1993. Later, other television channels such as Surya also came up in the city.
The television industry in the State soon moved from the political capital to the commercial capital — Kochi. Indiavision, the first 24x7 Malayalam news channel, set the trend when it began broadcast from its studio at Padivattom in Kochi in 2003. At the helm of the television channel was M.K. Muneer, the then Minister for Public Works.
Technology, says Dr. Muneer, was the main reason his team decided to start the channel in Kochi and not Thiruvananthapuram. “There were clear indications that Kochi was going to be the hub for IT in the State. The news may happen in Thiruvananthapuram, but the technology update would first happen in Kochi.” While plans were being made to set up Indiavision channel, work on an undersea cable linking Kochi to the world was also under way. High bandwidth undersea cables linking South East Asia, the Gulf countries, and Western Europe reach India at two locations — Mumbai and Kochi. “With the new cables, the channel could go easily from Kochi to other countries of the world,” Dr. Muneer says. The challenge for the channel was to bring news from different parts of the State to its studio in Kochi. “We accomplished that by bringing the OB (Outdoor Broadcasting) van to Kerala for the first time. We had one in Thiruvananthapuram and another in Kozhikode to bring us the latest developments,” he says.
Other television channels soon recognised the potential of Kochi and started setting up shop in the city. Most television channels in the State — Jeevan TV, Manorama News, Reporter, We, Amrita TV, Mathrubhumi, and Doordarshan – are today either based in Kochi or have major studios there.
Modern broadcast technology made it possible for a television channel to create content from anywhere in the State and broadcast it to a wide audience, no matter where the studio is located. Despite these possibilities, most new television channels in the State chose to make Kochi their home.
The commercial expansion of the city is the reason TV channels headed for its shores, says Mr. Sashi Kumar, currently the chairman of Media Development Foundation and Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. The move to Kochi indicates a shift in the priorities of the television industry, he says. “There has been a paradigm shift and commerce, rather than artistic or editorial considerations, has become the driving force of television.”
As the film industry shifted from Chennai to Kochi, entertainment channels too sprouted up in the city, which became the hub for news studios, tele-serial shootings, and entertainment programmes.
Looking back over the last 20 years, Dr. Muneer feels the channel made the right choice when it decided to make Kochi its home. “Even for the next 20 years, I think the city will be very important for the television industry,” he says.