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Reading, The New York Times’ this morning brought back some memories, of my early days in this country, and perhaps of the early days of the emerging South Asian identity. I Want My Hyphenated-Identity MTV, perhaps the worst headline ever, talks about the pending launch of MTV Desi, a new MTV sub-channel that will be targeting the second generation South Asians in this country. MTV Chi and MTV-K are up next, targeting Chinese Americans and Korean Americans. MTV Desi is going to be a potpourri of Bollywood, British Asian Pop and all sorts of other stuff.
It was back in 1993, when hanging out with then-struggling Dj Rekha, one of the promoters and key proponents of Bhangra/Tablatronica in the US I wondered about a website I wanted to start that aggregated all South Asian related events. We could not come-up with a name, but she pointed out at my habit of saying from “desh” which is like saying, my motherland. How about we call it Desi, sort of like homie! We could, but instead I ended up calling the site DesiParty.com. It still lives, and I have outgrown it I guess. I started another music website, DesiSound.com, which tracked the South Asian music business. On that site, I interviewed Nusrat Durrani, who is now leading the roll-out of these ethnic MTVs.
Looking back, I kinda feel good that the word desi has become such a commonly used phrase, sometime I think much abused. In my attempts to be self employed, I had teamed up with friends to start Masala Magazine back in 1995, but it was to early and eventually went boom. We tried to reinvent the magazine online, succeeded for a while but then the dot.com bust got the better of us. The demographics and the advertiser support was not there, and well given that South Asian community communicated mostly in English, the big corporate spenders thought that their ethnic marketing dollars were better targeted at Hispanic community, which is much larger.
This brings me back to MTV Desi!
Well, Viacom is going about launching these channels the wrong way. They are not paying attention to the demographics. In other words, the dollars to support this channel, which is likely to have minuscule viewership, will not be there. It will cost a lot of money to get the channel nationwide rollout, especially in South Asian hotspots like New York, Houston, New Jersey, San Francisco Bay Area, parts of Florida, Chicago and Seattle. These are cities where channels on cable networks are a scarce commodity. In other words, this is going to be one costly mistake for Viacom.
Instead, they should have focused on developing the same content, but show it over broadband networks. South Asian community in the US is very Internet savvy, and have the perfect base for launching a MTV Desi (Broadband.) Broadband is the platform of the future, and it would make sense to use it to rollout niche channels.