The Indian Television Network was started in New Delhi in 1959 to transmit educational and development programmes on an experimental basis with half-an-hour programming. Doordarshan was established in 1976. For the initial years of its existence, Television in India spread haltingly and transmission was mainly in black & white. The thinkers and policy makers of the country, frowned upon television, looking on at it as a luxury Indians could do without. Television has come to the forefront in year 1982. India was gearing up for the Asian Games, a colourful spectacle. But most of the country was in the danger of seeing it in shades of black and white. Until a Union Cabinet decision changed the way people saw television forever. In the beginning, it was a temporary permit, with the Union Government allowing the import of 50,000 colour television sets by November of that year. But by the end of it, the Indian viewer was ready to spend Rs.8,000 on an Indian set and up to Rs.15,000 on the imported version.
The government raked in the money, earning Rs.70 crore in customs revenue from imported sets, with one lakh sets imported into the country. In December 1982, India Today reported a virtual craze in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai where shops were practically emptied of television sets for Indian use, even as recipients of the sets in India willingly paid the concessional 190 per cent customs duty. I&B Minister Vasant Sathe’s brainchild, it opened the doors to expanding the television market in a big way, organising it and bringing in the bigger players. It was television’s hardware revolution.
As Bhaskar Ghose, former director general of Doordarshan told India Today in 1999, “Colour was just a metaphor for a switchover to high technology.” It was followed by Doordarshan’s networking phase. In 1982, television transmitters jumped from 35 to 100, by 1990, the figure was getting ready to cross the 400 mark. Critics called it India’s taste for modern consumerism, a hand-maiden of the commercial film industry. But for the Indian consumer, it was much more than that. It was an opportunity to see the world in all colour.