We belong to the digital age. Things have become less concrete and tangible. Your worth is now determined by a couple of digits and symbols on an LED and LCD screen. You’re as clever/beautiful/successful as you make yourself out to be in terms of the information you share with others. Anyone can be anything.
That is an exciting yet dangerous development. It’s exciting because anyone with talent can display their creativity and enjoy unprecedented freedom in showing who they are. It can be a dangerous thing given how quickly we’re losing the grasp on quality control and excellence. In case of the latter it is because we distinguish what’s good and bad in terms of who has more likes or clicks. And this isn’t just a Pakistani thing. Bloggers worldwide are becoming as influential as seasoned journalists within a matter of days. Models like Gigi Hadid are getting contracts based on their social media popularity and the Kardashian and Jenner clan is one of the most successful families in the world even though their skill sets are very limited and hardly discernible.
Of course this is trickling down to Pakistan as well. In Pakistan, we have a number of stars who enjoy fame and are deemed successful based on their social media numbers; their talent based on their body of work is questionable.
The biggest and most obvious example of this development can be seen in the meteoric rise of Mawra Hocane. The younger Hocane sister has become one of the biggest names in Pakistan’s entertainment industry and everyone takes her very seriously partly because of her acting skills but primarily because of her social media following. Hocane boasts a whopping 2 million followers on Instagram, another million on Facebook and almost 250,000 followers on Twitter.
While nobody doubts Hocane’s acting abilities, many do question her growing influence in the industry. For instance, Hocane was recently chosen as the newest Lux Girl, an honour previously bestowed on women like Reema and Mahira Khan, who have a wide array of achievements and several projects to their credit. Reema has done hundreds of films and has delved into direction as well while Mahira Khan is the only Pakistani actor to have joined the 100 (actually 300) crore club in Bollywood due to her performance in Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees.
Hocane’s recent TV play, Sammi is one of the most talked about TV projects on-air right now but the latest list of top rated TV shows in Pakistan shows a different reality. According to a report by Media Logic, the only ratings provider in the country, Hocane’s Sammi is nowhere to be seen in the top ten. The list actually contains inconspicuous shows and stars that generally do not get a lot of coverage or mileage. Also, these stars aren’t very active on social media.
Another example of this phenomenon can be seen in box office figures. Stars that are considered prolific because of their social media fan base and numbers are rarely able to pull a significant group of people to the theatres. For example, Dobara Phir Se boasted an ensemble cast with big names like Hareem Farooq and Sanam Saeed, but was unable to float at the box office. Both Farooq and Saeed have nearly half a million followers on social media respectively and are usually approached by huge corporate brands for endorsements worth millions (Farooq is the brand ambassador for L’Oreal while Saeed has endorsed several brands, like Ufone and Nestle Nesvita). This year, Chalay Thay Saath featured Syra Shehroz (who has nearly 700,000 followers on Instagram and a Pepsi endorsement to her credit) but the film again was met with a low turnout at the box office.
The important thing to note here is that low numbers have not had any negative effect on these particular stars nor has it hurt their reputations and prospective job opportunities. Because they have a large fan base online, brands and filmmakers will continue to approach them even if they don’t deliver hits. ‘Influencers’ is what we refer to them as.
There is clearly a discrepancy between social media numbers and ratings. People who ardently follow the stars online don’t make the same effort when it comes to their actual work, which is film and television. Because if someone has nearly a million followers online and even if half of them showed up to watch their work, the films would be making money. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
This is not to say that having a social media fan following isn’t hard work. It requires a lot of time, careful planning and strategizing and not everyone is able to do it; otherwise every other star would be as huge and influential as Mawra Hocane.
It is also worth mentioning that the ratings meter system is obsolete and therefore cannot be relied upon. Currently there are a little over 700 meters installed all over Pakistan, a country that holds a population of nearly 200 million people. That hardly sounds like a reasonable sample size. In such a case, social media has now become the new ratings meter that helps advertisers and filmmakers keep track of who is trending and who isn’t.
Therefore, anyone who wants to make it big in the world of entertainment has to first conquer the social media world and familiarize themselves with the art of tweeting, taking selfies and writing Facebook posts that can become viral instantly. Until then, an artist will remain invisible.
This article was originally published in Instep on Thursday, June 1st 2017.