AFTER quite a while, a television programme appears to have caught the Indian viewer’s imagination. Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), the Indian version of an international favorite anchored by the legendary Amitabh Bachchan airs Mondays to Thursdays at 9 pm on Star Plus. Not only has the programmed managed to garner a large chunk of audience share, but it has also set into motion a new dynamics which is going to alter the entire spectrum of the Indian television industry. Even as we usher in the new convergent era, traditional broadcasting is shifting gears. Its going to be one roller-coaster ride for all the players and the queasy and weak-hearted are not going to survive.
Ten years down the line since satellite TV first tested the supremacy of Doordarshan, a new threshold level is emerging in the business. As the number of channels proliferates, there is not just the fight for bandwidth but also for viewership. Quite like the Mobius strip, no one is sure where carriage and content merge. However, we are witnessing a new consolidation phase which will see a shake-out, in the channel space with stakes raised much higher. Cable connectivity is expected to reach 40m homes at end of this year. This means one out of every two TV homes will have access to satellite channels. Yet again, the viewer is becoming more discerning and picking and choosing her fare from a well spread buffet of programming.
Let’s look at the increase of regional language channels. Tamil has 7, Bangla 5, Marathi 5, Gujarati 5, Telugu 4 and so on . Many of these are backed by large media companies with deep pockets so they have the staying power. But almost all are clones of each other. What this result in is that there is hardly any channel loyalty amongst viewers even within the same ethnocentric or linguistic groups. As people surf from one to another in the seamless channel space, it is individual programmes which become critical both for the channel as well as the advertiser. The only constant channel drivers seem to be films but given the hunger of the medium, there are not enough films to go around. While film producer are suddenly discovering that there is a lot of moolah to be made on the box, channel owners are finding it hard to get films.
While mythologicals still rule the roost as far as serials go, afternoon soaps to seem to be the sine qua non of Indian TV channels. Unfortunately, there is little path-breaking writing to bolster sagging storylines of most drama series.
If you look at the fixed point charts of various channels you will find that it is old programmes like Amaanat, Hum Panch, Ashirwaad on Zeee, CID, Heena on Sony, Saans on Star – which are still top-of-the charts. When Prannoy Roy started his newscasts, Ramanand Sagar and BR Chopra Ramayan and Mahabharat. Rajat Sharma his Adalat,Gajendra Singh his Antaakshari or Plus Channel and UTV their daily soaps Swabhimaan and Shanti, there was some innovation. Now e whole scenario is imitative. More of the same. You have the same actors, the same anchors mouthing similar lines in similar programmes across channels, sometimes even across languages.
While there has been an occasional attempt at creating new genres of programming—
Investigative dramas’ like Bhanwar, Indis’s Most Wanted, Agnichkra and so on – most producers and channel managers have been far from adventurous.
Programme fatigue is setting in fast. Even as channels push producers to up technical quality and production design the content is hardly upgraded. Once broadband comes in, the viewer is going to demand quality as the choice becomes varied – from a buffet we will move to a la carte.
KBC has proved a point. You take a global format, Indianise it using a local format, take a high profile movie star and you have a winner. What it has also done is raise the marketing of TV shows to dizzy heights and introduced big time prize money on Indian TV. It is no longer going to be possible to launch a major show without all the hoopla and hype one normally associates with mega movies. And Amitabh Bachchan may have started another trend – of getting superstars on to the tube. You can expect a lot of glamour on the box in the months to come.
What KBC has also done is usher in a rudimentary form of interactivity on Indian television. Passive viewing will soon be passé. You will see a lot of shows which will invite viewer participation. Actually, whenever the viewer has been egged on in a programme, it has always been a success. So, while the creative teams at various channels put on their thinking caps, the viewer can rest assured that consumer is always king.
One heartening thing for the TV industry is that ad spends are going up exponentially and for the first time substantial income from. Subscription, is looking a reality, Yes, the next round of TV games has begun. And the prize money is big. But unfortunately, the game is quite like Russian roulette. Either you win or you are dead. This is something the Star TV guys must be as aware of as their beleaguered competitors. Kaun Banega Crorepati?