Seventeen years since the launch of formats like Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), we now see non-fiction shows boast of a much larger budget than most fiction shows. In fact, viewers have also found their dose of masala entertainment through a bevy of big ticket non-fiction formats like Bigg Boss, Indian Idol, Khatron ke Khiladi, etc that have been adapted from their international counterparts. Shailesh Kapoor, founder, Ormax Media mentions, “People are more open to non-fiction content now than in the last five years. If the show runs for two or more seasons, advertiser confidence also rises.” Despite the high costs associated with reality shows (approximately Rs 30-50 lakh per episode) versus fiction shows (Rs 7-9 lakh per 23-minute episode), the focus of broadcasters on these has been unwavering owing to the diversity and demographics they bring to the channel. Having said that, over the years, many of these long running formats have had to take a break of a year or more, in order to keep the freshness alive and plug the fatigue trickling in.
Interestingly, most of the glitzy popular shows today are in the singing and dancing space — take Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, Nach Baliye, Indian Idol, The Voice, Super Dancer, Dance India Dance or Sa Re Ga Ma Pa — and these are the ones that seem to immediately hit it off with the audiences as well, owing to the Bollywood connection. Hence, when one attempts to point out indigenous formats or alternative genres in the non-fiction space, we can only name a few that have successfully worked in India. Brand Wagon attempts to find out what makes these formats tick and whether there is a need for newer formats.
Format & fresh
Given that viewers today are spoilt for choice, one must be smart enough to understand their pulse and tweak the content accordingly, states Manisha Sharma, programming head, Colors. “A show like Bigg Boss has been on for 11 seasons; it is upon us to entice the audience with fresh thoughts each time.” Last year, the show tweaked the format to include commoners and became a hit. Likewise, for a serious stunt-based show like Khatron ke Khiladi, the channel infused some humour to bring in freshness. Another example is Zee TV which brought back Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li’l Champs after a short hiatus with a new theme in 2017 and it was amongst the best rated shows from the day of its launch. It was also the longest running reality show spanning nine months. Deepak Rajadhyaksha, deputy business head, Zee TV mentions, “Inviting fresh talent mid season was one of the innovations in the show. Initially, the plan was to run the show for three months but we had to extend it seeing the response. It became compulsive viewing.”
Now, consider KBC. Running successfully for 15 years, the show hit a bump in 2015 when the format of question and answer failed to entice viewers. The show was forced to take a break for over a year and returned in 2017 with an interactive piece to engage with audiences, and it propelled Sony Entertainment Television (SET) to the top of the charts during the course of its airing. Ashish Golwalkar, SVP and senior creative director, Sony Entertainment Television, reveals, “KBC was almost dead in the last season and it did not work well in terms of monies or ratings. So we took a break, kept the core of the format the same and infused some fresh elements of interactivity. Strong formats don’t come with an expiry date if they are willing to change.”
For example, Wheel of Fortune ran for 30 years in the US and is still going strong as the format is relatable to people even today. What help these shows tick are several opportunities for advertisers in terms of high impact engagement and brand integrations unlike fiction shows. Interestingly, the FCT (fixed commercial time) on fiction shows is higher and the revenue split between fiction and non-fiction shows stands at 70:30. “Fiction shows are the bread and butter for GECs as the shows air everyday and have regular viewers. Non-fiction shows are very expensive to make, although the FCT for non-fiction shows will be at a premium and offer high impact for advertisers,” explains Anand Chakravarthy, managing director, Essence India.
Myleeta Aga, SVP and GM, South East Asia and South Asia, BBC Worldwide, highlights that audiences like both familiarity and difference. The familiarity of a format brings them comfort as you don’t want to work hard to understand it when watching TV, yet it should be fresh. For example, Dancing with the Stars just ran its 25th season in the US and 20th season in the UK. In other markets like Indonesia, Japan, etc there are shows that have been going on forever as well. “The challenge in India is that non-fiction has been in a bit of a lull. There is a need to reinvent formats,” she adds.
Looking at the Hindi GEC space, broadcasters have faced several challenges with non-fiction shows. Star India tried its hand at several singing reality shows like Voice of India, Raw Star and Om Shanti Om; however, all of them failed. Similarly, Zee TV’s slate is largely dependent on Dance India Dance and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. For Sony, Boogie Woogie suffered the fatigue factor along with The Kapil Sharma Show — whose anchor’s antics on and off the screen left a sour taste amongst the audience. Furthermore, Colors’ Bigg Boss 11 does not feature among the top 10 shows in BARC India ratings often. Additionally, 2017 did not see the return of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa.
There is a lot of clutter with too many non-fiction shows currently on air and most with similar themes. At the same time, different channels have tried introducing newer concepts but unfortunately, none of them have worked. When it comes to international formats — which are easier to sell to advertisers — formats in the song and dance space have survived but Indian versions of shows like Survivor, Bachelorette and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here failed to click with the viewers.
Though there is scope for newer genres to thrive, there is no sure-shot formula to make a show successful. Also, with the kind of investments that are put behind these shows, it is imperative to make them successful, deliver ratings, so they can be properly monetised, which the long running formats continue to deliver. Thus, in terms of RoI, these older formats end up making more sense. Chakravarthy mentions that around 80% of the advertiser’s budget is reserved for fiction shows, movies, etc while 20% is for high impact properties like reality shows. What is noteworthy is that as a country, we don’t have too many indigenous or homegrown formats developing that do well, which is a huge gap to fill.