It’s close to a month now that Bigg Boss, the Indian adaptation of the popular international reality show Big Brother, is on air on Colors. The channel, which is charging a 25 per cent premium on last season’s ad rates on the show, was expecting to improve its position (it is at number two now) in the Hindi general entertainment channels hierarchy.
But that has to wait due to an unexpected problem. On the day the TV viewership ratings were to come for the first week of Bigg Boss, broadcasters and advertising bodies decided to defer the ratings for nine weeks for a smooth transition into the digitised world. While independent media research company Ormax Media, and listing company, Whats on India, have said that the show’s brand recall is very high, advertisers and sponsors have no way to find out if the buzz around Bigg Boss is actually converting into high viewing.
But Raj Nayak, chief executive of the Hindi general entertainment channel, isn’t worried. “The nature of the beast is such that beyond a point nobody knows what will work and what won’t. You’ll have some hits and some misses and that is the reality in our business”, he says.
Last year in April, when he took over the responsibility of the channel, Nayak knew he was joining a channel which “probably has the strongest brand equity” in the GEC space. But he was also aware of the challenges.
Nayak had a tough task indeed. The brand was too closely identified with Rajesh Kamat who built it from scratch, took it to the No 1 position and left suddenly to join Peter Chernin as India CEO of CA Media. Within six months, Colors’ programming head Ashwini Yardi also decided to part ways. There was more. While competition from Sony Entertainment and Zee TV was increasing, Colors’ weekend programming was not working. Admits Nayak, “While we were consistent at number two on weekdays, our weekend programming was extremely weak.”
But all that has changed. Just after the Indian Premier League this year, the channel launched four big non-fiction properties back-to-back. “We identified the weakness in our programming and realised that despite a very successful fiction line-up, the weekends were our weak spot. And given the dynamics of the business, we did not have the luxury of time to strengthen the weekends. So we went in with a bazooka”.
What Colors did was unheard of in this space. It launched four big reality/non-fiction shows – Jhalak Dikhhla Ja, Sur Kshetra, India’s Got Talent and Bigg Boss – in a span of three months. As a result, it doubled the viewership in weekend primetime. Non-primetime viewership during weekend jumped 50 per cent; and overall GRPs (gross rating points) of the channel went up. “It was a high risk game, but we went in with conviction,” Nayak says.
Today, Colors is back as a strong number two. But many say this has come at a huge cost. A top executive of a rival GEC channel says “Most of the reality shows on Colors are very high-cost and not monetisable. Two of them – Jhalak (three seasons) and Bigg Boss (first season)– were earlier on Sony Entertainment, but they could not monetise and had to let them go. So if they are burning cash to be there, it’s not the approach we would like to follow. We would rather follow the Zee TV approach to create a homegrown format like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa or a Dance India Dance and keep margins under control”.
Nayak, predictably, doesn’t agree. He says that the channel has “not increased its programming cost substantially” over the last year. “Viewers expect something different from brand Colors. We are very desi, but with international quality. While many of our shows are high cost, they are also high decibel and high impact. They bring in new audiences. And even if many of the reality shows do not recover cost, at Colors, we have mastered the art of monetising our properties well.”
But considering that the industry is not going to have TV ratings for over two months, will it not affect the channel and its clients? Allied Media COO P M Balakrishnan says, “Advertisers also use historic data before investing. And I am not seeing any panic from either the channel or any of the advertiser. Though the real rate cards will be up after December, I can say the industry is handling this very maturely.”
However, a senior media buyer, who did not wish to be identified, says that if advertisers are investing big money behind a show, they will want returns and ratings were a reliable barometer. “If the rating (when it comes) is less than what was anticipated, the channel will have to compensate. The relationship between clients and channels works on good faith.”
For Colors, the next two months should be smooth as Bigg Boss is expected to drive it along with the support of other fiction shows. But what is the road ahead? Says Nayak, “In this kind of cluttered environment, how to grow a network is a challenge for sure. We have to identify and create a fine balance between the fiction and non-fiction content. One has to be ready to experiment and offer differentiated programming.”