We're seeing a season of big, celebrity-led reality shows on general entertainment channels. Fear Factor – Khatron Ke Khiladi recently opened for its third season on Colors, with Priyanka Chopra anchoring it. The channel also launched Bigg Boss for its fourth season, anchored this time by Salman Khan. Sony Entertainment Television just opened the fourth season of Kaun Banega Crorepati after a five-year break for the show that earlier ran on Star Plus. It managed to get Amitabh Bachchan, who anchored its first two seasons, back as its host. The new, Akshay Kumar-anchored MasterChef India is about to debut on Star Plus this week.
All three channels agree that celebrity-led reality shows are seeing increasing emphasis on marketing and promotion spends. Bigg Boss 4 and MasterChef India saw the release of a music video each to promote them, frontlining their Bollywood anchors. They cost money, agree the channels. Marketing the shows has also included events and advertising across practically all media, including TV, radio, outdoor, online and sometimes print.
"For example, we have been running a campaign, Koi Bhi Sawal Chhota Nahin Hota, as a run up to KBC 4," said Ajit Thakur, EVP and business head, Sony Entertainment Television (SET). He calls the celebrity-led shows "clutter breakers".
And yet, if you look at viewership ratings of earlier seasons of some of these big shows, they show that while the opening episode and even opening week may draw a lot more of viewers, viewership falls in ensuing weeks, to maybe spike up again for the final episode or week (semi-finals).
Priyanka Chopra's Fear Factor 3 opened last month with an impressive 5.49 per cent television rating (TVR), but dropped the next week to an average TVR of 2.7 per cent.
Contrast this with a general entertainment channel's (GEC's) staple diet — soaps — which, if popular, continue to maintain high viewership week after week, and you may well wonder why channels are spending so much on celebrity-based non-fiction shows.
An industry expert estimated that total expenses — celebrity's fees, production and set costs and marketing expenses — on a reality show, if the celebrity is big, could add up to Rs 75 crore. Another expert said that a soap's half-hour episode could cost around Rs 7-8 lakh; a reality show by a host who's not a big star, could cost Rs 50-60 lakh per one-hour episode; and a big star show could see a channel spending Rs 1 crore per one-hour episode.
Is such spending worthwhile? Yes, say the channels, while putting celebrity-led reality shows in perspective.
Anupam Vasudev, EVP marketing, Star Plus, said, "Celebrity-based reality shows attract new viewers. So more people are sampling your channel when such shows come on. A number of them stay with the channel even after the reality show ends."
Rajesh Kamat, COO, Viacom 18 Group, which owns Colors, said: "Reality shows are mostly popular with the 15-34-years age band. They get the channel into their homes when they watch the reality shows, and then the rest of the family samples it. We see such shows as the differentiators — bringing in the spice to the mix. They can bring scale and grandeur to the entire channel time and again." He added that when a non-fiction show peaks, as these top celebrity-led shows have done, they rub off on fiction shows as well. "The soaps' ratings go up. After Colors was launched, Akshay Kumar on Fear Factor 1 got us into households as people started sampling our soaps. Bigg Boss and Fear Factor helped shows such as Balika Vadhu to take off."
Thakur said most GECs spruce up programming and even launch new programmes when they run their celeb shows, to attract more viewers. "We are launching two new soaps after KBC 4 opens — a thriller called Tera Mujhse Hai Pehle Ka Naata Koi and a family drama called Saas Bina Sasural."
However, Zee TV, which does not go for celebrity-led reality content, did not agree that such reality shows can draw more viewers for the fiction shows on the channel. Nitin Vaidya, COO, Zee Entertainment Enterprises and business head, Zee TV, said, "Non fiction shows (on other GECs) mostly do not impact the serials beyond a point, as the stories are placed intelligently keeping in mind the disruptive element of these shows. The top 10 shows (mostly fiction) across GECs remain high on loyalty and any impact is only short term." He added that content innovation — such as festival specials — on fiction shows also create buzz and build reach for a GEC.
Thakur, while not in disagreement with Vaidya, pointed out: "You see a lot more film stars on TV today than two years ago. Advertisers get to integrate their brands better in celeb shows. They get to be part of the show's promotions and integration into the content itself."
Naturally, advertisers are willing to pay a premium. An industry source said that a big celeb-led reality show could fetch an ad premium of 100-200 per cent. He estimated that with Bigg Boss 4, Colors will manage to earn over Rs 100 crore, with title sponsorship fetching the channel about Rs 30 crore; co-sponsorships (nine of them) about Rs 7-7.5 crore each and the remaining ad inventory around Rs 10 crore.
Vasudev concluded: "Channels gain a 30 per cent viewer buzz from a 10 per cent programme share for such non-fiction shows. That makes such programmes a good investment."