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Reality re-loaded

You just can’t miss them. They’re all over television. If they aren’t running their latest season yet, they’re aggressively advertising it. Entertain-ment channels can’t seem to have enough of them in their scramble to stay competitive and attract and keep viewers and advertisers.

business Updated: Jul 18, 2011 01:07 IST
Anita Sharan
Anita Sharan
Hindustan Times

You just can’t miss them. They’re all over television. If they aren’t running their latest season yet, they’re aggressively advertising it. Entertain-ment channels can’t seem to have enough of them in their scramble to stay competitive and attract and keep viewers and advertisers.

Reality shows, or “non-fiction shows” as TV channels call them, are expanding their presence. Each new launch is coming in bigger and more ambitious in scope and coverage. So new talent show Just Dance, currently on Star Plus, which has Hritik Roshan as anchor, is talent hunting across the world. Its promotions have been mega-sized, multi-layered and expensive.

Danish Khan, senior VP and head, marketing, Sony Entertainment Television, said: "Reality shows run over shorter time frames, unlike soaps. Success has to come in the first two episodes. Advertisers also buy into some commitment of delivery from the start."

Interestingly, most entertainment channels are converting their reality shows into multi-season properties that can be nurtured and grown into “brands”.

Nikhil Madhok, senior director – marketing and communications, Turner General Entertainment Networks India, which owns Imagine TV that just closed its third season of Swayamvar, said: “To crack a new format in reality shows is risky, given the higher scale of production and expenses such shows require compared to soaps. It is less risky to scale up a proven property.”

Game show Kaun Banega Crorepati, which moves into its second season with Sony next month after moving from Star — with which it did several seasons — last season, will run over 13 weeks; last season, it ran for seven weeks. Khan said that it cuts across “viewer geography, demography and psychography.”

KBC is seeing aggressive advertising built around the message: “Koi bhi insaan chota nahin hota”. Last year, its ad message was: “Koi bhi sawaal chota nahin hota.”

Aditya Swamy, channel head, MTV India, said: “The way we look at it, if an idea can’t do three seasons, we don’t even want to try it.” MTV India has four-five multi-season reality shows that are going strong. Its oldest, MTV Roadies, has run eight seasons.

Given that putting up a reality show is far more expensive — more so if it has a major celebrity anchor — than other programmes, why are entertainment channels so hung up on them? There are a number of compelling reasons.

“MTV Roadies, for example, creates a sense of leadership and stature for brand MTV. It has also grown beyond the specific youth demography by now, with 40-year-olds watching it too, Its footprint has expanded over the seasons,” Swamy said.

Sanjay Gupta, COO, Star India, said: “Drama and action, which reality shows bring in, are thrilling concepts. Besides attracting new viewers every time, the seasons see viewers coming back again and again as the show builds a franchise, a deeper association over time, which gets extended to a relationship with the channel. A programme such as Masterchef has done a good job of holding Star World’s audiences.” Masterchef Australia is running an ad campaign before its second season in India.

Gupta said that with consumers getting more demanding, efforts by channels are going up. “Every promotion sees more thinking through. People must register in all that clutter that something new is coming up. For Just Dance, we went for augmented reality at malls, railway stations and other public places where on a big digital wall, people got to see themselves dancing with Hritik without Hritik actually being there.”

He said that reality shows are a very important part of the content mix by now. “They are a very important part of an entertainment channel’s portfolio, a banquet of edgy, interesting content that triggers different emotions in viewers.”

Swamy added: “At every intersection point, we must be able to relate to our viewers.”

Turner’s Madhok is still basking in the "strong closing" of Swayamvar Season 3 – Ratan Ka Rishta, whose final episode garnered a viewership rating of 5.1% (TAM; Hindi-speaking markets or HSM). "With reality shows, for newer channels like ours, the primary purpose is still to get new viewers in. The more established channels may use such shows to bring in their irregular viewers. Such shows, across seasons, serve the purpose well."

Even if a show sees decreasing television viewership ratings (TVR) every season, as is happening with reality shows? Swayamvar saw a finale rating (HSM) of 8.1% in season 1, 5.6% in season 2 and 5.1% in season 3. “In 2000, the cable and satellite spread was 20 million homes; today it is 110 million homes. While TVRs may seem smaller, the actual reach of the programmes has gone up,” Madhok said.

Navin Khemka, EVP of media agency Zenith Optimedia, talked money. “A channel’s yield goes up if advertisers can be sold ad slots at higher rates, which reality shows allow for. The premium that can be charged as compared to regular programmes is 30-100%. While the longer running soaps provide ‘efficiency’ on spend, advertisers are also looking for ‘impact’, which the reality shows provide.”

Impact, he explained, is in the ability of reality shows to bring in more viewers to the programme and channel. A reality show allows a brand better integration opportunities into the content itself, which makes for higher impact with viewers. Besides, he added, a brand may find a very good fit with the show’s concept, in which case it may be interested in the association across seasons.

He has a point there. Thums Up has found a good fit with Khatron Ke Khiladi (Colors), in terms of what they both represent — the same sense of daring and action. The fact that both use actor Akshay Kumar as their brand ambassador/anchor is a clincher.

“Also very important, channels can talk higher ad rates based on higher GRPs (gross rating points, calculated weekly as a total of programme TVRs over the week). Reality shows, drawing higher viewerships, help push up the weekly GRPs for the channels,” Khemka said.

Star’s Gupta said that as soon as Just Dance is over this season, Star Plus will follow immediately with another non-fiction show. Now that’s reality for entertainment channels.

First Published: Jul 17, 2011 22:07 IST