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Sony bets big on brand Bachchan
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But a slew of shows featuring Bollywood stars on rival channels could test his ability to shore up its fortunes.

Amitabh Bachchan may be readying to settle into the anchor’s chair of the upcoming fourth season of Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC4) on Sony Entertainment Television (SET) in the second week of October, but his unmistakable baritone could be drowned out by a rising cacophony of voices belonging to fellow Bollywood stars on rival channels.

Colors has lined up Salman Khan to host Bigg Boss in the same month, even as Star Plus plans a cookery show, Master Chef, with Akshay Kumar as the anchor. Colors has also roped in Priyanka Chopra to host Fear Factor in September. Salman Khan, who hosted one of the most popular shows — Dus Ka Dum — on SET last year, has moved to Colors. His show is expected to be aired in the same time slot as KBC4.

That could throw a spanner in the works of SET’s strategy to ride an anticipated surge in ratings from KBC4 — a game show that changed the fortunes of rival channel Star Plus a decade ago. But, the prospect of such a starry slugfest doesn’t worry Ajit Thakur, executive vice-president and business head at SET, who says innovations that the channel will bring to KBC4 will keep viewers glued to the show.

Thakur, who has been at the helm of SET for a year, says the channel has been closely studying audience preferences. “Even for KBC we went to viewers and conducted a survey to find out the time slot in which the show should be aired and decide on the host of the show. The response was unanimous that Bachchan should be the host,” he explains.

There is certainly validation for Thakur’s confidence in his strategy. The television premier of 3 idiots on July 25 reaped a fortune for SET, both in terms of viewership and revenues. Trumping three other channels, industry sources say SET paid an unprecedented Rs 40 crore for the television rights to the film for a five-year period. It was a gamble that seems to have paid off, with the highest-rated movie premiere reaping around 40 per cent (Rs 16 crore) of the price that it paid for the film on the very first screening.

SET certainly needs that kind of aggressiveness. Although it has gained 100 per cent in GRPs in the last one year, it is still a laggard in rankings. According to TV audience monitoring agency TAM’s latest weekly data on general entertainment channels, Star Plus (323 GRPs), Colors (312 GRPs) and Zee TV (227 GRPs) all better SET, whose GRPs stand at 162. None of SET’s serials figure in the top 10 ratings chart.

However, Thakur believes the tide will change soon. He says the channel will continue to pioneer new TV formats with differentiated, inclusive, content — Bigg Boss and Fear Factor, for instance, made their debut on SET, but moved to Colors and changed its fortunes. Says Thakur: “My focus is on the future. Just after KBC, we have another interesting property and I can say with confidence that it will be big.”

Thakur’s first year with SET hasn’t exactly been a joyride. In one of the biggest developments on television, SET inked a deal with Yash Raj Films (YRF) to produce serials exclusively for the channel, but the shows did not do well. The highest ratings of the five shows went to Lift Kara De hosted by Karan Johar, with a TVR of 1.49 and an average TVR of 0.74, according to TAM data.

However, Thakur isn’t apologetic about the YRF serials. He insists the shows were much ahead of their time and dealt with intriguing subjects. “One of the key learnings from our experience with YRF serials was that we should not have released all five serials at one go.”

“Despite that, Mahi Way and Powder had a good following, and we are seeing demand rise for the shows in Europe and the US. We have syndicated these shows with subtitles in those markets,” Thakur adds. He says SET will broadcast two more YRF shows in the next five months and Mahi Way will have a second season.

But, having an exclusive deal with YRF means SET will have to pay a premium for the content. “We pay a price, which we believe is fair for the content that they provide us,” says Thakur, without divulging any numbers.

Perhaps SET’s biggest failing has been its over-dependence on CID for ratings. Thakur says the crime thriller’s hours will be whittled down. “We have seven properties that are more than five years old, but are still on air. We keep innovating with those shows, so it is not an issue. We launched the CID bravery awards last year and plan to launch CID comics by the end of this year. Innovation will sustain these established brands, which have loyal viewers,” he says.

Be that as it may, for SET to elbow its way up the pack, much hinges on the success of KBC4. The big question is, can it deliver? Ashok Rajgopal, Partner-Advisory Services for media and entertainment at Ernst & Young, is not too optimistic. “The novelty factor of the show is gone and there has been a flurry of celebrity game shows on the small screen since KBC made its debut 10 years ago. I don’t think it will create a similar impact for Sony as it did for Star Plus.”

Rajgopal has a point. During the first season in 2000, KBC clocked a TVR of 14.1 — a feat that has not been repeated on Indian television, not even in the subsequent editions of the show. According to TAM data, while the second edition notched up an average TVR of 11.1, the third season with Shah Rukh Khan as host recorded an average of just 6.8.

Madison World CMD Sam Balsara attributes the drop in TVRs to the growing fragmentation in the television space. “As the number of channels available to viewers has gone up manifold, there has been a general downward trend in ratings,” says Balsara.

Nevertheless, going by media buyers’ interests in the show, brand Bachchan cannot be dismissed lightly. “Ten-second advertisement slots are being sold for Rs 2,50,000 to 3,00,000. The channel already has two presenting sponsors in Cadburys and Idea, and will have other associate sponsors,” says a media buyer who bought ad spots in the show, requesting anonymity.

SET executives, who asked not to be named, say the channel has already signed deals with sponsors and raked in Rs 100 crore. “There are fond memories of Bachchan and I think people will be keen to watch this season of the show,” said one.

The fact that when Bachchan hosted the third season of Bigg Boss on Colors, the show had a higher average TVR of 2.43 speaks volumes of his ability to attract audiences. In comparison, the second season clocked a TVR of 2.03 and the first season (the show debuted on SET) 1.96, when Shilpa Shetty and Arshad Warsi hosted the show, respectively.

Amitabh Bachchan is reportedly being paid around Rs 50 crore by SET for hosting the 36 episodes of KBC this season. Industry insiders say the mega star was roped in for anything between Rs 35 crore and Rs 50 crore for the 270 episodes of KBC 1.

Source: Business Standard

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