Next Tuesday (March 20), AXN will air the final episode of Survivor, a television show about 16 people spending 39 days on a remote island under the voyeuristic gaze of some 28 million television viewers worldwide. A two-hour finale will award one million dollars to the one person who survives the 13-episode run after contestants have voted to oust others.
This happened some time back in the US and the rest of Asia (except India) where viewers are now hooked on to Survivor II, the all new episodes with a fresh cast of 16 strangers. But in India, the final episode marks the discontinuation of the hottest property on global television, at least for now.
It is certainly not the end of Survivor on AXN. "AXN will be launching an initiative to educate viewers on reality television," says a source close to the channel. So from March 27, the 2200 hours band on Tuesdays will be filled with other programming from AXN's library till the channel feels confident of the Indian market's readiness for reality TV show. "This could safely take about two to three months," says the source.
Survivor's discontinuity on AXN is significant because of three reasons. One, it was the pioneer of reality television in India with the first episode airing in December 2000. Two, it came riding on a lot of promise (a lot global) and thus, handsome media and advertiser interest. Three, it has left AXN richer with learnings that hold tremendous significance for two of India's biggest satellite TV channels, Zee and Sony, which have recently announced plans to work aggressively in this genre.
agencyfaqs! had caught up with an enthusiastic Tod Miller, managing director, AXN, soon before the launch of Survivor in India. For all the criticism of the show being too western and the audience disinterest in a televised reality similar to the one manifested everyday on real Indian streets, Miller had cast his bet on the "attitudinally 20-somethings". Their interest had spawned a whole genre abroad. It combined with the Internet to heighten viewer pleasure.
In India, AXN took care to beam a Hindi version too, to attract this tribe. If Survivor did its trick, it could have tried toppling Kaun Banega Crorepati, one of the most popular shows of recent times. In the US, a Nielsen survey had showed that 63 per cent of prime-time viewers preferred Survivor to Who wants to be a millionaire?
AXN maintains that it had set modest targets. Survivor is said to have touched a high of about 0.5 on market share against company expectations of "close to 1". A senior media buyer who advertised on Survivor claims he was expecting it "to touch 2". "It has been below expectations," he explains. "It hasn't set the Ganges on fire; it has been okayish."
A dismal performance can also be attributed to the fact that AXN has not spent much on promoting Survivor. Observers recall the launch ads (in the press and on Sony channels), an interest-sustaining contest for Indian viewers and a six-city road-show between February and March 2001.
But there is a bigger learning for AXN and other channels preparing to harness the potential of reality television in India. "Indians are for reality of a tame kind, not the stark one," explains the source. "They are still not sensitised to watching in-your-face TV; they want to see programmed reality."
Truth is, television is still too young in India. At a time when nascent Indian TV audience is only getting used to more and more conventional programmed narrative, Survivor seems to have come ahead of its time. Interestingly, Neal Gabler, author of Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, writing in The New York Times, argues that "reality programming is today's gusher, helping solve the narrative crisis (in the TV industry)". Such a crisis hasn't come to Indian television yet, if the popularity of soaps is any indication. Even if it did, Bachchan's presence was enough to infuse renewed interest. Wait some more.
© 2001 agencyfaqs!
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