Stop the music, it's adventure time on GECs

By Sapna Nair , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | July 23, 2009
In the last couple of years, format shows on television have matured. Song and dance routines make way for bolder and fresher formats

There was a time when reality shows meant music and dance competitions and innumerable variants of these ruled television sets for a long time, whether it was SaReGaMaPa, Indian Idol or Nach Baliye. Comedy and mimicry talent hunts, too, had their golden days. Recently, however, broadcasters and production houses are striving to dish out formats never seen before.

Whether it was Aap Ki Kachehri on STAR Plus or Bigg Boss first on Sony and then on Colors, broadcasters realised the importance of importing new concepts, and shows such as Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao (Sony), Sach Ka Saamna (STAR Plus) and 100 % Lucha (Colors) have been announced. On the other hand, home grown formats such as Yatra, which involves families travelling across the country (soon to be launched on STAR Plus) and Rakhi Ka Swayamvar on NDTV Imagine are taking off, too.

Are format shows finally maturing? When contacted by afaqs!, most media experts agreed that there was a degree of maturity in the recent reality format shows. A host of reasons have led to this evolution.

Give me more

There was viewer fatigue with the indoor studio-based reality shows. Viewers were yearning for more outdoor shows with drama. Hence, shows such as Khatron Ke Khiladi were highly successful. "Viewers want to see real reactions, even if the situations may not be real, especially from celebrities," says Ashish Patil, general manager and senior vice-president, creative and content, MTV. The channel has been thriving on popular reality shows such as Bakra and On the Job for quite some time.

There was also a need to innovate as similar shows were being churned out on different channels. "What happens is what I call the wallpaper theory. Every format starts to look the same, paving the way for formats that defy the mould," says Deepak Dhar, managing director, Endemol.

Most of the experts hailed Fear Factor and Bigg Boss as the stepping stones in this direction of 'evolution'. Both shows put celebrities (popular and lesser-known) in bizarre situations and entertained the audience with reality and drama. As Nikhil Rangnekar, executive director, India-West, Starcom, puts it, 'a show like Bigg Boss got voyeurism into the drawing rooms of Indian households'.

Late revelation

A few years ago, broadcasters weren't willing to experiment; the risk appetite of broadcasters was low. Moreover, studio shows were cheaper to produce and easy to manage. "Earlier, channels were conservative and insisted on formats that were in the realm of song and dance," says Dhar.

This led to new seasons of old shows, which resulted in gradual loss of viewership. For instance, Indian Idol Season 2 rated 40 per cent lesser viewership than Season 1 because by then, several clones were around.

Another argument is that the audience, too, has evolved. Sudha Natrajan, president and chief operating officer, Lintas Media Group, says, "The fact that we are ready for a format like Moment of Truth just shows that audience preferences have evolved." She doubts if such a format could have been launched two years ago.

"Broadcasters have also realised the importance of marketing a show. Khatron Ke Khiladi proved that a format can make money as well as entertain the hoi-polloi," she adds. The show is also credited with bringing in a younger audience on primetime.

Shailja Kejriwal, executive vice-president, content, NDTV Imagine, believes that the competitiveness in the market has got the better of them. "It has become imperative to innovate. From a three player market, there are so many channels today and the viewer has many options to choose from, unlike before. So, broadcasters are forced to innovate," she asserts. She makes another valid point about rising TV penetration and the need to reach and entertain a wider variety of the audience.

NDTV Imagine's new reality show, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar, has been a major TVR booster for the channel. Kejriwal says that it is difficult to say if the show would have reached such a peak a few years ago.

Making the right choice

Making the right choice with the format is crucial. The failure of programmes such as Heartbeat and Deal Ya No Deal in the past manifests this aspect. Although audiences are open to sampling new formats, they have little patience.

For Patil, who prides on the success of Roadies, which has successfully completed six seasons, it's about one good story well told. Meanwhile, at Endemol, Dhar follows a specific approach. "The key thing really is to spot the trend ahead of its curve. When we look at a format, we look at realistic ones that defy the mould and have an emotional connect. The most important thing is to package them in a smart way," he states.

One can hope to see more shows in the genre of action and adventure in the future. From being weekend specials to dominating primetime on television now, format shows have come a long way. The 'fear factor' about experimentation seems to be less amongst broadcasters, and the audience stands to gain all the way.

© 2009 afaqs!