Siddhartha Basu, chairperson and managing director, Big Synergy Media described reality television as a much bantered term in television circles. Reality, he said, was a misnomer for what reality television 'really' is. To make business sense of the term, panellists such as Nitin Vaidya, chief operating officer, ZEEL and business head, Zee TV; Ashvini Yardi, programming head, Colors; Patrick Schult, chief executive officer, Asia Pacific, Fremantle Media; and Sanjay Reddy, senior vice-president, SUN TV Network participated in a discussion on the various aspects of reality television.
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"How accurately are they portraying the reality, the truth? Who is regulating it? What is the future of reality and to what extent can channels go?" Basu questioned, remarking on the state of reality television today.
Schult of Fremantle Media said that it was all about creative treatment of actualities. "A new genre of reality is emerging, which is 'emotainment' - emotional entertainment - portraying real stories treated sensitively without 'tabloidising'," he said.
Ashvini Yardi was of the view that reality will always be a small part of the overall entertainment platter served to viewers. "Only soaps can attract a loyal audience base, lead to huge time spent on the channel and require not so huge investments. Reality only adds spice, gets youth and men onto the channel and makes for good coffee table conversations," she said.
Voyeurism has been working on reality shows but in a market like India, she said, it was important to acknowledge that Indian viewers are global in perspective but Indian at heart. "Content has to appeal to Bharat and India," she said.
Vaidya of ZEEL said that as a rule, ZEEL's channels do not portray any content that may cause resentment among viewers. From a business point of view, he said that reality was a good medium to create buzz and attract attention, especially for new channels. The launch of Colors is a testimony to that. "But there isn't a positive answer for whether reality helps a television channel in the long run. Fiction is what created loyalties," he added.
Reddy of Sun shared interesting statistics. He said that out of the 4.2 million hours of TV content that beams into households in India annually, less than 8 per cent is original content. He said there was a need to look at original formats for reality shows as that is where the growth will come from.
Vaidya reiterated the same point and cited the regional market as an example. "Because of scarcity of funds, regional channels could not afford to import formats. They were forced to innovate," he says. Dance India Dance and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, he said, were prime examples of formats that were home grown.
However, while reality TV is the delicious snack which requires high investments, the returns are low. They have negligible repeat value and have a short life span of three-four seasons. Hence, reality TV will remain the icing on the cake, while soaps will be the cake for the longest time, with varying flavours every season.