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The non-fiction format is a market expander

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | March 25, 2011
The last session of Day Two at the FICCI Frames 2011 was about the changing trends in consumer taste in television. The focus was on the rise of non-fiction format, reality television, and the trend of replicating global formats.

The last session of Day Two at the FICCI Frames 2011, held at the Renaissance Powai in Mumbai, focussed on the changing trends in consumer taste in television, especially on the rise of the non-fiction format, reality television, and the trend of replicating global formats.

The session, moderated by chairman and managing director Sam Balsara, Madison Communications, comprised a panel of five members. It included Simon Spalding, regional chief executive officer, Europe and Asia-Pacific, Fremantle Media, Myleeta Aga, managing director and creative head, BBC Worldwide Content, India, Rahul Johri, senior vice-president and general manager, Discovery Networks, Asia-Pacific, Purnendu Shekhar, television scriptwriter, and Santosh Desai, chief executive officer, FutureBrands.

Spalding initiated the session by talking about the current era of audience fragmentation as formats and trends are moving around much faster than they did previously. "Today, formats move around very rapidly and the average time for a format to travel across multiple markets -- that is, more than five markets -- is reducing," stated Spalding.

Elaborating on this, Spalding pointed out certain facts. Firstly, a race for intellectual property and the fight for rights is on. Secondly, replication (on part of competing broadcasters) of successful programme formats is rampant, as well. And, owing to this replication, 'audience burnout' is also on the rise.

Spalding further asserted that despite replication across markets, strong formats don't die. The format may be re-invented and localised (by adding local flavour into it), but the core formatting of the idea is retained. Spalding said, "We've learnt that reality has borrowed from fiction shows; but, whether or not fiction shows are borrowing from reality formats, is a question we will need to ask ourselves."

Aga took over and presented her viewpoint on the matter. Addressing the growth of non-fiction shows on Indian television, she said, "Non-fiction formats came up because people wanted to create a buzz and attract newer kinds of audiences. Non-fiction shows provide a different kind of brand positioning for channels and the shock value is high, as is the novelty factor."

Adding two more points regarding the very nature of this format, Aga said that non-fiction has always been associated with a lot of expense. Secondly, Aga reminded the panel that non-fiction as a format is not one homogeneous group. Rather, it has several different types of shows (for instance, dance shows, and talent hunt).

Aga also mentioned a few changes that are slowly emerging within this format. "There's a shift from celebrity-driven non-fiction shows, to shows about real people and their real stories. This evokes a unique kind of appreciation from viewers because they are interested in watching a bit of themselves -- not celebrities -- on television," she said.

The other changes in this format include tent-pole programming, an expansion to include food and lifestyle shows within mainstream viewing, and an expansion in non-fiction genres. "Basically, this format is clearly emerging as a market expander, audience builder and clutter-breaker. And, the key is innovation," Aga summed up.

Shekhar, popular for his fiction-shows, was next. He spoke in favour of fiction shows, asserting that since the format is deeply entrenched in the Indian viewers' cultural roots, it will never die out and will continue ruling the television space, as well, as the viewers' mindspace. "Despite the rising popularity of non-fiction shows, fiction will live on," said Shekhar.

According to him, non-fiction is popular because it caters to the voyeuristic needs of viewers. "When realism started vanishing from fiction shows, the demand for non-fiction grew," he said. Thus, in his opinion, real life drama wins over make-believe drama. He expressed concern regarding the 'real-ness' of reality shows. "Makers of non-fiction shows need to keep these shows as real as possible, or else, there will be audience alienation, with viewers seeking other formats," said Shekhar.

To conclude, Johri summed up that today there is a tremendous 'appetite development' in younger audiences, and that trends are changing rapidly. "We don't know what time we're going to reach home, what time we're going to switch on our television sets, and what shows we're going to watch. Given such a scenario, we're moving towards non-fiction more and more," he summed up.

Desai further added that the seemingly extreme reality shows often enable viewers to find meaning in today's changing times.

Regarding Indian non-fiction shows aping those in the West, Desai felt that they came with commercial validation. "But, why do we need to replicate these shows at all?" he wanted to know.

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