STAR Plus got it right. The success of one show - Kaun Banega Crorepati - changed the fate of the channel completely. It created several other success stories on the back of this one big show. For nine years, it maintained a safe distance with the competition.
STAR inspired others and it became a belief of sort in the industry that one big ticket show could do wonders for any channel. There are a few other examples as well. Colors, during its launch, bet heavily on Khatron Ke Khiladi and it worked for the channel. Even Sony could make a comeback riding on the success of Kaun Banega Crorepati.
So, while it is true that a big ticket show can bestow its magic touch on a channel's performance, the motive has its own limitations. In fact, over-dependence on one big ticket show can kill the channel as well.
"Many a times, a channel spends heavily on the production and marketing of one show and compromises on the others. But even as the channel hopes to ride on the success of that one big show, that may not materialise or sustain for long after all," says a senior media planner.
Why? Because, unlike a STAR, Colors and now, Sony, the channel did not have a successive plan - and thus shows - which could pull in the audiences that already stood generated and reserved from that one big show.
So, here is the economics: A general entertainment channel needs a minimum of 15 hours of programming every week only to complete the prime time line-up, assuming commercial breaks of 15 minutes per hour. Besides, the channel also needs to fill other time bands, especially the afternoon slot, which has a sizeable viewership.
Now, the average cost of a fiction show stands at an estimated Rs 8-12 lakh for 30 minutes of programming. The cost could be even higher for big ticket fiction shows such as Bade Achche Lagte Hain - as much as Rs 15-20 lakh per 30 minutes of programming.
Compare this to non-fiction and the production rates are even higher. Then, there is an additional cost of promotion and marketing, which is at par with the episodic cost. For non-fiction shows, the cost of marketing steeps up as the challenge is to bring in large number of people for a shorter period.
Often, the channel exceeds its budget on the production and marketing of a big ticket non-fiction show and thus, compromises on its other properties.
In many cases, though the original show gets much attention and care, which is important to deliver the initial numbers (and it eventually does get the numbers), the decision is taken at the cost of other shows which are equally important to sustain the channel in the longer run. And therefore, any channel which loses focus on the supporting shows/programming, fails.
Apart from the programming cost, the channel also has to bear additional costs such as marketing and distribution costs (Rs 1.5 crore/month and Rs 4 crore approximately, each), the uplinking/technical costs (about Rs 15 lakh per channel), on-air promo costs (Rs 25 lakh/month) and the salary costs (Rs 2 crore) - taking the amount spent per month to an approximate Rs 24 crore. Therefore, the channel would have to make at least Rs 24 crore in revenues to sustain in the market.
Now, if one considers Imagine TV, the channel was making an average of Rs 14 crore a month (wherein its effective rate stood at around Rs 15,000-25,000 per 10 seconds), indicating an absolute bleeding of Rs 10 crore! And, this happened because the channel did not have well-performing successive show/shows which could pull in the advertisers.
Here comes an interesting example. Khatron Ke Khiladi (KKK), the first reality show on Colors, which aired from the first day of the channel launch, contributed an average 17 per cent to the total weekly GRPs. During the same weeks, Balika Vadhu contributed an average of 3 per cent of total channel GRPs.
"Now, Balika Vadhu's channel GRP contribution increased to an average of 14 per cent as soon as KKK went off air in Week 34 of 2008," says Vikas Khanchandani, director, Aidem Ventures.
Nevertheless, currently, Balika Vadhu contributes an average 10-11 per cent of the total channel GRPs and the trend is consistent since July, 2008, when the channel was launched.
When a channel chooses to launch a big ticket property, the decision chiefly rides on three basic factors - to create an initial buzz and thus sampling; to generate big revenues through advertising and sponsorship deals; and, to use the property as a platform to build its other shows and formats.
Also, the 'big ticket' property primarily stays within the non-fiction genre, and is short term since it is a route for channels to generate maximum revenues through premium selling. "Since big advertisers have already bought too much inventory, they have no other option but to come on board as title or associate sponsors for that one big property," says Shah.
According to market experts, often, top channels demand commitment of FCT (free commercial time) even on fiction shows. With this, the advertiser ends up spending Rs 5-6 crore on a serial alone, which may anyway slow down in delivery at any given time. (To understand better: commitment of FCT means that the channel would ask an advertiser to take up a certain fixed number of secondages on a serial for a particular number of episodes for specific given week/weeks. For example, if Bade Achche Lagte Hai is sold for Rs 24 lakh per week, then Sony could ask for a 10 week commitment for the show from the advertiser on the given rate, thereby earning significant revenues. But, there would of course be no fixed guarantee that the show would not dip in viewership within that period.)
L S Krishnan, thought leader, Amagi notes that GECs are like the "flagship of the fleet" - typically the first, largest, fastest and the most heavily armed. Therefore, their victory or defeat epitomises the network's performance.
"Most GECs are part of a larger network of channels and if there is higher channel share, then they are able to leverage the audiences for their other channels, too (higher success in keeping the audiences within the network)," he says.