Old programmes do not die. They just fade away. So too with KBC, the programme that kicked STAR Plus to the top of the charts. KBC, launched last July, took television by storm, and even introduced new words into the Indian lexicon - "Confident?", "Lock kiya jaye?" It was a dream that, to the delight of STAR Plus, and the dismay of rival channels, seemed to go on forever.
And, just when quizzing seemed to become a trifle dull, STAR Plus struck with something entirely different - the tussles in Indian households. Making that too a booming success.
The pioneer, KBC, however, is now slowly sputtering to a halt. From October 29, the Amitabh Bachchan-hosted quiz show is being cut down to two times a week from the earlier three. It seems that the Indian audience has had its fill of game shows. Yet, STAR is also trying to hold the KBC banner afloat, through a series of innovations, such as having the stars from its other successful programmes take to the hot seat on KBC.
For instance, last week Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki bahus Pallavi and Parvati got 'selected' and appeared on KBC. They graced the show under their real names, Sakshi and Shweta. In the next Kahani... episode, Pallavi and Parvati were shown returning from the KBC show and narrating their experience. Earlier, STAR, to commemorate a year of KBC, got the popular couple Tulsi and Mihir of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi to sit on the hot seat of KBC.
To some observers, such moves smack of desperation, or as one trenchant critic puts it, "cannibalising the other programmes to keep the show going." He adds these 'innovations' don't seem to have gone down well with the audience as shown by the sliding TRPs. "What they should do now is allow KBC to exit gracefully. Slowly move it away from prime time, and then retire it."
Differs Atul Phadnis, media director, Starcom India. "It is clever marketing. In such a programme, one has to keep innovating. KBC is constantly happening. Changing the concept and changing the format is just common sense."
Yet, there is no denying that KBC has lost some of its initial sheen. Why? One of the major reasons for its success was that it promised ordinary people - the schoolteacher from Chennai, the trader from Ahmedabad, the engineer from Kochi - a chance to win, and win big. Yet, neither the money nor the star cast was the driving force, as other channels which tried to copy the programme found. What mattered was that it was like a breath of fresh air on television that was till then milking away Hindi movies with all vengeance.
"KBC was a change-the-genre programme. Other channels made the mistake of starting their own programmes, but you have only one "change-the-genre" programme," points out Tapan Pal, president and CEO, Zenith Media. KBC certainly changed the genre. Before KBC, quizzing was something that intelligent looking people did, and the quizmasters were never film stars.
The key to the success of KBC was that it was able to blend simplicity with intellectual content. It was a perfect mix. And the programme exploded on the Indian television scene at the right moment. "The quizzing genre was there before; what STAR did was to make the whole thing larger than life," points out Sandeep Singh, vice-president, marketing, SABe TV.
What catapulted STAR to the top of the heap, as a channel, was not KBC alone, but the tactic of using one programme to pull it an audience and keep it hooked with a series of other new programmes. Other channels started similar shows, but, after the initial hype, could not 'hold on' to the audience. "It was an extremely expensive programme that served its purpose, an investment that paid off handsome dividends," says one senior official at STAR.
This also meant that programming became cyclical - when the "bull-run" of one programme ended, another had to take its place, and quickly, or the viewers could get restive. Windows of opportunity kept on opening, and then closing. For example, the newer programmes of STAR hover around the TVR mark of 6 at the most, a far cry from the heyday of KBC and the soaps. For example, Hum Saath Aath Hain at 7.30 pm (Mondays - Thursday) - the latest show on STAR Plus - gets an average TVR of 3.9. However, that rating is higher than Shree Ganesh, Heena on Sony and Amaanat, Kohi Apna Sa on Zee.
The eclipse of KBC, and the rise of programmes like Kusum (Sony) could mean that there is a vacuum in Indian television programming, similar to the one when KBC first came on to the charts. Yet, in a field as unpredictable as television programming it is impossible to say, when a channel's run at the top can be challenged. What is clear is that it can be challenged.
"There is no such thing like channel loyalty. There is only programme loyalty," avers Partha Pratim Sinha, director, marketing, Zee Network. Analysts argue that the best way to challenge STAR would be to pit a programme that is fresh in a time slot, focus on that particular time slot, and then support the programme with all the marketing and creativity at one's command.
So where will the wind blow next? Or will STAR keep its stranglehold on the top shows? Besides the obvious suspects Zee and Sony, challengers lurking in the wings include SABe TV that is banking on comedy, B4U that has moved into movies, and Sahara which is fighting on. But the task is far from easy. As Shripad Kulkarni, managing director, M:Ideas, a Mumbai-based media consulting agency, points out, "What happened with the other channels is that they were too late. It is very difficult to fight after the war."
It will take a real "change-the-genre" programme to zoom to the top just like KBC did. And this might be just the right time to start looking. After all, in television, just like in diplomacy, there are no permanent winners. Or losers.
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