Amidst the age-old debate on a foolproof formula for success on television, one formula certainly seems to have worked for all channels. Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), the Indian adaptation of the original format, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, catapulted Star Plus' popularity, boosted Sony's viewership and has worked its magic in all its regional adaptations as well.
Nikhil Rangnekar, joint CEO, Spatial Access, smirks, "I think it's similar to what KBC did for STAR 15 years ago." The show is produced by Big Synergy across all markets. The format, which is owned by Sony Pictures globally, was acquired by Sony Entertainment Television (in India) for its Hindi adaptation. However, for the regional versions, the channels have to go through the Big Synergy, which is the official licenser.
The first season of KBC was launched in 2000 on Star Plus, a channel that was a mere struggler chasing Zee TV and Sony at that time. Anita Kaul Basu, director, Big Synergy, mentions, "When we launched KBC on Star Plus, there were two more shows, Kodeeshwaran on Sun TV and Chhapar Phaad Ke on Zee TV, which had similar formats of quiz and prize money. These were a threat of becoming mega shows and, hence, a counter for KBC."
A quiz show on prime time in 2000 was somewhat of a risk for the channel, as was the choice of the host, Amitabh Bachchan, then an aging superstar with a dwindling career, expected to fade out with time. The rest, as they say, is history.
The second season of the show had to end abruptly when Bachchan fell severely ill and had to leave the show. The channel, however, brought out the third season with Shah Rukh Khan as its host in 2007, which did not become as much of a rage. Star Plus stopped airing any more seasons.
After a three-year hiatus, MSM's Sony Entertainment Television re-launched the show in 2010. One of the channel spokespersons revealed to the media then that Sony took over the property only under the condition that Bachchan would host it. In the three seasons launched in the past three years, KBC is going as strong as ever, through to its seventh season which will be launched on September, 6.
KBC's charm was extended to the regional genre in June, 2011 on Mahua Bangla (Bengali). Key Hobe Banglar Kotipoti was hosted by cricketer Saurav Ganguly. Almost at the same time, the Bhojpuri version (Key Bani Crorepati) was launched on Mahua with actor Shatrughna Sinha as its host.
Vijay TV (a STAR India channel) was the first one to take up the format in the southern region in Tamil Nadu, one of the largest viewership markets, in February, 2012. Tamil movie star Suriya was the host for the Tamil version. The second season of the show, Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi, ended in July, 2013. The channel plans to launch another season of the show.
In the Kannada market, the format was launched as Kannadada Kotyadhipati (on Asianet Suvarna with actor Puneeth Rajkumar as the host) in March, 2013, and the Malayalam version on Asianet in 2012, Ningalkkum Aakaam Kodeeswaran, hosted by Suresh Gopi, a popular Malayalam movie star. Both versions are slated to launch fresh seasons soon.
What took the regional channels 11 years to pick up a successful format?
Indranil Chakravarty, COO, Big Synergy, suggests that the show is a very big property. "KBC needs a level of investment commitment by the broadcaster. We think that the growth in the regional market helped the broadcasters to make that investment commitment," he adds.
A few planners also believe that the hiccups experienced by the Hindi version of the format between 2004 and 2010 could have made the other players cautious. Basu adds that the markets were not evolved enough in terms of marketing and promotions. "Plus, there wasn't much need till the regional channels realised the impact of the show when Sony came back with the show with Bachchan," she adds.
While most experts agree that the format is strong and will only move forward, a few opine that Bachchan's charm has made a brand out of the format. Piyush Srivastava of Carat Media reveals that KBC is one of the best ways to make inroads into a state. "The most important part though remains a host, who is respectable and has reached every household," he adds, emphasising the importance of local celebrities.
For the recent Marathi version of the show, actor Sachin Khedekar was seen as a suitable choice as he enjoys substantial popularity amongst the Marathi as well as the non-Marathi audiences. Anuj Poddar, executive vice-president and business head, regional channels, Viacom 18, says, "The format is a winner, everyone knows. Getting the host right was another crucial thing. Sachin has done a fantastic job and has a universal appeal."
Apart from the language and host, how are the regional versions adapted for local appeal?
Big Synergy highlights that the language versions take into account the regional ethos and culture. For every language, there's a different research team that is well versed about the concerned state and forms a unique set of questions for the region.
The positioning differs, too. While the Bengali version was described as Bengal's Millionaire (Key Hobe Banglar Kotipoti), the positioning had to be centred around the state and its culture. The marketing and the promotions used this positioning. In contrast, the theme for the current version of KBC is trendier. The look and feel of the show and that of the host is modern and young.
The profiles of contestants also differ, depending partly on the broadcaster and its viewership base. Lastly, a few format related aspects like the number and nature of life lines, the timer, and the money tree also change with the region.
The regional channels, like the national player Sony (or earlier Star Plus), have commanded ad-rates as high as thrice their normal ad-rates for the respective versions of the property.
Interestingly, while all the other regional versions were almost equally successful, the Bhojpuri version showed disappointing results. The Bhojpuri audiences could have sampled the Hindi version of the show, which resulted in the lower interest.
The Marathi adaptation was launched when Hindi KBC was not on air. Could this have been prompted by a conscious decision to avoid cannibalisation, given the experience of the Bhojpuri version? Poddar, however, is confident about the impact of the property. "The format is present for the last six seasons and has proved that there can't be content fatigue. With various versions (languages) of KBC, the format will only gain more popularity and affinity," he asserts.