One evening, while enjoying my dose of TV and coffee, what caught my attention was the costume of a creative personality who was a celebrity participant on a reality show. I was struck by a thought: 'Who could be watching this?' The show was Bigg Boss, which is, today, in its seventh year.
Despite the controversies and moral arguments, why do viewers and advertisers keep flocking back for every season of Bigg Boss. One possible answer is that Bigg Boss is our neighbour's story, one that we are dying to know about.
When Endemol India introduced the idea, many were sceptical if it would appeal to the 'conservative' Indian audience. Others advocated the potential of the format. Sony Entertainment Television took up the challenge and presented it in 2006, the era of saas-bahu sagas on TV, with Arshad Warsi as host. There was no looking back.
Deepak Dhar, managing director and CEO of Endemol India recalls that there was fatigue on Indian television, with singing and dancing reality shows. "We thought it was the right time to come up with a format like Big Brother. Indians were as voyeuristic as people of any other country!"
N P Singh, chief operating officer, MSM, recollects, "The original format was very edgy and something that could not have worked here. So we toned it down. The intrigue about how people actually behave if they are in a confined space and how their inter-relationships evolve over a period of time was a unique thing at that time and the viewers loved it."
...and it stayed
Despite the initial losses, Colors did not give up. Admits Raj Nayak, CEO, "Despite losing money on the show, we bring it back season-after-season. We recover 70-80 per cent of our investment." One of the reasons to continue with a loss-making property is that Bigg Boss generates buzz - not always for the right reasons - months before launch. Public discussions start with stories about the contestants, controversy about the choice of housemates, the language they use, the way they portray themselves and what they wear.
The Boss himself does not hold back when it comes to analyzing its popularity. Salman Khan, the celeb host, who is in his fourth season tells afaqs!, "The ratings of the episodes in which I appear are higher. But having said that, it's the housemates who have to entertain audiences so that they stick on to the show for five days and come back for my episodes. Hence the mix of celebrities entering the house is critical."
Considered to be the most expensive property on TV, the spend goes into the set, contestants, technological equipment, the celebrity host and marketing. According to sources, the production costs per season is around Rs. 130 crore. Advertising revenue is not commensurate though.
"There is a guarantee that Bigg Boss will create buzz for the channel and also get us a certain amount of revenue. It is the longest running reality show that is the talk of town for over three months," Nayak adds justifying the high ad rates.
Industry experts agree with him. Says Pawan Jailkhani, chief revenue officer, 9X Media, "We should not see it as a standalone property in terms of profit and revenue generation only but also look at overall investment from the clients that such properties attract for the channel. Such shows have high-recall value and build a loyal audience base for the channel."
Unlike in other reality shows, the construction of the sets of Bigg Boss (either in Karjat or Lonavala near Mumbai) starts six months before the show goes on-air. Post launch, 300-350 people work for about 100 days. The six seasons generated content for 559 days and saw 98 contestants. The winners took Rs. 5.5 crore (Rs. 1 crore each in the first five seasons and Rs. 50 lakh in the sixth).
The show has evolved in terms of anchors and contestants, bringing in not just newsmakers, but achievers from different walks of life. It aims at packaging colourful and interesting personalities who entertain audiences and create curiosity.
Says Jai Lala, principal partner, Mindshare, "It gives higher ratings and brings in newer audiences who don't watch Hindi GECs. It is promoted heavily and the chances of sampling increase, which can lead to higher viewership and saliency of a brand associated. You might not find numbers but such shows tops in the brand recall list."
Lala also observes that it is a challenge for the content team to make people stick to the show. "The team cannot make it a complete family viewing, because people who are watching it are watching it because it's edgy. Also, it should not get so controversial that children cannot watch it."
While the key contributors lie in the age group of 15-34, it is seen that more women watch Bigg Boss than men. In fact, except for Season 3 where the men had a 51:49 per cent edge, the ratio has been in favour of women. Last season, 55 per cent of the watchers were women.
Over the years, Bigg Boss has attracted many brands across categories. While Vodafone has stayed on as the title sponsor for the past four seasons, L'Oreal has been on board for the same period as associate sponsor. "This is one show where an advertiser who has tasted blood doesn't let go. Almost 80 per cent of the show's sponsor base has come back year-on-year," says Simran Hoon, national sales head of Colors.
"Till the time we don't get the right price we don't sell the title," Hoon adds. From 2008-2012, on an average, 66 per cent of the overall FCT (free commercial time) on Bigg Boss has been consumed by sponsors while the rest has been sold to spot buyers. Hoon points out that there is a certain league of advertisers who spend on TV only if Bigg Boss is there. "Dixcy, Rotomac and Liberty Shoes are few brands that hardly spend on Hindi general entertainment channels but they are on for Bigg Boss," she says.
Vidyadhar Kale, general manager, Maxus, Mumbai who handles the Vodafone and L'Oreal accounts says, "Bigg Boss allows the viewers access into the lives of celebrities and gives them vicarious pleasure. If planned in advance, the property can be used for promotions or other business drivers."
Big show, big names, big spends
Subsequently the channel settled on Salman Khan, who has been on ever since the fourth season. In season 4, the campaign revolved around the theme - 'doston ka dost, dushmanon ka dushman'. Then came the "double vaat" concept when Sanjay Dutt shared hosting space with Salman and promised a wallopping (vaat) to its contestants. Last season, the channel played with the elements inside the show - like the fish or the parrot. This year the campaign revolves around 'heaven and hell'.
|MAN OF THE HOUSE|
Bigg Boss is the Indian adaptation of Big Brother, a franchise created by John de Mol and his Dutch-based TV production firm Endemol in 1997. It is about a bunch of people living together, doing household chores and cut off from the outside world. The only entertainment left to them is fight, indulge in backbiting or play out lovey-dovey scenes.
Guests have to follow rules, failing which they face eviction. These include talking only in Hindi, no violence, no tampering with the electronic or any other equipment in the house. They cannot sleep during the day, discuss the nomination process and leave the house unless Bigg Boss, the ultimate authority of the house, permits them to. The 'guests' are given various tasks by the ultimate authority of the house (Bigg Boss). To win, contestants have to survive periodic evictions and the last person standing wins the game.
Revelling in controversy
What you get in Bigg Boss is drama, romance, fight, lights, camera and action, without a director shouting his orders at you. It is up to the contestants, who decide what they do and how they behave. Nearly 70 cameras bring forth the weird emotional outbursts of the participants.
Debraj Tripathy, managing director, MediaCom believes that it is the controversies that make it click. "It has succeeded. Having said that, every format has a lifecycle and after a while viewers will ask for something else."
Bigg Boss has come as a career-reviver for contestants like Bedi (seen in Star Plus' Saraswatichandra), Mahajan (Imagine's 'Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayega' and 'Nach Baliye').
REGIONAL SATRAPS !
In India, the format has been adapted in Kannada (ETV Kannada, ended June, 2013) and Bangla (ETV Bangla, ended September, 2013) so far. ''The South is one of our major revenue drivers in last two or three years. Coming up soon are Tamil and Telugu versions. There will also be a Marathi version soon,'' Dhar adds. Kannada seems to have done the trick opening the gates to other states.
Bigg Boss Kannada launched at 4.7 TVR (according to TAM data - C&S, 4+, Karnataka - provided by the channel) and added approximately 90 GRPs to the channel's ratings, taking it from No 7 to No 2 (330 GRPs in Week 22) in the regional GEC list. By the end of the show, it had garnered 279 GRPs.
''Regional markets behave differently from the Hindi market and one has to keep regional sentiments in mind. The show helped us get new audiences onto our channels and widened the reach. Once it ended, we started to see a strong upward trend in our fiction shows,'' says Ravish Kumar, executive vice president, Viacom18 and business head - Regional Channels, ETV Bangla, Kannada and Oriya. Both the regional versions ran for 100 days with 98 episodes and 1 day each for the opening and finale. The Kannada version was hosted by actor Kiccha Sudeep while Mithun Chakraborthy anchored the Bangla version.
It was from season 4 that Colors started focusing on digital. The advent of social media, online streaming sites and the widespread use of smartphones, threw up enough scope for a format like Bigg Boss to be consumed online.
The Facebook community of Bigg Boss has over 1.5 million fans and its page gets 100 million views every season. Mobile apps allow people to get a live view of the house and listen to what contestants say 24x7. The website has 50 million pageviews and there were 15 million views on YouTube. "Bigg Boss has the ability to spark conversations. We just have to channelise this in the right way. In absolute numbers, we witness 50-60 per cent increase in active users year on year but more important is the quality of conversations," explains Vivek Srivastav, digital head, Colors.
The point in Bigg Boss' favour is that it is a conversation starter and a conversation sustainer - with admirers and detractors. There will be as many opinions for as against. As long as that doesn't die down, it will continue to talk its way into many more episodes.
A Note From the Editor
I am embarrassed by just how many times I have watched the English film, Gladiator. Because I like Russell Crowe, I enjoy catching it on TV whenever I can. Watching an action film can be curiously relaxing when you can anticipate each bit of violence and every drop of blood. Whenever I view an especially gory sequence with screaming Roman hordes in the Colosseum, I think to myself, 'Ah, the reality show of their times'.
I may not be an ardent viewer of reality shows but, to my mind, the parallel between the then and the now is unmistakable. In those days, gladiatorial contests kept the citizens occupied and they presumably went back home with the satisfaction of having witnessed someone's extreme - and generally terminal - physical agony. In the reality show, we are captivated by a character's mental agony subsequent to his or her public humiliation.
As has been pointed out by psychologists, to describe their social rejection people use words associated with physical injury - for example, 'hurt' and 'crushed'. It goes a step further. According to psychologist C. Nathan DeWall, 'Experiencing rejection activates the same brain regions that become activated when people experience physical pain'.
The reality show format was tried in the US for the first time in the early 1970s.It vanished and reappeared 20 years later in part because a writers' strike threw normal programming out of gear.
Big Brother is one of the earliest programmes in this genre. It began in The Netherlands and has since travelled to many countries across the world. It is in decline in many countries for two reasons. One, competition from other shows. Two, the rise of social networking: this allows people to peep into the lives of people they know, which is more rewarding than trying to empathise with a bunch of strangers in a house.
In India, however, Bigg Boss continues to grow from strength to strength. Credit for this must go to Colors for assiduously persisting - and experimenting - with it though it still has to make money, according to the channel. And then, of course, there is Salman Khan who has been anchoring Bigg Boss for some years now and of whom the audience can never get enough.