Points of View: Is audience voting essential for reality shows?

By Raushni Bhagia and Prachi Srivastava , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | December 05, 2013
While all reality shows today have an option for the audience to vote for their favourite participant, how crucial is this option? And, is it really a positive one?

Reality television has changed the face of entertainment in India since the launch of Antakshari (1993), Boogie Woogie (1997) and later, Kaun Banega Crorepati (2000). While game shows such as Antakshari and KBC have objective results, competitions such as Boogie Woogie, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa and Dance India Dance have a subjective element in the choice of winners. In such competitions, judges decide which contestant is technically a better performer.

In 2003, Zee TV started involving the audience in the elimination of participants through its show, Zee Cine Stars Ki Khoj. Since then, all reality shows, celebrity reality shows and award shows (such as Zee Rishtey Awards and Star Parivar awards) have maintained an audience vote option. Even MasterChef India had public voting; while Colors selected the protagonist of Baalika Vadhu from among three shortlisted candidates through a poll.

In fact, there was also a campaign called 'one mobile-one vote' to avoid duplication of audience votes. Then came the 'missed call voting' phenomenon that helps the audience to vote for free.

But how far does this help? How quintessential is the 'audience voting' option in the reality shows? Is fan following really based on how many votes a show gets? afaqs! spoke to several industry insiders to get the real picture.

Ashish Golwalkar

Naved Jafri

Vidhu Sagar

Amol Mohandas

Ashish Golwalkar, senior vice-president, programming (non-fiction), Star Plus

Television is all about popularity and the audiences are the critics. We believe that public voting is very essential but the show should not completely depend on it. For example, in Nach Baliye we give 50:50 weights to judges' votes and audiences' votes. We feel that because we are making shows for the people, there is no way that we should not take their opinions into consideration. But, we don't want to give the voting rights completely to them. The hassle is that many times the audiences vote for contestants of their respective regions and their voting is not based on the performance of the contestant. It becomes unfair then! That's why the judges' voting is equally important. Judges talk about the technical aspects of the performance that helps the audience to choose the better participant.

Also, what is not good is that audiences are asked to pay unreasonable amounts for voting. The channels face allegations because people feel it's a money making tactic. Either the voting should be free or the consumers should pay the normal rates to send their opinions.

Naved Jafri, producer and judge of Boogie Woogie

Voting has its own share of pros and cons. It does build engagement and loyalty but it also entertains a lot of foul play in the sense that talent loses importance and popularity decides the winners.

We are not looking to encash on the emotional aspect of the participants' popularity. So, just the fact that he/she belongs to my hometown should not be the reason for a participant to stay in the competition.

One should win a competition because he/she is a good dancer not basis the cuteness, talk or background.

Vidhu Sagar, executive vice-president, Carat Media

Broadly, despite the fact that nowadays it's commonplace to have the two components weighted together (judges' marks and audience polls), no one ever contended the older way when only judges decisions were final. Judges have their own point of view and have the requisite knowledge about it.

Secondly, SMS voting is not perhaps the most democratic way of obtaining viewers' opinion, because there are people who watch a lot of shows, have opinions but have never voted. That doesn't make their opinion less important. Watchers' views aren't equal to voters' views.

Poll is a skewed representation of the facts because you as a viewer were never told the weight of the two components (judges' and audience). The weights do matter, so in a way, it's more of a psychological phenomenon that has been created as a way of tapping a shows' popularity.

So a show like Boogie Woogie adopting the older method is great, too. After each of the reality shows end, there is a whole set of news that you hear about how the voting and eliminations were rigged (Bigg Boss, for example).

Having been into a marketing set up before, I know that intricacies of the audience polling business. It is an important revenue stream and why wouldn't the broadcasters promote it all the more? It is the commercial significance of polling which takes over the representation of audience choices.

Amol Mohandas, VP, Allied Media

First thing is to get a telecom partner who is willing to partner with a show for voting. From a business perspective, it's not such an easy deal to crack. On the other hand, I am not seeing a lot of traffic on the voting front these days compared to Indian Idol 1 and 2. This is mainly because earlier, the audience had to vote for two-three shows, while now everyone is asking you to vote. If you follow many shows, how do you vote for all of them? Especially considering that not all shows offer free or toll free voting options.

There isn't any novelty left in the voting system. There hasn't been a lot of innovation in the way of voting. Newer mechanisms of voting are required. Broadcasters can innovate for digital voting; with the penetration of smartphones, apps can be developed, especially for voting.