Among Hindi GECs, Sony Entertainment Television's fall over the years has been nothing short of shocking. Over the past five years or so, it slid uncontrollably from No.3 to No.6. Now, after a 20 per cent rise in viewership in the last couple of months, it has managed to drag itself up to No.5. Ahead lies a tough battle for Sony, and in these troubled times, what could be a better move than to use its lucky mascot, Amitabh Bachchan, and hope that he can help turn the tables?
Now, as it swims in choppy waters, Sony is looking to Bachchan - and a fiction show - to steady the ship. Bachchan will play the protagonist in 'Yudh', a 20-episodic drama that will air for an hour (Monday to Thursday at 10.30 pm), starting today.
'Yudh' is the story of Yudhishtir Sikarwar (played by Bachchan), a man many believe to be invincible and infallible. Yudhishtir is a successful construction magnate, who has built his empire without compromising his integrity and principles. That has, however, created many bitter rivals, eager to bring him down.
While the content may appear to be more of a boardroom drama, there is intrigue and drama as well, it the promise Sony holds out to viewers. The show is co-produced by Bachchan's production company Saraswati Creations, in collaboration with Endemol India. Anurag Kashyap is the creative director while Shoojit Sircar has been roped in as a creative consultant. Ribhu Dasgupta directs the series.
'Yudh' will feature actors like Sarika, Aahana Kumra, Ayesha Raza, Zakir Hussain, Pavail Galati, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Kay Kay Menon, Tigmanshu Dhulia and Mona Vasu.
The channel is targeting all age groups, males and females (both urban and rural) for the show since Bachchan "cuts across demography". Says Gaurav Seth, marketing head, Sony, "It is a high-drama show and that's how we are pitching it. Ultimately there are many stories that are told on TV, but the USP of this show is that Mr Bachchan who will be seen in a fictional role on TV for the first time," Seth adds.
Having said that, Yudh has got the late evening time-slot, when most of rural India is off to sleep. Experts, therefore, believe that the show is likely to get more urban and male audiences.
Sony is investing heavily on promoting the property. It has done extensive outdoor promotions to encourage sampling of the show. The first "trailer" of the show (as the channel calls it) was launched during the Indian Premier League. The promos are running on MSM network's channels even as Sony occupied 10,000 spots on news channels (Hindi and English), music, Bollywood news, Hindi movies and regional channels.
The show is being promoted on radio in Mumbai, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and cities of Maharashtra and Gujarat with a population of over 1 million. Moviegoers too will get to see the high-octane promos of the show. The marketing initiative started in the capital, where a 50-foot poster was unveiled from the famous Statesman House.
Closely following this was another event where the protagonist goes to list his company, Shanti Constructions (shades of Trishul, the 1978 blockbuster starring Bachchan as the owner of a firm of the same name), on the Bombay Stock Exchange. On June 17, trading at the stock exchange started when Bachchan rang the opening bell. There will be heavy print promotions on the day of the launch with ads popping up in leading publications across HSM (Hindi speaking markets).
Bachchan is taking a personal interest in the promotional process. He has been posting about Yudh on his social media pages. Besides that, starting July 11, viewers got a chance to view a unique 10-minute sneak peak of the first episode. The video - hosted on yudh.setindia.com - asked users to tweet about the show. The more they tweeted, the more footage they could unlock of the 10-minute video.
Viewers will also get a chance to view the first couple of scenes from the next episode of the show, exclusively before the rest of the country sees it. Post every episode, a question would be asked and those who answer it correctly get a chance to unlock the next episode's exclusive content before it airs on the channel. The videos will be hosted on yudh.setindia.com. There is more.
Starting July 21, the channel will launch a character-based application to get viewers to answer a few questions about themselves. Based on the answers, they would be told which character personality (in Yudh) comes closest to them. The objective of the activity is to build key characters from the show and for viewers to identify with them.
Advertisers' big B-line
As in Bachchan's 'Kaun Banega Crorepati', Cadbury Dairy Milk is the presenting sponsor of 'Yudh'. Olx.in is the 'powered by' sponsor. Says Rohit Gupta, president, network sales, licensing and telephony, Multi Screen Media, "Bachchan is doing very well and his fiction debut will bring novelty to Indian television."
Despite being different genres, Kapoor's '24' and Bachchan's 'Yudh' are fiction debuts of two Bollywood stars on TV - as lead protagonists. There were high expectations from '24' and the show got immense appreciation from many who followed it. Having said that, it failed to garner expected viewership. According to Karthik Lakshminarayan, COO, Madison Media Ultra, "Yudh's potential ratings could be lower than that of '24' because - firstly - it will air in the late evening slot and, secondly, the overall rating of Sony is lower than Colors."
Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO South Asia Dentsu Aegis Network is not very optimistic about the show's game-changing abilities. "Yudh, on its own, will not be able to change the game for Sony, but will definitely build the momentum." Lakshminarayan believes it could. "I certainly hope that Yudh changes Sony's fortune. The plot of the show is different and the content edgy. Politics in boardroom and courtroom drama will get more urban male traction," he adds.
PM Balakrishna, COO, Allied Media, points out that the show will be a hit as Bachchan will pull in initial audiences. "There will be appointment viewing but I am not sure if it can change the fortunes of the channel. However, Yudh will give a spike to the channel because has all the ingredients of a master soap. The stickiness will depend on how tight is the storyline is." And, of course, there is Bachchan's screen presence. If all else fails, there is the eighth edition of Kaun Banega Crorepati coming up in August.