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AXN bets on reality drama

By , agencyfaqs! | In | March 28, 2002
The Agency, an upcoming serial on AXN, will not have many of the advantages that gave it an edge in the United States. The question is, will it overcome them?


AXN, in a bid to expand its programming of "reality drama", a genre that has unisex appeal and has helped the channel widen its reach to women, will premiere The Agency on Tuesday, April 2, 2002, in the 8.00 pm slot. The serial represents the relatively new genre of "reality drama," in the channel's offerings.

The Agency is only one in a whole series of programming initiatives that the channel is launching - Crime Scene Investigation II, Monday, 8.00 pm, premiering April 1, 2002, after the success of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation I, and directed by Jerry Bruckheimer of Top Gun fame, and Farscape III, packed with special effects, premiering April 5, 2002, again in the 8.00 pm slot. The other shows that will debut this April are Queen of Swords, an adventure flick set in California, along the lines of Zorro, Thursday, 8.00 pm, and Relic Hunters, starting April 3, 2002, along the lines of Tomb Raider.

While the other serials are debuting in fairly well defined niches - for the aficionados of science fiction, adventure flicks, or detective and crime fiction - The Agency is, in many ways, a new venture into the genre of "reality drama." And it is an important venture for the channel that has been doing quite well in the country. Last year, AXN's subscription revenues in India increased by 80 per cent, from $3.6 million to reach between $4 million and 4.5 million. And, despite the slump in the industry, advertising earnings also touched $4-4.5 million. These figures are based on industry estimates, as AXN does not wish to make any official confirmation on its ad revenues.

The Agency, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, who crafted The Perfect Storm, Air Force One, and In the Line of Fire, profiles the inner workings of the CIA, or to quote the company release, "it gives glimpses at the kind of people who work and live clandestinely to ensure the safety and security of the United States and its allies."

The question is, will Indian audiences identify with the theme, and the portrayal - the usual us good guys, you bad guys stuff that so many Americans naively believe in? The serial is packed with such profound Americanism like "Nobody trusts the French" or the usual stereotyping of Arabs as dark, glowering characters, who, at the same time, love Julia Roberts.

What AXN is looking at is a fraction of the Indian television audience - about 4 per cent according to industry estimates. Even then, that is a crowded niche. There are movies, comedies, war serials, action and adventure shows etc. Yet, the channel feels that the new show fits well into it's appeal to the 20-plus, urban, English speaking, middle or upper middle class audience, or as the channel has often said it, "the attitudinally 20-plus". "The audience that we are looking at are those who like a slick, well crafted, extremely stylish show that will appeal to both men and women," says Rohit Bhandari, senior marketing manager, AXN.

A major disadvantage that serials like The Agency and the whole genre of reality drama have is that the genre is highly dependent on the plot and dialogue. This means that a large number of viewers - those who watch English serials or movies for special effects -may not warm up so easily to a serial like The Agency. Points out a senior media planner based in Mumbai, "The serials or movies that have done well in India are either those that are high on special effects like Jurrasic Park or The Mummy; or familiar faces like the James Bond series; or are extremely well produced and well crafted, those that they are able to hook the channel surfer. Reality drama eschews all this and it is important to follow the story, and the plot."

So, it remains to be seen if The Agency, shorn of many of the fundamental ideas on which it is built - the good guys vs bad guys paradigm, the glorification of the CIA and FBI - will set the charts on fire, as it has done in the United States. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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