In a way, this is an effort to recreate history.
Flashback to 2000, when a channel was at the top. A rival channel came up from nowhere with an idea. A charismatic anchor. A new concept. The rival? STAR Plus. The channel at the top? Sony (which had edged past Zee a couple of months before July 2000). Two years later, it is the same story again, except that the players have switched. Yet, once again, the script revolves around a charismatic anchor, a new idea, a new concept.
Sony Entertainment Television (SET) India is making a determined bid for the top slot. The channel, which marked up revenues of $84 million in 2001-02, hopes to enter the black in 2002-03. Crucial to whether it actually achieves this will be the programming strategy that kicked off last week.
The measure of success? Whether the channel replaces STAR Plus at the top of Indian television ratings.
The channel is launching a series of four new programmes, with the star in the line up being the Madhuri Dixit-hosted Kahin Na Kahin Koi Hai (KNKKH), Monday to Thursday, 8.30 pm. Among the other programmes to be launched are Kya Haadsa Kya Haqeeqat, a thriller from the Balaji stable, which will play out on the weekends, Bachke Rehnaa, a gameshow with Mohnish Behl as host, and Kuch Kehti Hai Yeh Dhun, a musical quiz show hosted by pop star Raageshwari, the time slots of which have yet to be decided, though sources say that these too will go on to the 8.00 pm to 9.00 pm slot.
SET is not only trying out new shows, but trying to change audience preferences radically - from a staple diet of soap opera, game shows, and movies, to reality-based programming, a genre, that unlike in the West, has never made it to the top of the television programming chart in India. "With KNKKH we are making a determined bid for leadership in the 8.00 pm slot," says Kunal Dasgupta, CEO, SET India.
For Sony, it is possible to extend programming slots in only two ways - after 10.00 pm, where it faces an uphill task, or in the 8.00 pm to 9.00 pm slot, where it is easier. That seems to be the logic behind the new shows. "There are slots that are vacant, such as the 8.00 pm to 9.00 pm slot. With marriage the prime concern in everyone's mind, and a host like Madhuri Dixit, we are well set to take the leadership in this slot," says Rohit Gupta, who joined SET as executive vice-president, sales and revenue management recently. Here the principle of continuity works in favour of Sony, with its star offerings, Khusum, and Kkutumb, in the 9.00 pm to 10.00 pm slot. But the other shows pale into relative insignificance, given the gamble that the channel is taking on with KNKKH.
If Sony can create a Kaun Banega Crorepati, or even win half the popularity that KBC did, then it can hope to have a solid chunk of television prime-time viewership. At the same time, Sony realises that the KNKKH will have to first catch on before it can really excite the advertising community. Hence, advertisement rates have not yet been fixed for KNKKH, and surprisingly, other than on its own channels, hype around the programme - measured by billboards, newspaper advertisements, promotions etc - has been surprisingly limited.
But the programme has a lot going for it. "With the show, Sony is venturing into new territory, and given the combination of UTV, Madhuri, and Sony, if production standards are sustained, it could be a real winner. After all, if you reduce it, KBC too was someone coming everyday to answer questions," analyses Ashish Bhasin, president, Initiative Media.
Opinion is divided on the potential of KNKKH though. "KBC had one key advantage - it did not deal with something that is central to life. It was a game show, pure and simple. On the other hand, Sony is making two assumptions - one, that people will be willing to choose their partners on television, and two, that people will consistently watch that," points out a senior media planner based in Mumbai. In addition, by its very nature, KNKKH, will be exclusive to a certain extent. While KBC seemed to be for the masses - anyone could, at least in theory, participate - it remains to be seen if middle-class couples meeting each other for the first time will catch on among SEC C and D audiences.
"Marriage itself is a huge area of interest in India, unlike the West. However, once the initial hype has died down, the success of the show will depend on how long dramatic interest is sustained. For this, either the format must be very innovative, or the developments on the show will have to constantly surprise. Catching the pulse of an audience is one thing, sustaining interest in the show, another," comments a senior programming executive at a rival channel.
This is where Sony's challenge lies - with no script, and ordinary people on stage, the question is if KNKKH can keep viewer interest in the same way as Ekta Kapoor's serials do. At the end of the day, though KNKKH has all that KBC has, it deals with an extremely serious matter. Not that real strangers will meet on the show - the profiles are carefully matched from a data bank maintained by the show producers - but the crucial first meeting between the couple will be on screen. "This has never been attempted before, anywhere in the world. It is a very carefully developed concept close to the heart of every Indian, and that is why we chose an anchor of Madhuri's stature," says Dasgupta.
With many analysts attributing the success of KBC to the presence of Amitabh Bachchan as much as to the newness of the show, Sony is trying to combine both in KNKKH. The channel has also made its research wing stronger, and pre-launch research has led Sony to believe that given the combination of Indian values, the new format, and a glamorous anchor like Madhuri Dixit, KNKKH can lead Sony's challenge to STAR. © 2002 agencyfaqs!