Reality Bites: Is it in or out?

By , agencyfaqs! | In | March 03, 2003
Reality television has always been an enigma for Indian broadcasters, but media houses are not giving up yet

On February 1, 2003, Reality TV, from the UK-based Zone Vision, began telecast in the Indian sub-continent as part of the Zee-Turner bouquet of channels. For the ZEE brass this meant another addition to its basket of offerings including music, general entertainment, movies, news & current affairs, kid's entertainment and regional-specific programming. What the channel thrives on is content that is raw, in other words, real-life drama, accidents and events that seem to have caught the western world by storm gauging by the fact that it is the number one channel in the UK. Even as the ZEE brass basks in its newfound status of having taken on rival One Alliance (the joint venture between Sony and Discovery) which so far has had a strong reality TV presence in action-adventure channel AXN, the question that remains is: Is reality television a real hot property?

"It is a genre that caters to a niche audience," explains Partho Ghosh, channel planning director, Initiative Media. "Nothing shocking or revealing is going to work here. It has to connect," he dismisses the whole thing at the outset. Agrees Zubin Driver, creative director, The Cell (CNBC's in-house communication wing), "Entertainment in India is about fantasy. It is an escape from reality. In that sense, reality programming is a paradigm shift, which works only if it is relevant or connects with people."

Rohinton Maloo, managing director, Cutting Edge Media, though has an interesting take on the subject. "Reality television as we know it, is not reality television at all. It is a positioning exercise, a marketing gimmick in the realm of pseudo-reality where real people are thrown into a very artificial situation, he says. "Reality television in actuality is akin to breaking news like the collapse of the World Trade Centre in New York or the Gulf War as presented by CNN." Sums up Driver, "There is no absolute reality television. The only players in the reality TV space are the news channels who present real-life dramatic episodes day-in and day-out."

But channel managers and programming executives working on reality television remain optimistic. For one, Rohit Bhandari, assistant vice-president - sales & marketing, SET, who heads the AXN business, would like to believe that his bag of shows are the "better reality programmes" presented on TV. "I am not too sure whether reality programming, 24 hours a day, will work here. There is not much variety you can bring to it. Having said that, I do believe that we have the right mix of shows within a one-hour band on weekdays - be it the Guinness Book of Records, Ripley's Believe It or Not, Who Dares Wins, Fear Factor or stunts going wrong in Now See This. It may not be bang on reality in the sense that at a macro level the situation could be staged, but the individual's emotion is not fake."

On his part, Sunil Khanna, CEO, ZEE-Turner, had told agencyfaqs! in recent interview, "Some of the reality shows on channels such as AXN and Discovery have been doing pretty well in India. Though these programmes have a very limited timeframe, they have an audience that is really interested in this kind of programming."

Evidently, though television analysts and viewers remain skeptical, broadcasters are not giving up yet... © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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