Sex and the City: The India scorecard

By , agencyfaqs! | In | March 08, 2004
Though not a huge TVR grosser, Sex and the City has given HBO a boost in terms of channel share and advertiser response

A delectable three-letter word - sex - is not the only reason why situational comedy Sex and the City has become popular with urban Indians. The HBO Original has come to enjoy a loyal, though modest, universe of viewers. This may come as a bit of a surprise since, historically, with the mild exception of Friends, English comedies (or English serials of any other genre, for that matter) have received a lukewarm response among Indian audiences. Examples abound. Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dharma and Greg, the Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks-produced Band of Brothers (also an HBO Original), thriller Six Feet Under… Against this backdrop, Sex and the City, which completed its first season of 13 weeks on December 27, 2003, is an anomaly.

The obvious starting point to verify the success of Sex and the City is looking at the television ratings, though that may tell less than half the story. On the charts, for the 13 weeks that Sex and the City was telecast every Saturday (with repeats on Thursdays post prime-time movie), the show averaged a TVR of 0.2. Prima facie, this is far from flattering. But then, the reason for the sitcom's 'unspectacular' rating is that a only minuscule portion of the television population in India actually watches it. Kajal Thakur, business director, Optimum Media Solutions (OMS), describes this group of people as, "Urban elite, who read the Cosmopolitan, are educated in premier institutes and travel the world." And while this segment is growing, it is not huge enough to reflect on the ratings substantially.

It is only when comparisons are put in the right perspective that a positive picture emerges. For instance, for the weeks 49-52 (TAM Media Research: Six metros, C&S SEC ABC, 15-44 years), Sex and the City featured among the top 15 programmes on key English movie channels - HBO, AXN and STAR Movies. "And on more than two occasions during the telecast, Sex and the City ranked among the Top 20 programmes across all English channels," adds Shruti Bajpai, country manager (India), HBO South Asia.

Ratings is just one side of the story. Aspects such as channel share (that is, the share of a channel during a certain day part), walk-ins (the total number of people who tuned in to see the channel during a specific time band) and advertiser response underscore the fact that Sex and the City did get the Indian elite viewer interested.

In what TAM Media calls 'the Sex and the City effect', viewers were spending more time on the channel during the airing of Sex and the City, and second, more people were tuning in during that day part. Four weeks before the launch of Sex and the City, the channel shares of English entertainment channels between 11:30 pm and12 midnight were as follows: HBO 19 per cent, STAR Movies 17 per cent, ZEE MGM 20 per cent, STAR World 7 per cent, ZEE English 3 per cent and AXN 15 per cent.

After four weeks of the launch of Sex and the City, the channel share of HBO went up to 22 per cent, while STAR Movies' share came down by a percentage point. ZEE MGM and STAR World recorded no change. The share of ZEE English dropped by 2 per cent.

Walk-ins for Sex and the City also went up. From 10.9 lakh, four weeks before the launch of Sex and the City, the walk-ins increased to 14.6 four weeks after the launch of the situational comedy. On the advertising front, the number of brands doubled, and the ad duration during the telecast of Sex and the City increased fivefold. Before Sex and the City, 16 brands were known to advertise on HBO during that time band. After the launch of the Emmy winner, the count went up to 34 brands. And ad duration increased from 700 seconds to 3,305 seconds. A host of new advertisers including Hutch, Bharat Petroleum, Philips (DVD Video) and Samsung Plano came on board.

So what makes Sex and the City click? Says Bajpai, "The show cuts across boundaries because of its intelligent, wacky humour and the way issues have been tackled." Concurs Satyajit Sen, media president, MediaCom, "Sex and the City is a kind of alternative programming to mainstream entertainment. Parallel entertainment looks at reality in a refreshing perspective, which people enjoy. In Sex and the City, issues between men and women are dealt not from a gender-centric point of view alone, but also from the point of view of human to human interaction."

Taking Sen's argument further, Santosh Desai, president, McCann-Erickson India, says, "It is the matter-of-fact kind of treatment of issues about sex, put in a really refreshing manner, which is what has caught the urban viewer's imagination. In an Indian social context, sex is always seen as an escape. In Hindi cinema, for example, the fantasy element of sex is glorified, but not the reality of sex. But when women in Sex and the City are seen talking about sex with an air of nonchalance, it makes a real connection with this group of viewers."

Perhaps the time is also right for Sex and the City. Says OMS' Thakur, "There was a time when STAR World had just two serials, Bold and the Beautiful and Santa Barbara. And people watched those shows. Now there is a deluge of English software with so many English entertainment channels. Resultantly, the interests of the urban Indian viewers have widened. Which is why shows like Friends and Sex and the City are doing well."

Could this be the beginning of a new phase in television programming in India? In other words, with Sex and the City as a precedent of sorts, will television programming in India start addressing issues like sex less self-consciously? In the US, Sex and the City has been embraced in the same way as the Indian middle-class has taken to the Tulsis and the Parvatis of STAR World. While it may be a little presumptuous to think Sex and the City will impact popular Hindi entertainment on television in any way, it will be interesting to see how the second season of Sex and the City fares back home. © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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