Anirban Roy Choudhury
Interviews

Will 'Bigg Boss' make money for Colors this year?

Mahesh Shetty, head, network sales, Viacom18, says he is approaching the show with "positivity"

'Bigg Boss', the Indian version of the British show 'Big Brother', is one of the most expensive propositions on television. For Viacom18's general entertainment channel (GEC) Colors, 'Bigg Boss' is a marquee property. A giant house where celebrities are kept together away from their families, the show appeals to a younger, male audience, unlike the daily soaps that are skewed towards female (audience).

Last year (2019), NDTV reported that the host, Bollywood star Salman Khan, was paid Rs 2 crore for a day he committed to the channel. 'Bigg Boss 2019', which Viacom18 calls the most successful edition the channel as ever produced, went on for 140 episodes, delivering both ratings and revenue.

This year (2020), there has been a cloud of uncertainly looming over the show. The country was under COVID-induced lockdowns for the most part of the first quarter of the financial year 2020-21. The advertising on TV channels dropped drastically. However, 'Bigg Boss' will be back on air from October 3.

Once the decision was made that Colors will place the big bet, it was time to sell the slots and recover the cost. Along with Salman Khan, the broadcasters also write cheques to all the contestants. It goes bigger the longer they stay in the house.

Despite it being an expensive proposition, over the years, 'Bigg Boss' has emerged as a profitable property for the network. This year, it is not only the channel, but the entire TV industry is expecting 'Bigg Boss' to lead the recovery efforts.

Are advertisers willing to spend a hefty amount advertising their brands on 'Bigg Boss'? So far, Colors has brought fantasy sports app MPL on board as the presenting sponsor, while Dabur and Hindustan Unilever's 'TRESemmé' have associated as 'powered by sponsors'.

Mahesh Shetty, head, network sales, Viacom18, says he is approaching the show with "positivity". He is optimistic that 60 per cent of the ad inventory will be sold before 'Bigg Boss' goes on air. Here is what he had to say about his interaction with the advertisers, and how he thinks the show will perform, in terms of revenue.

Edited excerpts:

Can you shed some light on the nature of interaction you have been having with the advertisers? Are they forthcoming, like previous years?

Last year, 'Bigg Boss' was a blockbuster season. We over-delivered. Because of that, we have seen most of our partners willing to return, and those who haven't, (it) is because of their business needs and not the show's performance.

For example, Vivo opting out is a business decision that it has taken, and not because 'Bigg Boss' under-delivered last year. It is true that as we are coming out of lockdowns, the response from brands has been phenomenal.

Mahesh Shetty
Mahesh Shetty

There is a lot of talk on COVID discounts and slashed ad rates. How are you pricing 'Bigg Boss'?

There is no 'Bigg Boss' pricing for COVID. When you have a blockbuster edition, the next year, you increase your rates. In normal conditions, we would have upped our rates by 25-30 per cent from last year. But because of the situation we are in, we are keeping our rates similar to what it was last year.

As far as COVID discounts go, the demand for TV advertising is back. Whatever discounts were there earlier, have gone, and beginning September, there are zero discounts on our channels.

Looking at the interactions you have had so far, will you be able to fill the inventory without discounts?

Before we start, we should have 60 per cent of the inventory filled. When I say 60 per cent, you have to take into account that 'Bigg Boss' is a long season… So, the inventory fills that I am talking about is for the entire season. These are sponsors that associate (themselves with 'Bigg Boss') for the entire season. As the show goes on, many other brands associate with the property to promote their ongoing campaigns.

Recently, the Indian government banned another set of Chinese apps, many of which are potential advertisers. How has that impacted you?

Yes, in normal situations, 'Helo', which is an app from ByteDance and was a sponsor last year, would have definitely come on board. But then, there are fantasy gaming apps, edutech, and certain new categories that are coming. 'Bigg Boss', from a timing point of view, which starts from October 3, is bang on as it is six weeks before Diwali.

For any brand that wants to go out and make some noise and send out their brand messaging, 'Bigg Boss' becomes a great platform. Yes, a bunch of the Chinese apps that are banned, happened to be potential sponsors, and it has had some impact. But having said so, there are new categories coming up too.

Will the brand integrations that happened, for example, inmates drinking Appy Fizz, or clicking selfie with Vivo phones be the USP this year too?

Yes, absolutely. You can have seamless brand integrations during 'Bigg Boss', which, in my view, no other property can offer. At the end of the day, these are brands that are part of our lives. If you are at home, you consume a beverage, you take selfies, you cook food, and to do so, you use appliances, then you do personal grooming. These are all seamless integrations where you need not force the brand.

"I am quite optimistic that in 2020, we will at least match last year's numbers."
Mahesh Shetty

How do you create room for integration without force-fitting the brand?

This year, we will have a set of innovations in the content. Some luxuries that we missed (during lockdowns), will now be a part of the 'Bigg Boss' house. We missed shopping, so we will have a shopping mall built inside the house. We have missed going out and eating, so there will be a dining area where contestants can order food. There is going to be a health club, or a spa kind of a thing, there is going to be a mini-movie theatre.

These luxuries will be a part of the content, and the contestants will have to perform tasks and win them. But each of these innovations, from an advertising standpoint, is an integration opportunity. A mall for retail brands, theatre for OTT players, health club for fitness brand...

Are there any categories that you see a lot of resistance from when it comes to advertising on TV?

It is difficult for me to pinpoint a particular category. In previous years, we were associated with one brand from a particular category. This year, we are in discussion with another brand for the same category.

Yes, the mobile handset is an important category and the Chinese brands were most active. With them taking a back seat, the advertising has been impacted to some extent. Having said so, we are having discussions with other brands.

You are in charge of revenue. When did you think you can recover the cost, given the uncertainty around?

During April, May, June (first quarter of 2020-21), there was a lockdown, and the uncertainty was at its highest. None of us knew where things would go. This was an uncertainty of a different kind, which was impacting our business too, as there was nobody willing to advertise.

However, the second quarter brought us some hope, and we're optimistic. Now, we are approaching the show with a lot of positivity as all of us have, sort of, learned to live with it.

Last, will you be able to match last year's ad sales revenue?

… I am quite optimistic that in 2020, we will at least match last year's numbers.