Alokananda Chakraborty

STAR leads with Coke V-Popstars; etc follows with Pepsi Ban Ja Staara Yara

As TV channels give a serious look at talent hunts, is this the beginning of a whole new genre of programming?

First it was STAR Plus with Coke V-Popstars. And now it is etc Punjabi. From May 2 to May 25, the channel will hit seven cities in Punjab in a bid to find the best singer in the state. In the new programme, Pepsi Ban Ja Staara Yara, the participants will go through three rounds - a preliminary, semi-finals and a mega final - to be selected the final winner.

etc is hoping this programme will bring in viewers in droves. In fact, with the success of V-Popstars on STAR Plus, it seems that a whole new programming genre - talent shows - is being discovered.

For etc the talent show is the biggest programming initiative that the channel has undertaken in recent times. In its quest to cover the whole of Punjab, the events will be held at Moga, Hoshiarpur, Bhatinda, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Patiala and Ludhiana. The quarter finals are from May 2 to May 11, 2002. The semi-finals will be held from May 15 to May 19, 2002. And the Grand Finale will be held at Ludhiana on May 25, 2002. T-Series is the official music company supporting the event. Says Pradeep Dixit, CEO, etc Networks Ltd, "It is natural for the leading channel of the Punjabi community to give them a platform to explore their talent and offer a scope for growth."

Are talent shows the new winning formula on television? The genre itself is likely to draw in viewers. But, viewer interest must be sustained at a high level for a considerable period of time, and therein lies the challenge. It is unlikely that a mere talent show can do that. Already, there is criticism that the V-Popstars shows are voyeuristic. For example, writing in the latest edition of the Outlook, managing editor Sandipan Deb has lambasted the V-Popstars show as the pleasure of seeing others make "utter asses of themselves".

Not that the genre is new. There has been Sa Re Ga Ma (which is being relaunched as Sa Re Ga Ma Pa) on Zee Television, there's Boogie Woogie on Sony, and in the 1980s, Bombay DD had a talent show, Awo Mari hosted by theatre legend Adi Marzaban. "Talent shows are, by their very nature, cyclical. It is something that the viewers are totally enamoured with now, but something that will fall flat before you know it," scathingly remarks Meenakshi Madhvani, CEO, Carat Media Services India.

Madhvani points out that the ratings of V-Popstars are not very high, despite the hype. To take one measurement, the show has not made it to the Top 20 shows list in the target group of SEC ABC women in the age group of 15 to 44 in cable and satellite homes, despite the fact that STAR Plus has a stranglehold in this category, and has telecast the shows in Hindi too. Nor has the show made it to the Top 100 C&S shows, according to the TAM ratings for the last four weeks. "There has definitely been a lot of hype, but there have been no scientific studies that look at how the show has impacted audience segments post- and pre-show," points out a senior media planner based in Mumbai. Some media observers say that the genre will appeal to cities like Mumbai and Delhi, and that the appeal is restricted to the youth in these cities.

However, STAR Plus is upbeat. "The feedback that we have got is phenomenal. Viewers even have their own favorites on the show," is how an official spokesperson at STAR Plus puts it. Sources say that the channel is looking at a wider variety of revenue options, such as royalty rights for India's first girl band, sponsorships, money from those associated with the music and entertainment industry etc.

Such talent hunts also represent a coming together of the music industry and the television channels. For example, etc Channel Punjabi has the exclusive rights to telecast the talent show immediately after each contest. T-Series will cut an album to turn the winner into a national Punjabi Pop Star. etc Channel Punjabi does have a considerable reach in the state. According to figures from TAM, for March 10 to March 16, for all C&S homes and viewers of 4-plus age, the channel share of etc Channel Punjabi was 55 per cent, Alpha Punjabi was 20 per cent, DD Punjab stood at 15 per cent and Lashkara at 10 per cent. But the question is: Will that reach alone convince potential sponsors to throw in a ton of money?

Talent shows will face this problem sooner than later. The need to garner advertising revenue once high profile sponsorships run out will become pressing, especially for smaller channels. "A lot of clients are not comfortable with the fact that the genre cannot be measured. How big are the shows? Are they catching on? These are questions that must be asked," says a media planner in a Top 5 agency.

Another stumbling block is the enormous outlay that shows of this type require. Though specific figures are unavailable, analysts say that the production costs could run into crores, and, without sustained benefits, sponsors are likely to become tight fisted, and advertisers wary. "Though the big channels like STAR Plus are likely to find sponsors for quite some time, smaller channels will eventually have to depend on small local advertisers, and that will affect the brand equity and brand value of the show," says Delhi-based media analyst.

And in time, that will decide whether the current mania is just a flash in the pan. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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