Starting a new serial on television is an expensive affair. That is why the people involved do everything they can to take the risk out of the launch. They don't always succeed.
The end can come quickly. I Luv My India, a SAB TV property, survived only 11 weeks on television. Aasman Se Aage, a Life Ok show, lived just as long. Teri Meri Love Stories on Star Plus was killed after only seven weeks. All of these are examples from 2012.
Channels today are investing large sums of money in the pre-production (research and casting) and production process to crack the code of a successful show. And yet, things do go wrong. afaqs! looks at the reasons why.
As the possibility of failure increases, channels are going to great lengths to ensure that they have got the formula right. They are throwing money at the problem too. Consider this: the average cost of a fiction show on a Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) today stands at an estimated Rs 8-12 lakh for 30 minutes of programming. The budget would be higher for a big ticket fiction show such as Bade Achche Lagte Hain - as much as Rs 15-20 lakh for 30 minutes..
Channels also invest heavily (about Rs 1.5 crore) to create buzz during the launch of a show. With so much at stake, channels are heavily dependent on advertising revenues to generate returns and eventually, profits. Getting the right TVRs early on is the only means of guaranteeing survival.
Result? While a show like Baalika Vadhu (Colors, 3.5-4 TVR average), a favourite amongst the Hindi GEC audience, continues to live even as the channel spends close to Rs 14-15 lakh per episode, a show like Love Marriage Ya Arranged Marriage (Sony, 0.5-1 TVR average) ceased to exist within 20 weeks (about 80 episodes).
Channels across the Hindi GEC space axed as many as 13 shows in 2012. The shows were launched during the year only to be discontinued within 7-33 weeks of their launch.
Interestingly, a show's absolute rating is not the factor that seals the decision to axe it. Rather, the relative performance of the show matters, both compared to other shows on competing channels at the given time slot, and its performance compared to the show that it has replaced on the given channel.
Room for trial
Ajay Bhalwankar, head, programming, Zee TV believes that faith in a concept is critical. "Conviction in any property is very important. That is the one thing which can pull off a show through its bad phases. One has to continuously check whether the story is going right and is believable and if the characters have been well established. It's analysis on these parameters that will help determine the final show ratings," he says.
Channels also need to conduct continuous research through social media and understand the attitude of the audience towards any particular show.
Interestingly, Zee TV launched as many as eight fiction shows in 2012 but it did not pull any of its properties off air. In fact, the show Rab Se Sona Ishq, which was launched in July 2012, opened with a TVR of 1.8 but its ratings kept falling.. However, Zee TV consistently worked on its storyline and telecast mega maha-episodes to create better audience pull. Today, the show averages at 2.7 TVR.
V Balachandran, national trading head, Motivator (a GroupM agency) stresses that a show's performance is always dependent on its storyline and the treatment. "Strong marketing for the any show definitely guarantees sampling, but if the content does not have the requisite stickiness, it has to fail."
The broadcaster also needs to give the show some time to live and react. Says J D Majethia of Hats Off Productions, "Any show has to run for a period of four to six months (16-36 weeks) to find enough audience and thus break even."
Nevertheless, it must also be noted that prime time is the highest slot that any Hindi GEC can put on stake. Therefore, media planners believe that a show's destiny is sealed in the first four-five weeks of its launch.
The saving formula?
A renewed marketing focus; a celebrity face; maybe a twist in the tale; or better still, rescheduling; Could any of it save a show from being axed?
Rajani's experience at Sony firmly makes her believe that there is very little chance to turn a story around once the TVRs have been consistently low. "Once the audience is lost or it hasn't even sampled a new show, it is very difficult to woo it back," she says.
And, while there is universal consensus on this, there are times when the show could just start performing when it's standing at its fag end. Example? Sajda (which garnered around 1 average TVR), a 10 pm daily which Star Plus tried hard to save for 16 weeks, increased to 1.5 TVR on its last episode.
While broadcasters often opt for a twist in the story line and a strong marketing buzz to save the show, R S Suriyanarayanan of Lintas Initiative feels that a quick rescheduling and exposure to a newer audience set could work in a bad situation.
"A clear analysis of the viewership profile of any show and the respective slots, therefore, can help in a big way. If the analysis depicts that a show on any timeband suited for females, has a significant number of male audience, then it's better to shift the same to a slot that is more favourable to the family audiences to strength viewership," he adds.
Incidentally, a channel's profile also decides a show's existential pattern. Take for instance, Colors; it has a reputation for deciding on the fate of a serial quickly as opposed to Zee which has had a tradition of being patient with its properties. Star Plus, on the one hand, is strong on female-centric fiction while courtesy CID and Crime Patrol, Sony is still struggling to shed its male-focused image.