Raushni Bhagia

Why crime pays on television

While dramatised crime has had limited success on news channels, it is thriving on General Entertainment Channels and several new shows have been launched. What gives?

The crime show on Indian television has been through a number of ups and downs. And, in its latest avatar, it has possibly more followers than it has ever had.

Why crime pays on television
Why crime pays on television
Why crime pays on television
Why crime pays on television
While serials like Byomkesh Bakshi (1993), Karamchand (1980s) and Tehkikat (1994) on Doordarshan laid the ground for fictional crime shows, a more advanced form appeared in the reproduction of real life crime incidents in shows like India's Most Wanted (Zee TV-1999), Crime Patrol (Sony-2003), Sansani (STAR News, ABP News-2004), Vardaat (Aaj Tak-2004) and ACP Arjun (India TV), amongst others.

The re-creation of the crime incident started with news channels but was criticised for sensationalism. The highly dramatic anchor almost became a stereotype and the butt of jokes, with dialogues like, "Chain se sona hai to jag jaiye".

However, while India's Most Wanted on Zee has ceased airing, Crime Patrol on Sony is still on air with an average of 3-3.5 TVRs, completing 10 years in 2013. In the past year, three such shows have been introduced on national GECs, and two on a regional GEC, Big Magic. All of these garner TVRs between 1 and 2, which is termed above average. The 'It really happened' factor drives the viewership.

The nature and treatment of each is different. While Crime Patrol mainly focuses on cases solved by the police, Savdhaan India on Life OK features cases where citizens have fought back. Gumrah on Channel V (repeated on Star Plus) reproduces cases of juvenile crime and tries to analyse the ecosystem in which teen crimes are conceived, and the circumstances that lead to it.

Shaitaan - A Criminal Mind on Colors depicts cases in which crime is driven by forces such as superstition or revenge. It mainly features stories of common people turned serial killers and tries to explore a criminal's thought process.

On the regional front, Big Magic, a Hindi GEC that focuses on Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, telecasts Pyaar ya Dehshat and Police Files. Police Files is along the lines of Crime Patrol, albeit restricted to the regional boundaries of the Hindi heartland, while Pyaar ya Dehshat focuses on crime around love and relationships.

Crime not news

While the concept of dramatising real crime incidents was criticised to death on news channels, why is it accepted and more successful on GECs? Is crime the new entertainment?

On a larger framework, the main reason for the criticism was that news channels were meant to be 'informative'.

Why crime pays on television
Why crime pays on television
Why crime pays on television
Why crime pays on television
Why crime pays on television
Neel Kamal, COO and senior vice-president, international at the media agency Madison thinks that the entire quality of production and approach "had a negative impact on the credibility of the news channels."

"In the purest sense, news channels are supposed to provide unbiased coverage of the facts without any dramatisation," reminds Prem Kamath, executive vice-president and general manager, Channel V.

GECs argue that dramatised reproduction of crime is an attempt to sensitise the audience. Possibly but it is hard to ignore that the shows fetch channels good viewership. Producing these shows is also less expensive than creating soaps. In other words, the business logic is compelling. The question is: will viewer interest persist or is this a passing phase?

Kamath suggests, "These shows focus on a very primal, voyeuristic instinct of viewers by getting really close to the crime. That's what really keeps viewers coming back for more. In that sense, some form or the other of this content will always be in demand. We have made a conscious effort to focus on the environment of crime rather than the gore itself."

Ajit Thakur, GM, Life Ok says that it is a part of life. "Whether we like it or not, crime has become a part of society. The more aware and alert people are, the safer they will be. It's a relevant genre and here to stay."

Sunil Kumaran, business head, language TV, RBNL opines that the relevance of the show has to be maintained for it to continue getting numbers. If monotony is established, viewer fatigue may kill the genre.

The success of Crime Patrol has already seen a number of similar programmes being launched across channels, with many more in the pipeline. "While the genre is here to stay, not all programmes will get audience traction," cautions Vidyadhar Kale, GM, Maxus Mumbai.

Kamal of Madison agrees that the genre is here to stay "till our society becomes crime free". Which is another way of saying, forever.

To run the shows on GECs the production quality has to be higher but that is more than offset by the higher advertising revenue. Anchors play a very important role in crime shows. Like brand ambassadors, they enhance the message and increase impact as they are chosen from among well-known television personalities. Anup Soni of Crime Patrol was one of the 10 most popular faces on television in 2012, as per an Ormax report. Shaitaan on Colors features Sharad Kelkar, the popular face of Kuch Toh Log Kahenge.

Also, given the vigilant Broadcast Content Complain Council (BCCC), the GECs take great care while editing the footage. An absence of graphic violence makes the shows more viewer friendly.

As news targets a specific audience group (C&S 15+) which is a subset of the target group of GECs (C&S 4+), the sampling increases in the case of GECs. The best example of the TG variant are the ratings of Gumrah. The show averages 0.7-1 TVRs on Channel V (original telecast) while the same show fetches 1.2-1.7 TVRs on Star Plus in a repeat telecast.

Kale adds, "While the key target for this genre is young and middle aged men, the programme delivers fairly good ratings in the female audience, too, and is showing promising numbers across SECs. There is a clear skew towards a metro audience."

While Saavdhan India, which started with 0.7 TVRs, currently averages 1.7 TVRs on Life OK, Shaitan on Colors garners between 1.2-1.8 TVRs. Police Files, too, averages at 1.4-2 TVRs in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Most of the crime shows have been around for some time. The current season is the fourth one for Crime Patrol on Sony, while Gumrah's third season will start shortly on Channel V. Savdhaan India, however, focuses on shorter series targeted at specific regions. It has had 'UP fights back', 'Delhi fights back' and 'Mumbai fights back' series. The upcoming one is the '100 fight back', with the 100 most gruesome crimes. Police Files, too, has had three seasons with different anchors on-board.

Bollywood movies have also seen sense in partnering with crime shows by integrating with the storyline and even bringing the stars onto the show. Two recent examples: Gangs of Wasseypur's integration with Gumrah for the movie's focus on juvenile crime or Aakrosh's Ajay Devgan's presence in Crime Patrol, in an episode that featured a Dalit crusader's caseOther integrations have included Juhi Chawla on Crime Patrol for the film 'I AM', and Amol Gupte (Stanley ka Dubba), who co-anchored an episode.

Advantage Crime Patrol

Competitors unanimously attribute the success of Crime Patrol to its focus on picking the most recent events while they are still fresh in the minds of people. Another attraction is that the scenes are shot at the very site of the crime, along with the anchor, who narrates the episode while walking on the spot.

Sony has also faced flak occasionally in its attempt to pick recent incidents. The channel reproduced the scene of the Delhi gang-rape incident, which it couldn't air on directions of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. It also couldn't show an incident based on a scam which involved OP Chautala, the former chief minister of Haryana.

A media planner suggests that while crime as a genre nearly died after Doordarshan and India's Most Wanted, CID invigorated the genre and now Crime Patrol is taking it forward.

Kale adds, "The success of the show is also driven by the choice of time band. Most key programmes of the weekend are over by 11 pm and there is little competition for the show. The third success factor is its cross-audience appeal."

Have news to share? Write to us atnewsteam@afaqs.com