Anirban Roy Choudhury

"If IPL has Mumbai Indians, 'Bigg Boss' has Salman magic": Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Viacom18

The head, Hindi mass entertainment and kids TV network, Viacom18, talks about Salman Khan, IPL, among other things.

Locked inside a big makeshift house somewhere in Mumbai's Film City, 'Bigg Boss' contestants are all set to be a part of viewers' life from October 3, 2020. The Hindi version of the British show 'Big Brother' will air on all seven days on Colors. Over the years, 'Bigg Boss' has established itself as a marquee property that hits the airwaves during the festive season.

According to industry experts, the show, which features celebrities as contestants and Bollywood superstar Salman Khan as the host, is the most expensive proposition on general entertainment channels (GECs). If sources are to be believed then the project that consists of at least 105 episodes, costs Colors around Rs 150 crore.

The broadcaster charges a premium from brands that want to market themselves during the show. Last year (2019), the channel had nine sponsors and 100-plus advertisers. Ten-second slots during 'Bigg Boss' are sold at around Rs 1.5 lakh, while for other fiction shows, it is approximately Rs 80,000. 

2020 has been a year of uncertainty. The Coronavirus-induced lockdowns hit the television industry like a tornado, and the advertising spends dipped to a new low in the first quarter (April to June) of the financial year (2020-21). The second quarter (July to September) showed some signs of recovery, but it is still far from what it was in the same period last year. 

In such a scenario, was there a cloud of uncertainty over 'Bigg Boss'. "Not doing the show was never an option," says Nina Elavia Jaipuria, head, Hindi mass entertainment and kids TV network, Viacom18. Instead, the discussion was how to pull it off.

"Since the channels were airing repeat programming, we got more time to plan for the show. At the very beginning, we came up with a stringent standard operating procedure (SOP) and made it mandatory to follow on the set," she asserts.

Nina Elavia Jaipuria
Nina Elavia Jaipuria

"There are different bubbles to ensure if something goes wrong (like someone tests positive for COVID) in one bubble, another one can replace it immediately," adds Jaipuria. 

'Bigg Boss' is a show where the camera crew shoots round the clock in different shifts. "We have sanitised the camera gully completely and the quarantine norms are in place. Safety measures are our top priority and we are not compromising there," she says. 

The safety measures and the stringent SOP have added to the production cost, informs Abhishek Rege, CEO, Endemol Shine India. However, to balance it out, the variable costs associated with the show have been slashed. "It will be as expensive as last year, if not lower," assesses Jaipuria. 

In terms of revenue, she is optimistic that the upcoming season will recover its cost. "Last year, it was the best edition in the history of 'Bigg Boss', both in terms of revenue and viewership. I am hopeful that we will close to last year's revenue," Jaipuria opines. 

'Bigg Boss', for the first time, will be pitted against the Indian Premier League (IPL). The multi-million dollar cricket league kick-started last week in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Jay Shah, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has already announced that the opening IPL match was watched by 20 crore people, breaking all previous viewership records as far as the first matches of any league go. 

Salman Khan at SPA inside Bigg Boss house
Salman Khan at SPA inside Bigg Boss house

With most of India being single TV households, will 'Bigg Boss' hit a wall, given that cricket is considered a religion in the country. "If IPL has Mumbai Indians, 'Bigg Boss' has Salman magic. Like viewers are drawn to Mumbai Indian matches, I feel Salman's magic will get the fans to watch the weekend episodes, which are a bit worrisome as those start at 9:00 p.m. On weekday, 'Bigg Boss' is at 10:30 p.m., while IPL matches are at 7:30 p.m. I think both will coexist, one on general entertainment and another on sports," adds Jaipuria.

Another aspect that sets 'Bigg Boss' apart, according to Jaipuria, is the 54:46 female to male audience ratio. "This healthy mix is what brands look for," she says. 

In terms of revenue, Jaipuria is of the view that the market is big enough for both the IPL and 'Bigg Boss' to flourish, "Of course, the ticket size is different," she asserts. A 10-second slot during IPL on Star Sports costs around Rs 12.5 lakh. 

"Because we know we are taking on IPL, we are putting extra efforts, especially while creating the weekend shows. At the end of the day, it is just four weekends that intersect with IPL. So, its eight out of 106 episodes," says Jaipuria. 

Manisha Sharma
Manisha Sharma

As far as creative challenges go, Manisha Sharma, chief content officer, Hindi, Viacom18, not only has to fight IPL, but fatigue too. The last 'Bigg Boss' edition got dragged to this year, and then the channel aired a separate show featuring 2019 finalists. "When a show does well, extension is natural," says Sharma.

Sharma refuses to accept fatigue as a challenge. "While the last edition ended earlier this year, we must remember that a lot has changed since then. It is a different world now," she opines. 

The show will draw parallels to the stuff that people are missing today. Those will be embedded as rewards. "Going for a walk without being scared is a luxury today, walking in the garden is a luxury, theatre experience is a luxury, and these will be in this year's luxury budget task," Sharma adds. 

Fantasy cricket league marketer MPL has associated with 'Bigg Boss' as 'Presenting Sponsor'. Dabur Dant Rakshak and TRESemmé as 'Powered By', and Ching's as 'Associate Sponsor'.

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