From May 26, 2019, onwards, 15 personalities which include a politician, an admired Lavani performer and a celebrity chef among others, will be seen locked in a massive 14,000 sq. ft. house set up in Filmcity Mumbai. The regional offering from media conglomerate Viacom18, Colors Marathi, has announced the second season of its flagship show - Bigg Boss. Mahesh Manjrekar, a renowned name in the Indian film industry, will play host again with contestants from the length and breadth of Maharashtra.
Bigg Boss, the Indian version of the international format 'Big Brother', is one of the most expensive shows aired on Indian Television. Colors Marathi is estimated to spend around Rs 30 crore on this project and that is not the only big-budget launch in this market. Sony Pictures Networks India, which launched its Marathi GEC (general entertainment channel) last year, is currently sailing on a cruise to launch the Maharashtrian version of Kaun Banega Crorepati somewhere in the middle of the Arabian Sea. Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian adaptation of 'Who wants to be a millionaire', is also a big-budget production and the Marathi version is expected to hit airwaves at the end of May. While the players in the market are spending on content, outsiders are planning to make an entry. Southern giant Sun TV has already announced that it would launch a Marathi GEC this year and has earmarked around Rs 150 crore to spend on content.
What explains the interest?
Marathi viewership grew by 25 per cent in 2018, making it one of the fastest growing regional TV markets (Oriya 34 per cent, Assamese 26 per cent) in India. About Rs 800 crore of advertising money is spent on the Marathi television space, which, according to Nikhil Sane, business head - Marathi entertainment, Viacom18, is "huge". Maharashtra is India's largest economy with the financial capital, i.e. Mumbai, at its heart. The state houses the HQs of all major BFSI institutions, the largest stock exchange in the country - BSE and corporate offices of 41 per cent of the S&P CNX 500 conglomerates.
Brands have their eyes set on the high disposable income of viewers residing in the state and thus, broadcasters spend on content to enhance reach and woo advertisers to the channels. It is working too. "Colors Marathi has witnessed 5 per cent growth in its market share over the last year and now constitutes a 16 per cent share compared to 11 per cent in FY 18. The top-line of the channel has grown by 42 per cent while our viewership has grown by 49 per cent," Sane states.
Bigg Boss has donned many regional avatars in India, but it failed to break-even in its first year. The Marathi version, however, defied those economics. "Riding on the back of the immense interest shown by advertisers, Colors Marathi managed to break even in the first season," Sane informs.
Tamil is the biggest regional market in India and the Kamal Hasan-hosted 'Bigg Boss Tamil' (on Star India's Vijay TV) is the most expensive regional production of the format. The ad rates during prime time in Tamil go as high as Rs 60,000 for a 10-second-slot while in the case of Bangla or Kannada, media planners estimate the slot to be around Rs 25,000 and Rs 20,000 respectively. The rates during prime time on Marathi GECs are estimated to be around Rs 20,000 per 10-seconds.
"It is not only advertising that makes regional an important piece for broadcasters in India. With the new tariff order in play, a strong regional offering is important from a distribution point of view too. If you do not have a strong regional offering, cable operators will hesitate to buy your Hindi GEC or Sports bouquet, especially in the South," says an analyst.
The Hindi overlap in Maharashtra
Maharashtra is a large contributor to the Hindi Speaking Market (HSM) universe of television. The affluent or the Sec-A viewers are more likely to watch Hindi or English content on TV, unlike in Bengal or Tamil Nadu where the local Sec-A audience prefer vernacular content. Bigg Boss Hindi, starring Salman Khan, also airs on Colors and gets high viewership from Maharashtra. So how do you convince the same audience to watch the Marathi version? "Localisation" is the answer says Sane.
"The Hindi and the English overlap is a unique challenge which probably only affects the Marathi space more than any other regional TV business. I think it is always important when you adapt a format; be it a singing show or dance or Bigg Boss. You must adapt it to the cultural nuances of the region you are adapting it for to get the regional audience to tune in," says Sane.
The broadcaster got Manjrekar to host the show and made the house look more 'Maharashtrian' by adding relevant cultural elements to it. The house has been designed like a 'Maharashtrian wada' replete with a courtyard in the centre and a large activity area.
Bigg Boss rakes in the numbers
"Normally, if we sell slots at Rs 1 during Bigg Boss, the ad rates go up to Rs 3. Advertisers look at it as a premium property and buy it differently. Last year, we had some brands associating with the show for the entire course, while some partnered with us only for weekends," explains Sane. Hindustan Unilever's detergent brand 'Rin' is the presenting sponsor this time while Puraniks and the Helo App associated with the show as 'special partners'. Last year, Dabur Red Paste was the presenting sponsor.
The show does well on digital too. "On our digital platform VOOT, the show surpassed the region's most-watched shows - Roadies and Naagin. The peak was about 55 lakh viewers a week with the weekly average being 46 lakhs," says Sane. It goes beyond Maharashtra too, "On VOOT there have been interesting pockets across the country like Bangalore, Goa, Ahmedabad, and Delhi where Bigg Boss Marathi has garnered a great response," Sane asserts.
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Bigg Boss often crosses the line making it 'edgy' content for television. The nature of the show is such that it has never fitted into the realm of 'community viewing' content. Sane believes it is something that Bigg Boss Marathi has managed to change, which worked in the broadcaster's favour. "There are kids who watch TV, then there are youth and 40 and above. During Bigg Boss, we do not see Kids or youth viewership going down; in fact, all three grow. That became possible because of the way we regionalise the content, as per the pallet of Marathi viewers," Sane concludes.
Produced by Endemol Shine India, the show will premiere on May 26, 2019, at 7.00 pm with subsequent episodes to run Monday to Sunday at 9.30 pm on Colors Marathi.
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