There’s good news for the 200 million Indian households that watch TV for four-plus hours daily, now that the ban on filming has been lifted.
Filming has finally begun in Mumbai. The government had put a ban on any kind of filming due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The producers have now been asked to trim down the crew size to 33 per cent of what it is during normal circumstances. If things go as planned, then by early July, new episodes will hit the small screen.
Meanwhile, in the southern and eastern parts of India, new episodes of daily soaps have already started airing. The West Bengal government has asked channels to shoot only fiction shows, with a maximum of 35 people on the floor. Odisha has not put any such cap, neither have the governments in the southern states.
Arabinda Dasgupta, head - TV and new media, Shree Venkatesh Films (SVF), which is producing shows for Zee Bangla and Star Jalsha, says, "25-30 people were always on the floor, so that way, the restrictions have not affected us much."
The only difference now, he says, is the additional people taking note of the sanitisation process. "We call them ‘Corona Control Officers’," adds Dasgupta. Their job is to keep a close eye on each and every department, and ensure that costumes, sets, props, etc., are all sanitised properly.
Star Jalsha, Zee Bangla and Sun Bangla have already aired new shows. The television viewers are watching new episodes after a gap of almost three months. So, how did they react to the new episodes? "The core viewership remained the same, and we did not see much change," says Samrat Ghosh, cluster head, East, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL).
According to him, the channels have, so far, managed to retain a major chunk of the unprecedented viewership spike registered during lockdown, when people were mostly indoors.
Advertising money has also started flowing into the general entertainment channels (GECs). About revenue, Ghosh says, "May was better than April, June is better than May, and in the next couple of months, we expect it to go back to normal."
The market, he says, is heading back towards normalcy, as retail giants have started to advertise again. "Seventy per cent of the total advertising in GECs in the east comes from the FMCG players," says Ghosh.
However, for things to go back to normal, the GECs will have to air fresh episodes of non-fiction shows. Reality show ad rates are almost double of what the daily soaps rake in. In non-fiction shows, the brand integrates itself in the shows. Soon, we will see Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan clicking selfies on the set of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, with contestants using Vivo, Oppo, or any other smartphone marketers' latest launch.
Reality shows will face multiple challenges. Ranjeet Thakur, co-founder of Frames Production, which produces ‘Super Dancer’ for Sony, says normally, there are ‘350-400’ people on the sets. Doing the same show with just one-third of that is a ‘task at hand’, he adds. The reality shows need an active audience. There are judges, and each judge has his or her respective team of makeup artistes, managers, costume directors, etc.
"This is the time to innovate and find ways to do it," says ZEEL’s Ghosh. Zee Bangla airs one of the most expensive reality shows in the east zone - 'Dadagiri'. The popular quiz show is hosted by Sourav Ganguly, BCCI president and former captain of the Indian cricket team.
With fewer people on the sets now, will the format of the show change, with the studio audience playing an active role? "We will probably connect with them remotely," says Ghosh.
The same problem will arise for shows like ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, ‘Super Dancer’, ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’, and many more. The producers and channels are, however, optimistic about finding a way out with the help of technology.
For now, the actors, directors and everyone else are happy to do what they love - entertaining the 200 million households that watch TV for four-plus hours daily.