Take top television programmes for Hindi speaking markets today and we notice one underlying factor– conflicting relations, either in form of kitchen politics or love triangles. Whenever channels try something different, it fails and grosses minimal ratings, is taken off air or is pushed into the wronged protagonist mode. Though programmers believe that minor change in audience preferences is setting in, ratings constantly indicate otherwise.
An oft criticised aspect about television programming is that same stories are sold in new packages: Disturbed human relations, unsuccessful love affairs and unhappy families with one person or more caught in the eye of the storm trying to make all the difference. Has Indian programming come to a stage where everyone is singing the same tune?
“It is what the audience wants,” states Deepak Segal, Sr. VP, Content and Communication, Star India. “At least, at present classic misunderstandings and melodrama are the only things that seem to click well with the audience.”
Sunil Lulla, EVP and Business Head, Sony explains, “The most common denominator today is single TV homes. Entertainment is confined to house and TV is the cheapest form. In such a case, where one is largely addressing family viewing, family relationships are inevitably most preferred. But even in that segment, the manner in which you present it becomes important.”
The manner in which Sony and Star currently present their serials is very distinct but the ‘family’ is omnipresent. Irrespective of the kind of serials Star has tried, whether in Sanjivani, Kehta Hai Dil or Saara Akaash, ratings garnered force the channel to come back to sob routines. Sony says its effort now is to add pep and froth in its programming. However, despite the future track, Kkusum is still a family drama, Devi is a classic example of a marriage gone wrong and so is Heena.
Lulla says, “I don’t endorse that family dramas are the rule-all but in India, they are the staple product. For the past 70 years, Indian entertainment is all about thrusting righteousness, good versus evil, the devotional attribute and emotions. Audience is groomed to a taste of melodrama. Our fantasy world revolves around that and drama only reflects that psychology.”
Essentially, as a result what is seen on the Indian silver screen, in form of winning properties today, is the same story told over and over again. So how does content differentiation come about? Segal replies, “The stories will remain the same. Step mother, ugly duckling, whatever you take. In that sphere itself, content differentiation comes from milieu, packaging and performance makes a difference. These factors also bring in stickiness.”
He adds, “Given the optimism in the economy, the minor changes are already setting in the Indian audience. The protagonist now need not be the prefect bahu but can be a working woman as well.”
What better to reflect this than Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin. As per Lulla, Jassi is a family drama presented differently. Nonetheless, if the trend in ratings is observed, in the initial stages, as per TAM media research, the ratings garnered a steady increase, today it does not go beyond 4 or 5 points. If the channel loyalty index for the period of December is observed, it is not getting any new triers either, reflecting that a select section of audience prefers this kind of light family drama but the larger section would still rather see scheming family members.
But does this dissuade programmers? Not really. Lulla says, “In Jassi we have found a breakthrough. The last few ratings have been low but the attempt is to expand the channel and programme loyalty and we are working on that.” Programmes like Koi Dil Mein Hai too steer away from the usual story line.
Star too has shows like Hatim, which is an add-on to its staple saas bahu diet. Says Segal, “We will keep trying new things. If it works, fine, otherwise we can always go back to making melodramas.”
Kussum has grown old and with the daughter, a new family drama will start, Kumkum has a duplicate now and Tulsi’s family is ever expanding. If the family trees keep on growing like this, perhaps for many years we would just be watching these soaps. Does the thought make you shudder?