Rakhi Sawant, a participant in the third season of Star Plus’ format show ‘Nach Baliye’, had much to complain on the credibility of the show after the results were declared on December 22, 2007. While most news channels went the whole hog with this, this is only one of the instances where the credibility of format shows has come under media criticism. In earlier instances, when a tiff broke out between the judges and some participants in ‘Jhoom India’, which even resulted in one of the judges walking out of the show, various news channels spoke on such controversies being staged to attract viewer attention.
Sony’s ‘Jhalak Dikhla Ja’, too, saw problems when participant Prachi Desai (aka Bani in ‘Kasamh Se’) was voted out, and then brought back in the show by a wild card entry. Desai won the show’s title. News houses used this as well to connote the show being rigged. None of these controversies have ever been backed by anything substantial, but controversy and negative publicity seem to be the order of the day for format shows, especially for celebrity-based format shows. Interestingly, this is happening despite these shows being audited by external audit firms – KPMG was the auditor for ‘Nach Baliye’.
Sources informed that Star Plus was expecting a public apology from Rakhi Sawant for the allegations she had made, but media owners and agencies don’t seem to be too concerned just yet about these occurrences. The view is that not only does the viewer forget about this as soon as another show is announced, they also tend to take some of these allegations with a pinch of salt.
From a pure format producer point of view, controversy is an important element. It is expected to attract more eyeballs, and hence, the formats allow space for arguments from the judges to the participants and the celebrity quotient only adds to the mix. The controversy surrounding the UK version of ‘Big Brother’ that featured Shilpa Shetty is another example.
Nonetheless, some sections of the industry also believe that sooner than later, transparency would become a more important part of format shows.
Bringing in the channel’s point of view, Keertan Adyanthaya, EVP and GM, Star Plus, said, “Star Plus is in the business of providing artists a platform to come and showcase their talent and entertain the audience. We are not in the business of rigging shows. In ‘Nach Baliye’, two of the best teams came to the finals, and of these, the best team won. What one of the teams is saying now is just a case of sour grapes, and if you look at the news reports, what the co-contestants and judges are saying, everyone has the same opinion. As far as the channel is concerned, the show has come to an end. Instances like these don’t impact a channel or even format shows as a genre.”
Adding to this, SET India’s President, Network Sales, Licensing and Telephony, Rohit Gupta, said, “‘Jhalak Dikhla Ja’ is an international format, and if a participant came back, it happened because it was allowed under the contract. Yet another participant had made statements against ‘Bigg Boss’, and this was only treated as hogwash later. These formats are global in standards, and innuendos like these wouldn’t impact their credibility. News channels are driving such stories only because it means more attention to them, and everyone, including advertisers, understands this.”
Credibility of a show is important. Nandini Dias, COO, Lodestar Media, highlighted this when she said, “If there’s even an inkling that a show’s credibility is at stake, no advertiser would want to be associated with it. These constant rigging reports are a concern. Broadcasters will have to become more transparent in what they are doing. That said, an episode like Rakhi Sawant would have been more credible had she said this when she was still winning. Now her credibility itself is a question mark.”
MindShare Fulcrum’s GM Himanshu Shekhar added here, “The advertisers wouldn’t be worried just yet. When celebrities become a part of anything, ego clashes and tempers flying are a given. Controversies are normal, and the reputation of a channel is not under threat in any manner because of this. Viewers do take allegations with a pinch of salt in cases like this. However, sooner than later, people will begin questioning various aspects of a show, and a channel would have to work more on being more transparent.”
Jeffrey Crasto, President and Head of Buying, MPG, is of the opinion that this negative publicity wouldn’t impact the channel. He said, “Channels may undertake stunts, but it makes more sense to do it when a show is on than when it is over.”
Divya Radhakrishnan, VP, TME, said, “Hullabaloo of this nature is a part of any format, especially when voting is involved. At the same time, these extreme reactions show the viewer involvement in shows. The logic is simple, as long as the TRPs are coming in, advertisers aren’t going to be too worried.”