Late 2004 saw several television initiatives that attempted to test the reality genre. The success of ‘Indian Idol’ even led many to state that the alternative to soaps had arrived. However, by end 2005, reality at best was operating in bursts – only finales and some episodes preceding them, have thrown numbers for shows like ‘Fame Gurukul’. With the end of the show, the high also ends. Have we been making more noise on reality or formats than what it actually offers?
Television programmers still feel probably not, if you have the right kind of expectations. “If you think it will be the mainstay of the channel, then you are making a huge mistake,” remarked Deepak Segal, EVP, Content and Communication, STAR India, “reality or formats should be injected in content with clear objectives and leveraged to the fullest.”
For Segal, the genre is a “100 meter sprinter. They can only give you these bursts. They are not like ‘Kyunki…’ that has lived years and still has the potential to go on.”
Two straight examples from the Network of limited reality bliss are ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’ and ‘Nach Baliye’ on STAR One. “And one of the first was ‘KBC’,” added Segal, “the show that actually changed the way for STAR Plus was a format show, but as was seen with ‘KBC’ and other such shows, it has to end somewhere by the very definition.”
Nikhil Alva, CEO, Miditech believes that reality is the solution to the get next rung of programming right, “You have people coming day after day to one set of programming. But there still will be a section and a sizeable section that is not interested in this kind of programming and then there will be those who are fatigued out. What do you do for them? There are enough and more cases on television, across channels to show that this set of audience, too, can be lured and shows like ‘KBC’ and ‘Indian Idol’ are great examples.”
A point that programmers like Karthik Chintamani, Network Content Head, Zee Telefilms are clear on is that though reality and format can’t be the bread and butter of the channel, will still have their place in Indian programming. “There are times when reality can even be used in combination with other types of genre to bring differentiation in programming. Reality is a tool and what good is any tool if you don’t know how to use it.”
Even if these points are considered, reality still becomes a second – and a distant second at that – choice on television. What stops the genre from growing in India the way it has in other global markets?
“Reality in India is far restricted than what it is internationally,” said Segal, “What can be shown for mass consumption in India, keeping the Indian ethos and sensitivities in mind, is probably 5 per cent of what is seen internationally. Which is why there is only that much you can do with it India.”
“If you want your primetime in India to have a fair share of reality shows, you would invariably be repeating the same kind of reality – sticking to musical hunts and so on. In such a case, the audience is bound to be bored of even reality, which should actually work as clutter breaker,” added Chintamani.
Elaborating further on this, Chintamani said, “Negative reality will not be accepted in India – the audience would much rather appreciate a rags to riches kind of story where they have been instrumental in the progression of the show in some form. Essentially this means engineering the show and that is just as much a limitation to reality as it is another way to making a reality show go the way you think the audience wants it to.”
Alva brings in a slightly different point, “If a genre doesn’t see enough successes and failures, how is it expected to come of age? Out of the number of soaps that go on-air, how many are successful? But that isn’t an excuse for not producing more soaps, so why should few experiments, which have given us a combination of great and not so great successes, mean lesser attention to reality?”
Perhaps the investment time in any genre isn’t much due to the growing competition in television. But Segal points out that the track record of reality shows are evidence enough of the fact that the genre cannot be mainline for India yet.
“‘KBC’ was huge for STAR Plus, but the show saw a decline going forward. We brought it back after a gap and it gave the highest launch numbers in television history. You can’t say the case would be different, had it been a smaller gap of just a few months, but it surely wouldn’t be the kind of bang that ‘KBC 2’ gave us,” says Segal.
Alva believes that reality has allowed television to move away from the dependency on soaps and to that extent has paid off. “The Indian audience has been exposed to new formats at least and have shown that they are receptive. Surely, there is much more that can be done to evolve television content.”
Surely indeed. The experts concede on the fact that interesting formats are here to stay – whether they come from reality or soaps. At the end of the day, the game is still about story telling.