Brand Bollywood on TV: Does investing in celebrity-driven shows make business sense?

The allure of celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan & Akshay Kumar has proven to be a crowd-puller on TV. But does it justify higher production costs & is it enough to

e4m by Collin Furtado
Updated: Aug 1, 2014 9:09 AM
Brand Bollywood on TV: Does investing in celebrity-driven shows make business sense?

Gone are the days when Bollywood looked down on television as a poorer country cousin. Today Bollywood stars have realized the value of the tube and are lapping up every opportunity to be on it. What began with Kaun Banega Crorepati featuring the Big B of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan, has been followed by a number of other shows such as Bigg Boss with Salman Khan, Khatron Ke Khiladi featuring Bollywood stars such as Akshay Kumar, Priyanka Chopra and Rohit Shetty and many others.

Do higher costs equal higher revenues?

Bollywood actors however come with a hefty price tag with Salman Khan topping the charts with a price tag of Rs 4 crore per episode of Bigg Boss season 6. As the season features 20-25 episodes, his fees will equal to approximately Rs 100 crore for one season. Much more in comparison to Amitabh Bachchan, who is charging Rs 100 crore for three seasons of Kaun Banega Crorepati. Other Bollywood actors’ price tags include Aamir Khan at Rs 3 crore per episode of Satyamev Jayate, Shah Rukh Khan at Rs 2 crore per episode for Total Wipeout & Zor Ka Jhatka, Hrithik Roshan at Rs 2 crore per episode for Just Dance and Akshay Kumar priced at Rs 1.5 crore per episode of Khatron Ke Khiladi. With the lofty price tags of Bollywood stars the overall show costs further shoot up. So the question remains whether it makes good business sense for TV channels to leverage Bollywood star power.  
Speaking on this Abhimanyu Singh, CEO, Contiloe Entertainment who has worked on Bollywood starring TV shows such as ‘Say Shava Shava’ with Karan Johar and Simi Garewal says, “I think the largest cost in most celebrity-based shows are the celebrity themselves. Production costs as far as TV production costs can double or triple, yet they can be far lesser in comparison to the celebrity.”

On TV channels recovering these costs and generating revenues Sunjoy Waddhwa, CMD, Sphere Origins said, “A lot depends on their marketing. Of course because film stars are there, usually the shows are not very long shows. They are more or less into a finite series. So they sell that as one chunk. In any case, channels sell them in a package, not as an individual program. The star power is there and they do recover (their costs) but it all depends after taking the show, how much they are in control of the production and that costs are not spiraling out of proportion, because at the end of the day TV is all about being within limits. Just because of the star, if the entire series becomes as if shooting a film, then of course there is a problem.”

The best way for channels to recover the costs is to utilize the star power to attract brands.

Commenting on this Manisha Sharma, Weekend Programming Head, Colors said, “When a Bollywood actor associates with a particular television show whether in the fiction or non-fiction genre, it receives a lot of support from advertisers and marketers. Such shows provide ample opportunities to create direct brand integrations thereby making it a winning proposition for stakeholders. We are taking brands beyond the usual 30-second commercials. The proof of the pudding is with brands like Vodafone, Tata Motors or Gionee Smartphones. These brands have benefitted by associating with our shows and have come back to associate with us season after season.”

Speaking on the brand attraction of Akshay Kumar on the upcoming show Dare 2 Dance, Ajit Thakur, General Manager, Life OK said, “Akshay is a super star and hence definitely brings a certain scale and value that will help us attract brands. Also the fact that the show’s DNA and his personality have a great fit makes it more synergistic. But ultimately, today brands invest when they see a good idea and a sound plan.”

To cite a marketers prospective on this, Anisha Motwani, Director, Chief Marketing & Digital Officer, Max Life Insurance said, “Brands and marketers are only attracted to GRPs irrespective of the celebrity. You can have the biggest celebrity giving you the lowest CPRP (Cost Per Rating Point) it doesn’t matter. Finally we want the right CPRPs. So ratings matter because it’s commercial, there are large sums of money at stake. If doesn’t translate into ratings and rates, it hardly matters.” She further added that only in the case of the launch of a new show they would put weight on a celebrity being part of the show and would want to be the first to sponsor. 

To explain whether brands look to leverage on the popularity of Bollywood actors on these shows Tarun Nigam, Director, PM Media Solutions said, “Yes. Brands do look to leverage star power, provided there is a right content fit. However, all media buys are done purely on the performance of the program.”

Non-fiction vs fiction

When it comes to TV shows featuring Bollywood stars, non-fiction shows have been more popular format for TV channels. These include reality shows such as Bigg Boss with Salman Khan and Splitsvilla with Sunny Leone on MTV. Game shows such as Khatron Ke Khiladi on Colors, Kaun Banega Crorepati with Amitabh Bachchan first on Star Plus now on Sony SET, Nach Baliye and Zara Nachke Dikha with Shilpa Shetty on Star Plus and Star One respectively, Jhalak Dikhhlaa Jaa with Madhuri Dixit and Karan Johar, India’s Got Talent with Kirron Kher and Malaika Arora Khan on Colors, Dare 2 Dance on Life OK and Master Chef India with Akshay Kumar, Kya Aap Panchavi Paas Se Tez Hai and KBC third season with Shah Rukh Khan, Just Dance with Hrithik Roshan and many more. There are also talk shows such as Satyamev Jayate with Aamir Khan and Koffee with Karan on Star Plus and Oye! It’s Friday with Farhan Aktar on NDTV Imagine.

Fiction series featuring Bollywood stars on the other hand is still in a nascent stage with only two Bollywood series, i.e. 24 with Anil Kapoor on Colors and the recently introduced Yudh featuring Amitabh Bachchan on Sony. According to data from TAM, shows such as Kaun Banega Crorepati and Big Boss got over 5 TVMs during the opening week, while 24 on the other hand managed to get 3.4 TVMs and Yudh’s first week ratings went even lower to 1.4 TVMs.

According to Waddhwa the reason for this is that Bollywood stars are not relatable to the common people on a day to day basis. “On the non-fiction front it has been better, but on the fiction side it has not been so good. The stars which are either judging or hosting shows on the non-fiction shows are getting better ratings. Fictions shows are yet to catch up because they are something watched daily. When you see somebody coming to your house, you would like to see somebody whom you can relate to. With a film star it is difficult to relate. It is not relatable because for people who have seen them have already this persona of the film star. So they don’t relate to them in a regular situation,” he explained.

Stressing on the importance of connecting to the audience Gaurav Seth, SVP & Head Marketing, Sony Entertainment Television (SET) said, “TV stars or movie stars are not bigger or superior. It is the character that they play which is important. It is how that character connects with the audience that is important. We are a mass reach vehicle and connect to many more homes than cinema does. So you turn on your TV everyday and become connected with the character.”

Content is king

Star power or not, everyone agrees that content is king and if content is not strong enough, the show will fail. “If the content doesn’t work then no show with any celebrity will work. TV is a medium where you have to tell engaging stories and celebrities might get initial eyeballs, but it is ultimately up to the content if the show does well or not. Otherwise you could just make a celebrity sit on a chair and role your camera. It is ultimately what the celebrity is doing, how engaging it is, how viewers get attached to the camera and the storyline is what determines the success or failure of the show,” says Singh.

Pointing out the differences between content on TV and in movies Waddhwa said, “If the content is not good in a film the star can still take it forward, but on TV it is quite difficult. For the star to relate to the viewers on a day to day basis and the content are very important in TV (shows). In film it is flight of fantasy where even if the content is not good the star charisma pulls it. But that is like a two hour affair, you come, see it and go.”

We are yet to see if this genre will find a connect with the Indian audience.

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