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Countdown to Real: A ‘non-fiction-dominated DNA’ for ‘distinct alternate viewing’

27-February-2009
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Countdown to Real: A ‘non-fiction-dominated DNA’ for ‘distinct alternate viewing’

The countdown to Real’s launch has begun. In a couple of days, the channel would begin competing with the likes of Star Plus and Sony and even Sab for viewer mindshare. Real is aware of the increased competition in the space and that there are at least nine players already fighting for by and large the same viewer and advertiser pie that would sustain Real as well.

While it may not sound sustainable, Real is giving its content an unprecedented approach – “fiction squeezed between non-fiction” is what Alva Brothers’ Nikhil Alva describes it as, and a closer look at the opening line-up reiterates his point. Real has gone with a 60 per cent skew towards non-fiction programming. Even in the rest 40 per cent, the stories and characters would be more ‘real’ and relatable for the neo-Indians, the TG that the channel has said it would be focussing on.

For Real, as Alva puts it, this non-fiction domination and the realist treatment means offering the viewers a “distinct alternate viewing”.

Getting real with non-fiction finally

Unlike any other channel, where non-fiction is either tactically used or is seen in the weekends, Real would have a healthy slew of non-fiction programming in its daily primetime. According to Nikhil Alva, that is where the differentiation begins.

In the launch week, the channel would begin with an hour of a reality programming (‘Pokerface’ at 8.00 pm), followed by an hour of two fiction shows (‘Hindi Hai Hum’ and ‘Namakharam’) and end its opening week programming again with non-fiction (‘Sarkar ki Duniya’ at 10.00 pm). The weekend has another fiction show, ‘Vicky ki Taxi’, though the story-telling format is differentiated, where every story ends in an episode.

The scheduling has less to do with the competition’s shows and more with the channel’s DNA. Nikhil Alva explained, “When the market is as cluttered as it is at present, there would always be some combination that would work against you, so to be able to draw out a scheduling plan keeping someone else’s line-up in mind is not a good idea. We have just drawn our plan to be true to our positioning.”

The channel’s confidence in its non-fiction programming is also seen with ‘Sarkar ki Duniya’ designed as a key driver show. The show is a home-grown format and does not boast of any big celebrity names. Alva said, “I cannot think of anyone else in the country who has worked on as many national and international formats as we have. That exposure has helped us in identifying what ticks, or not, with format shows for Indian audiences. One thing is to keep talking about Indian formats, and the other is to go on and do it. The fact that we are leading with ‘Sarkar ki Duniya’ shows our confidence in the show.”

Alva believes that with ‘Sarkar...’, the channel has attempted to go ahead and do it. From the scale of the show’s locale, the thought process of identifying the people on the show to the choice of Ashutosh Rana as the anchor… the channel has gone all out on the show.

Challenges of the programming strategy

The non-fiction route was identified to be a probable one to reach to Real’s target audience, which they define as the neo-Indians.

Gitanjali Morare, Programming Head of the channel, agreed with Alva that at present, there was intense competition in the genre, and to stand out from the clutter, one had to be differentiated. Morare explained, “Not only the non-fiction shows, but also the fiction shows would have a definite life. They would end in less than a year.”

One clear challenge that this puts on the team is the need to constantly refresh the programming. Morare said, “Everyone has a challenge in retaining viewers today. Constantly refreshing our content is our USP, and we are preparing to deliver on the positioning of the channel, which is of real people, real stories and real excitement. We are confident that we have something that our target audience would come back to.”

Which in itself is the second challenge – with the programming changing as much, the channel would need to constantly create and establish brands, which means an inflow and outflow of audiences, and hence, the problem of creating a loyal audience base. The so-called ‘bread and butter’ shows also have the advantage of a continuous ratings inflow on the channel. This seems missing from Real’s approach. Nikhil Alva explained, “In the initial stage, there would also be shows that are done for the brand building of the channel and you have to eventually create brands that have a life beyond the immediate short term as well. Programming has to lay down a strong foundation for the channel. The way we see it is that you have to march ahead. It is like climbing a mountain, and you have to be sure that you are creating strong base camps along the way.”

However, there is the example of Colors that has barged its way to the top. Alva agreed that while comparisons would be made, they were not here to “duplicate anyone’s success or failures”. He said, “Businesses are not launched on someone else’s success or failure. You have to be clear on your long term strategy, and deliver on your business objectives. We are launching in the midst of a slowdown, we are following on the plans we have, and we are working on realist budgets that are not driven by egos. As I have said, we are looking at taking one step at a time, but ensuring that we are moving forward.”

Irrespective of the way one sees it, the competition for Real has begun and the scorecard would be out in a few days’ time.

Also read:

Hindi GEC Real to go on air from March 2

Time to get ‘Real’: Hindi GEC space – cluttered or room for more?

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