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Guest Column Retrofit: The gloves are off as GECs pump up content line-up with new shows

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Guest Column Retrofit: The gloves are off as GECs pump up content line-up with new shows

After years of undisputed suzerainty, Star Plus is finding it difficult to deal with the challenge thrown by new and old combatants – Colors and Zee. A combination of viewer fatigue and inane programming has cost them. In fact, the general entertainment space finally has a sense of competition. It is a competitive set with some element of creativity these days. Spanking new shows across the spectrum – fiction, pulp and reality – from all the competitors give viewers more options.

In fact, there are two clear buckets dominating the sweepstakes – Colors, Zee and Star Plus making up one, and Sony and NDTV Imagine making up the other. Of course, there is a third – SAB, which is a niche channel; Star One, which has fallen off the radar; the going nowhere Sahara; and the invisible Real. Between them they aggregate approximately Rs 2,000 crore in advertising revenues.

Colors, a Viacom18 offering is believed to have a run rate of Rs 40 crore per month this year, which means that it will easily cross the Rs 500-crore mark. Star Plus remains the market leader in terms of revenue generation – upwards of Rs 650 crore. Zee, which has primed its way back to the top recently, is in the vicinity of Rs 450 crore. Sony and NDTV Imagine bring up the rear, logging in about Rs 250-300 crore between them.

What is interesting is that a raft of new programming is driving up the viewership numbers across the Hindi GEC vector. So, Monday, for instance, saw ‘Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao’ debuting on Sony after ‘Bhaskar Bharti’, ‘Palampur Express’ and the refreshing ‘Ladies Special’ were launched a while back. Star Plus wants to go head to head with ‘Iss Jungle…’ with its own version of ‘Moment of Truth – Sach Ka Samna’. Colors will join the mix with Akshay’s ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’, followed by ‘Big Boss’. Colors has launched its talent show ‘India’s Got Talent’ and is readying to unveil a new reality show called ‘100 %’, which will see WWF type wrestling till the last man standing wins. A mix of Indian and ‘firang’ grapplers will be seen in ‘100 %’. Sony, too, has an entertainment show, ‘Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega’, but the joker in the pack has been Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamvar on NDTV Imagine, a killer application delivering rating points. Zee, meanwhile, has kickstarted ‘Aap Ki Antara’, while Star Plus will soon hit back with Kiran Bedi’s popular ‘Aap Ki Kacheri’ (second season).

Risque is in, and maybe this will become the new fad on Indian telly. After saas-bahu overdose and overkill, we had child and widow remarriage. And now with ‘Aap Ki Kacheri’ and ‘Sach Ka Samna’, there is a possibility of family skeletons tumbling out of cupboards. The treatment in ‘Sach Ka Samna’ may be the defining moment in recent telly history, if people pour their hearts and emotions out to Rajeev Khandelwal, a la Oprah or ‘Moment of Truth’. If the laundry and linen are full of muck, then it will go down well with our viewers. Peeping Tom voyeurism of the kind shown on ‘Big Boss’ and now on ‘Iss Jungle…’ will take you only so far and not provide the real breakthrough benefit. ‘Sach Ka Samna’ can deliver the big knockout blow if it is handled right. Sanitised Indian audiences might lap up something like ‘Moment of Truth’ as they listen in to the peccadilloes of the middle class and the chatterrati.

So, it is clearly action stations with all the GECs as they look to garner more gross rating points and a larger slice of a wafer thin margin pie. The GEC revenues are growing at approximately 12 per cent per annum. Against this backdrop, it is commendable that Colors has managed to make such a big impression in such a short span of time. To displace Star Plus within a year of its launch is a noteworthy development, but when viewed through the prism of a larger entertainment genre gameplan, it is nothing short of fantastic.

Raghav Bahl structured an alliance with Sumner Redstone’s Viacom to create a general entertainment channel. As did NDTV’s Prannoy Roy, who joined hands with NBC Universal, to architect Imagine. Colors flew, Imagine collapsed. ‘Ramayana’ made tracks, but thereafter Imagine was a dead loss till ‘Rakhi Ka Swayamvar’ has resuscitated it. But it is Raghav Bahl’s entertainment gambit, which has worked big time. By forming an entertainment cluster with Colors as the GEC arm and Studio 18/Indian Film Company as the film distribution instrument, he has been paid in spades. Colors gets to the top of the pyramid in 12 months flat, while Indian Film Company (IFC) grosses big bucks through ‘Golmal Returns’, ‘Singh is Kinng’ and ‘Ghajini’. IFC paid an astronomical Rs 90 crore for the domestic rights of ‘Ghajini’ and the movie became the biggest hit of all time, earning close to Rs 250 crore in domestic revenues alone. Earlier, it delivered two acquisitions – ‘Welcome’ and ‘Jab We Met’ – again, as very big hits. Its next release is ‘Luck’.

For someone like Raghav Bahl to become a vertically integrated media and entertainment czar, this punt was vital and important. After consolidating his news business, he decided to get into the entertainment and print spaces. He has succeeded in his forward integration endeavours, though the backward part is floundering. In the process, I think he is missing a trick or two in the news telly whirligig. CNN-IBN has gone completely off the boil. Between the ‘cash for votes’ sting fiasco and the 26/11 terror attack coverage, a perceptual gap has crept into the mindspace of the viewers. That perceptual gap is about credibility. And that is something that you either have or you don’t. IBN7 is going nowhere, fortunately IBN18 is delivering, which means that two out of three links in this vertical are extremely weak and tenuous.

On the CNBC side, Awaaz is stable, even as CNBC-TV18 bears the fusillade of ET Now. CNBC needs some heavy duty experienced hands to joust with ET Now. Its positioning strategy of being a market-centric channel may work for the time being, but over time as ET Now gets its production values and glitches under control and manages to get on to the right delivery platforms, it will become a pain for CNBC. Now, news emanating from Times House is that Times Now Hindi could well be the next offering. It pays to have a news bouquet because on the entertainment side, sorry mutant side, it is Zoom – kisne dekha? Bennett’s forte is news and it makes sense to go in for a multiplier effect for greater impact.

Raghav Bahl has managed to build a truly integrated operation. He needs to keep stoking the creative fires, for it doesn’t take long to blindside your adversaries. He should know, he did that to Star Plus by rigging up Colors. I am sure he realises that his news business needs to be bolstered, and maybe even rejigged, to stay ahead of the curve. He has taken all the right business decisions in building a media gargantua, now he needs to keep his nose ahead. Star Plus, meanwhile behind on the eight ball, may just bounce back with ‘Sach Ka Samna’, use that as a jagged edge and build a new programming wrap around it for greater penetration and eyeballs. As Indradev continues to play truant, expect some extra heat on telly screens as the GECs go for broke. And then there is the combative Subhash Chandra, who keeps plugging away. He, too, has ‘Little Champs’ up his sleeve.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir. The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of


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