Amitabh Bachchan: Super Brand vs Superstar

Updated: Sep 2 2014, 15:48pm hrs
ON THE night of July 14, just about a month prior to the launch of the eighth season of game show Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) hosted by superstar Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood legend marked his television debut with the launch of Yudh. A limited edition serial on Sony Entertainment Television, the flagship Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) from the Multi Screen Media (MSM) stable, Yudh was one of the most eagerly awaited shows. Like 24 on rival GEC Colors that had Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor as the protagonist, this series too was a finite one. While 24 ran for 24 episodes, Yudh comprised 20 episodes and is touted to be the most expensive fiction series ever produced for the Indian television landscape wherein each episode cost was estimated to be around R3 crore compared to the R2.5 crore per episode cost for 24. The show replaced the once-upon-a-time popular serial Bade Achche Lagte Hain and ran from Monday to Thursday at 10.30 pm. It ended on August 14, just three days prior to the launch of KBC 8.

Despite the difference in their formats, a comparison between KBC and Yudh is inevitable. Both the programmes are riding on one brand: Amitabh Bachchan, and if KBC marks Bachchan's tryst with the non-fiction genre, Yudh is Bachchan's debut in a televised fiction series. All along, KBC has been Sonys high point, compensating for the low ratings for its other shows. The reason perhaps is not too far to seek. It is brand Bachchan that is the strongest pull factor for the show. But has it been the same in the case of Yudh

Says Mallikarjun Das, chief executive officer, India at media buying agency Starcom MediaVest Group, It is all about Bachchan in KBC versus the character he plays in Yudh. In KBC, the audience is dealing with Bachchan and therefore, is keen to know the man in real life. Now, the same audience is watching Bachchan, the actor, in Yudh. Even today, not all of Bachchan's films are hits. He gives flops too. But Bachchan, the individual, will always be a hit.

On the face of it, Bachchan's KBC avatar has scored over his Yudh performance. If Yudh's average viewership stands at around 911 TVTs (television viewership in thousands) or a 0.43 TVR (television viewership rating), the average viewership for KBC in 2013 stood at 4403 TVTs or a 2.14 TVR. So why such a significant difference

Actor vs the superstar

When it comes to KBC, the game show is nothing less than transformational. After all, it alters the life of a single contestant and pushes it to a higher level within a span of one-and-half hours. And it's not just because of the significant money that she wins. It's because that transformation takes place through the hands of none other than Bachchan himself. Not to forget, the format of the show is such that it puts megastar Bachchan and the participant, a rank commoner, at the same level. Of course, a large part of that credit goes to Bachchan himself, who takes the extra effort to make the contestant feel comfortable. As a result, here, in the end, it's the contestant who finally becomes the hero even as he watches none other than Bachchan celebrate his win.

This is quite unlike Yudh, where Bachchan plays a character and not himself. Here, he is Yudhisthir Sikarwar an elite businessman who is diagnosed with Huntington's disease, which leaves him with a few years to live. He battles the disease, even as he is in an emotional combat with his family and a corporate fight with his rivals. Says Divya Gupta, CEO, Dentsu Media, Sure, Bachchan features in both. But he does so in an entirely different context and role. In KBC he is the superstar, benevolent and avuncular. In Yudh he lives and breathes the powerful protagonist. Here, his superstar status is submerged and the character of Yudhishthir Sikarwar is the hero.

The right audience

Aligning the show format with the channel genre is essential. When a show is being telecast on a national Hindi GEC on prime-time and has Amitabh Bachchan in it, it can be categorised as a show with mass appeal. For a show such as KBC, the format justifies that target audience. It has participants that cut across geographies along with economic and social status. It carries a universality of its own where 'everyone' gets a chance. Also, the questions on the show are far less intimidating when compared to many other quiz shows. Here, the questions are set according to a contestant's intelligence level and background. As a result, if SEC (socio economic class) A accounts for 25% of the show's overall viewership, so does SEC D and E. Meanwhile, the contribution from Sec B is around 30%.

Yudh, in contrast, seemed to find more resonance with the top niche. As per data sourced from media agencies, SEC A accounts for as much as 40% of its total viewership. Says Gupta, KBC is a tried and tested format, across markets and seasons in India. KBCs format is huge on audience involvement and engagement. After all, it was not just Deepa Jagtiani from Surat in the hot seat that Sunday evening on August 17. It was the entire nation evoking the emotions and saw participation of viewers across geographies, gender, age, socio-economic strata. Yudh, on the other hand, is an intense, serious drama appealing to a discerning audience and is distinctly different from the saas-bahu (family drama) mainstream fare.

That is perhaps why the show was aired at the 10:30 pm slot. Co-produced by Bachchan's production company Saraswati Creations with Endemol India, Yudh was promoted as a first of its own kind TV series. With Anurag Kashyap on board as its creative director, Shoojit Sircar as creative consultant and Ribhu Dasgupta as its director, the show was given a rating of 9.2 by IMDB, considered to be the world's most authoritative voice on movie and television content, almost at par with popular international shows such as True Detective, House of Cards and Game Of Thrones.

As Sony Entertainment Televisions executive vice-president and business head, Nachiket Pantvaidya, explains, Yudh appeals to a thinking person across any SEC. It is targeted at people who will stop everything and watch this show. It is a 20-episode finite series that demands compelled viewing. Nothing can be missed in between.

The series has received its share of brickbats as well as bouquets on the internet. While some have applauded the tight script, others have pointed out that it has too many characters. And as a result of this, audiences get confused about what to focus on the characters or the story-line. Not to forget, it is extremely difficult to catch up with Yudh if the viewer has missed even one episode. Reasons Pantvaidya, Perhaps, the Indian audience as per its viewing habits, is not yet open to the Yudh kind of format yet. They still need to watch recaps and repeats. But this content is not the kind.

The correct comparison would perhaps be with 24 which ran from October 4 to December 21, 2013 on Colors. That show, too, had a higher viewership from the SEC A audience segment in the Hindi speaking markets, accounting for about 40% to the total viewership. The show found resonance with viewers in the 15-34 years age group and amongst male viewers. Its average TVTs stood at 2931 (1.4TVR), much higher than that of Yudh. One would imagine that the audience was expecting Yudh to be slickly produced like 24 with a gripping thriller-based story-line. That this did not happen, seems to have been a letdown. Something seems really amiss. And Bachchan is not God, exclaims Sundeep Nagpal, founder-director of Stratagem Media. As market observers say, the answer may be in making Yudh longer than what it is today in a bid to give viewers the time to understand its various characters and catch up with the story-line.

At the same time, looking at the audience reaction on social media, it can be seen that a certain section of the digital audience is glued to Yudh online. For instance, for each episode uploaded on YouTube, there are a number of voices demanding that the next episode of Yudh is uploaded on an immediate basis. Meanwhile, if the voices are from outside the country, there are also requests to include subtitles for those episodes.

Says Pantvaidya, Yudhs content has found good resonance in the US, UK and Dubai markets. From a number 33, it is now hovering between numbers eight and ten on international charts. Yes, in India, it has found a lukewarm response but there is always a cost to trying something different in this country. My reading is that it will take some time before such kind of content starts to catch on. The shows outlook for us is around 10 years. There has to be a tipping point sometime. It is library content for us and we are looking at it as a long-term property.

The advertisers viewpoint

RS Suriyanarayan, associate vice-president of Initiative, a media planning and buying agency, notes that non-fiction formats including KBC offer much higher exposure to brands. A reality format allows a lot more scope for integrations and therefore, visibility. In fiction, the integrations can best happen only when a brand fits into the story-line, he says. However, when a show is as big as Yudh, its prospects of acquiring sponsorship contracts stand higher than any of its other contemporaries in fiction. This is because when it is about a show as big as Yudh, the broadcaster goes all out to promote it not just across the network but even beyond. In turn, this also leads to promotion of the brands which are associated with it, he adds.

Therefore, while Yudh may have failed to generate a high viewership, it surely generated some good money for its broadcaster, at least through its sponsorship deals. Yudhs presenting sponsor was Cadbury, OLX was the powered-by sponsor, while Maruti, Ruchi Soya and Dabur were associate sponsors. The total sponsorship revenue generated was R12-14 crore. The 10-second ad rate, on the other hand, closed at about R3 lakh. This is double the amount that any advertiser pays to buy a 10-second spot on a top rated Hindi GEC show. However, because of its low viewership performance, only about 70% of the shows inventory got sold out. This is because it could not generate much ad spot buys towards the end, informs a top media planner.

In case of KBC 8, Cadbury continues to be the presenting sponsor of the show while Idea is the powered by sponsor as in other previous seasons. Samsung, Maruti Suzuki, TVS, and Cisca LED are the associate sponsors this year while Quickheal is the technology partner. Industry sources say the presenting sponsor and powered-by sponsor are paying R12-17 crore each while the associate sponsors are paying R7-9 crore. The 10-second spot rate, meanwhile, stands at R3.5 lakh.

When associating with a show, advertisers generally look at building on that propertys core brand qualities. For KBC, those are longevity and trust. Now when a serial is being sponsored, it does not promise that kind of brand equity. It only brings in brand salience, says Starcom MediaVests Das.

Second coming

Quite evidently, Yudh has not been able to meet the market expectations despite the Bachchan factor. As Vidhu Sagar, executive vice president at media buying agency Carat Media India says, It seems to be a case of more hype than real stuff on the ground. But somehow, Yudh evokes positive expectations for a second season.Indians are still not comfortable with the finite format but are surely on the process of evolution. If Yudh makes a comeback with a new season from where it left from, I think it should work. Perhaps 70% of the audience will return right from day one. And with a strong storyline, it may start gaining incremental audiences. Meanwhile, with the evolution of the Indian audience, we should also have a sizable audience for that kind of content too, says Sagar.

Perhaps even the scheduling of the show could be tweaked a little more toward prime-time (around 9.30pm) because, as a top media research executive points out, then its ratings could go up by at least 30%. Meanwhile, as for KBC, it has already proven its mettle!

By Anindita Sarkar