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From CID to Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi; check some popular long-running TV shows

Every tale has an ending. But not for some exasperatingly long-running TV shows, whose dramatic plots have somehow become an intrinsic part of viewers’ daily lives. But how long does the stickiness factor work for viewers and advertisers alike?

By: | Published: September 20, 2016 6:00 AM

Remember the title soundtrack of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi? Or watching ACP Pradyuman asking inspector Daya to break down the door in CID? If the answer is in the affirmative, you have clearly been around long enough to have ‘grown up’ with some of the longest running shows on Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs). Consider CID, which has been running for as long as 19 years!

What makes broadcasters place their bets on these never-ending plots and formats is the habit forming nature of such shows. This, despite the fact that the storyline or even the concept of the show may have undergone a sea change from its early days.

With Hindi GECs continuing to experiment with content and fictional shows seeing a shift from typical family dramas to themes of occult and supernatural, long running shows like Saath Nibhana Saathiya and Sasural Simar Ka continue to see an increase in viewership.

But it’s not just content; sometimes the popularity of the characters also plays an important role, especially in the case of comedy and crime genres, like Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah and CID.

“The mystery of what accounts for the longevity of fiction shows on Indian television escapes me,” says Siddhartha Basu, chairman and MD, Big Synergy. “Kitchen politics and petty domestic drama rule the roost in this space. Globally, the stickiness of daytime soaps has always been about providing a vicarious other life to viewers which is still relatable to those who are housebound.”

So what are the elements driving stickiness for long-running shows? One of the major challenges for soaps running for over five to six years is audience fatigue. Mostly, the show keeps dragging on as the producer plays around with elements like time/generation leaps or killing/introducing new characters to keep the interest alive. But how far does this formula work?

Remember the title soundtrack of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi? Or watching ACP Pradyuman asking inspector Daya to break down the door in CID? If the answer is in the affirmative, you have clearly been around long enough to have ‘grown up’ with some of the longest running shows on Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs). Consider CID, which has been running for as long as 19 years!

What makes broadcasters place their bets on these never-ending plots and formats is the habit forming nature of such shows. This, despite the fact that the storyline or even the concept of the show may have undergone a sea change from its early days.

With Hindi GECs continuing to experiment with content and fictional shows seeing a shift from typical family dramas to themes of occult and supernatural, long running shows like Saath Nibhana Saathiya and Sasural Simar Ka continue to see an increase in viewership.

But it’s not just content; sometimes the popularity of the characters also plays an important role, especially in the case of comedy and crime genres, like Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah and CID.

“The mystery of what accounts for the longevity of fiction shows on Indian television escapes me,” says Siddhartha Basu, chairman and MD, Big Synergy. “Kitchen politics and petty domestic drama rule the roost in this space. Globally, the stickiness of daytime soaps has always been about providing a vicarious other life to viewers which is still relatable to those who are housebound.”

So what are the elements driving stickiness for long-running shows? One of the major challenges for soaps running for over five to six years is audience fatigue. Mostly, the show keeps dragging on as the producer plays around with elements like time/generation leaps or killing/introducing new characters to keep the interest alive. But how far does this formula work?

Character is key

If there is one thing people relate to in shows, it’s the character. Take Jethalal from Taarak…, Daya from CID or Akshara from Yeh Rishta…, where it is the characterisation that gets audiences hooked on. Another example is the recently concluded Balika Vadhu. In its eight-year journey, audiences cried, laughed and grew with child bride Anandi.

“Characterisation backed by a strong concept and engaging storyline allows us to not only retain existing viewers but at relevant dramatic highpoints also recruit newer audiences,” highlights Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors.

For a show like Taarak Mehta…, the fact that the show has a linear storyline appeals to audiences looking for light-hearted family entertainment. Also, the characters in the show are relatable. The show was based on a column that started in 1972-73 in the magazine Chitralekha. Asit Modi, founder and director, Neela Telefilms, says that a lot of changes had to be made when adapting it into a show as the system was different back then. But the common man related humour was kept intact which helped keep the show running for many years.

Sunjoy Waddhwa, CMD, Sphereorigins, producers of Balika Vadhu, reveals that a lot of time is spent on developing characters to drive stickiness. But storytelling needs to be good too. “Relatability can come in any way and once that sets in through the character, you can tell stories,” he says.

Shows rise and fall due to changing storylines but for Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, the characters and presentation have worked. The show has seen around five to six leaps in its seven-year run and most of them have worked as they involved audiences organically. Rajan Shahi, founder, Director’s Kut Productions, says, “We don’t get into gimmicks on a monthly basis for ratings. That is our biggest challenge and USP.”

For an advertiser, a long-running fiction show is a ready pool of loyal audiences that relate to the show’s content and characters. The consistent performance year-on-year instils confidence even in the minds of advertisers who are more likely to invest in such programmes.

A Coca-Cola India spokesperson mentions that the company’s approach to long running serials has been that of leveraging the airtime during the breaks — both on television and also non-traditional platforms where these broadcasts may be viewed.

“We are also focussing on online formats where our target consumers may be inclined towards watching webisodes which are shorter and quicker.”

Anooj Kapoor, EVP and business head, SAB TV, says, “For advertisers, I’m sure, successful long running shows are the safest and most valued avenues to promote their product since it guarantees a set of loyal and demographically well-defined audiences.”

In fact, for 19 years now, CID has ruled the crime fiction genre by keeping lead characters intact and constantly evolving the storyline to keep viewers hooked. The channel also came up with several specials to garner eyeballs. Danish Khan, EVP and business head, Sony Entertainment Television, adds, “Refreshing the content regularly is key. Keep the fundamentals intact and keep changing the execution to match up to changing consumer preferences.”

The challenging ‘leap’

Sustaining a long-running show can be very challenging for the production house and channel alike, as it battles audience fatigue and the changing content paradigm. It is in such a situation that shows resort to spikes like leaps, killing a popular character or introducing an important character, among others.

While spikes are instruments producers use to enhance a story, over-reliance on these elements can damage a story as well.

What defines the success of long-running show is not just loyal audiences, but also loyal ratings, providing longevity to the show. At any given point of time, even if the show’s ratings have reached a plateau, it will still have a loyal viewer base. Here, the challenge for the channel and production house is to identify the lag and pull the show off air at the right time.

Sumeet Hukamchand Mittal, founder and director, Shashi Sumeet Group, states, “Spikes work always, sometimes momentarily and sometimes even longer if they are meaty. But makers are always worried and under pressure because they know it’s going to get over soon. And due to the long and concrete storyline, they start creating spikes.”

For example, Diya Aur Baati Hum which completed five years, was recently pulled off air as the producers believe the story had run its course. Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media believes Star Plus took a bold step by identifying that its most popular show had lost its steam. Similarly, the last leg of leap in Balika Vadhu did not work with the audiences and the time slot shift worsened the fate of the show further.

“Usually stories are written for six months and after that is when the gimmicks start. There is a lot of audience fatigue now because a lot of what is coming is replication,” Kapoor says. “There’s a lot of audience dissatisfaction as production houses are trying themes that are not relevant and the lack of freshness is impacting new shows.”

The non-fiction game

Stickiness in non-fiction or reality formats work differently as most of the shows like Bigg Boss, Indian Idol, KBC, Roadies, SaReGaMaPa, etc have had a run of over seven to eight seasons, but with seasonal breaks. While innovation in terms of the host, tasks, contestants and audience engagement help drive audience interest, driving stickiness is not that easy.

However, advertisers prefer to engage with a known format and that has seen shows like Roadies run for 12 years with Hero Honda as the main sponsor.

“Cadbury Bournvita has been associated with Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa for many years. Similarly, we have Maruti Suzuki which has come on-board as presenting sponsors or partners across multiple big ticket shows like 24 Season Two, India’s Got Talent and Bigg Boss,” states Nayak.

Taking seasonal breaks for format-based shows allows one to study consumer insights and refresh the format. Basu agrees that KBC too was a victim of audience fatigue and therefore took a hiatus. It will return on TV screens early next year. “There has to be a balance between the old and new formats,” says Kapoor of Ormax. “But advertisers feel comfortable sponsoring a known format that has worked and that is why bringing in newer formats is a little difficult.”

The long and short of it

In the content curation business, there is so much to learn that one needs to be on their toes every single day, identify the existing need gaps in the entertainment space and address them. After a show is launched, audience feedback plays an important role in developing content further.

“The thumb rule is: if the foundation is strong, it leaves room for experimentation making way for the show to be sustained for a longer duration,” Nayak asserts.

However, most of the shows launching these days are wrapping up very fast. Earlier broadcasters gave time for a show to work, but now due to pressure, impatience has crept in. Old shows are retained as they are still brand ambassadors for a channel.

The biggest challenge, undoubtedly, is to sustain viewer interest. With many television channels and shows across genres, viewers today are spoilt for choice. As such, it becomes imperative for a channel to put together the best mix of concept, storyline and characterisation to pique audience interest levels on a daily basis.

If there is one thing people relate to in shows, it’s the character. Take Jethalal from Taarak…, Daya from CID or Akshara from Yeh Rishta…, where it is the characterisation that gets audiences hooked on. Another example is the recently concluded Balika Vadhu. In its eight-year journey, audiences cried, laughed and grew with child bride Anandi.

“Characterisation backed by a strong concept and engaging storyline allows us to not only retain existing viewers but at relevant dramatic highpoints also recruit newer audiences,” highlights Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors.

For a show like Taarak Mehta…, the fact that the show has a linear storyline appeals to audiences looking for light-hearted family entertainment. Also, the characters in the show are relatable. The show was based on a column that started in 1972-73 in the magazine Chitralekha. Asit Modi, founder and director, Neela Telefilms, says that a lot of changes had to be made when adapting it into a show as the system was different back then. But the common man related humour was kept intact which helped keep the show running for many years.

Sunjoy Waddhwa, CMD, Sphereorigins, producers of Balika Vadhu, reveals that a lot of time is spent on developing characters to drive stickiness. But storytelling needs to be good too. “Relatability can come in any way and once that sets in through the character, you can tell stories,” he says.

Shows rise and fall due to changing storylines but for Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, the characters and presentation have worked. The show has seen around five to six leaps in its seven-year run and most of them have worked as they involved audiences organically. Rajan Shahi, founder, Director’s Kut Productions, says, “We don’t get into gimmicks on a monthly basis for ratings. That is our biggest challenge and USP.”

For an advertiser, a long-running fiction show is a ready pool of loyal audiences that relate to the show’s content and characters. The consistent performance year-on-year instils confidence even in the minds of advertisers who are more likely to invest in such programmes.

A Coca-Cola India spokesperson mentions that the company’s approach to long running serials has been that of leveraging the airtime during the breaks — both on television and also non-traditional platforms where these broadcasts may be viewed.

“We are also focussing on online formats where our target consumers may be inclined towards watching webisodes which are shorter and quicker.”

Anooj Kapoor, EVP and business head, SAB TV, says, “For advertisers, I’m sure, successful long running shows are the safest and most valued avenues to promote their product since it guarantees a set of loyal and demographically well-defined audiences.”

In fact, for 19 years now, CID has ruled the crime fiction genre by keeping lead characters intact and constantly evolving the storyline to keep viewers hooked. The channel also came up with several specials to garner eyeballs. Danish Khan, EVP and business head, Sony Entertainment Television, adds, “Refreshing the content regularly is key. Keep the fundamentals intact and keep changing the execution to match up to changing consumer preferences.”

The challenging ‘leap’

Sustaining a long-running show can be very challenging for the production house and channel alike, as it battles audience fatigue and the changing content paradigm. It is in such a situation that shows resort to spikes like leaps, killing a popular character or introducing an important character, among others.

While spikes are instruments producers use to enhance a story, over-reliance on these elements can damage a story as well.

What defines the success of long-running show is not just loyal audiences, but also loyal ratings, providing longevity to the show. At any given point of time, even if the show’s ratings have reached a plateau, it will still have a loyal viewer base. Here, the challenge for the channel and production house is to identify the lag and pull the show off air at the right time.

Sumeet Hukamchand Mittal, founder and director, Shashi Sumeet Group, states, “Spikes work always, sometimes momentarily and sometimes even longer if they are meaty. But makers are always worried and under pressure because they know it’s going to get over soon. And due to the long and concrete storyline, they start creating spikes.”

For example, Diya Aur Baati Hum which completed five years, was recently pulled off air as the producers believe the story had run its course. Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media believes Star Plus took a bold step by identifying that its most popular show had lost its steam. Similarly, the last leg of leap in Balika Vadhu did not work with the audiences and the time slot shift worsened the fate of the show further.

“Usually stories are written for six months and after that is when the gimmicks start. There is a lot of audience fatigue now because a lot of what is coming is replication,” Kapoor says. “There’s a lot of audience dissatisfaction as production houses are trying themes that are not relevant and the lack of freshness is impacting new shows.”

The non-fiction game

Stickiness in non-fiction or reality formats work differently as most of the shows like Bigg Boss, Indian Idol, KBC, Roadies, SaReGaMaPa, etc have had a run of over seven to eight seasons, but with seasonal breaks. While innovation in terms of the host, tasks, contestants and audience engagement help drive audience interest, driving stickiness is not that easy.

However, advertisers prefer to engage with a known format and that has seen shows like Roadies run for 12 years with Hero Honda as the main sponsor.

“Cadbury Bournvita has been associated with Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa for many years. Similarly, we have Maruti Suzuki which has come on-board as presenting sponsors or partners across multiple big ticket shows like 24 Season Two, India’s Got Talent and Bigg Boss,” states Nayak.

Taking seasonal breaks for format-based shows allows one to study consumer insights and refresh the format. Basu agrees that KBC too was a victim of audience fatigue and therefore took a hiatus. It will return on TV screens early next year. “There has to be a balance between the old and new formats,” says Kapoor of Ormax. “But advertisers feel comfortable sponsoring a known format that has worked and that is why bringing in newer formats is a little difficult.”

The long and short of it

In the content curation business, there is so much to learn that one needs to be on their toes every single day, identify the existing need gaps in the entertainment space and address them. After a show is launched, audience feedback plays an important role in developing content further.

“The thumb rule is: if the foundation is strong, it leaves room for experimentation making way for the show to be sustained for a longer duration,” Nayak asserts.

However, most of the shows launching these days are wrapping up very fast. Earlier broadcasters gave time for a show to work, but now due to pressure, impatience has crept in. Old shows are retained as they are still brand ambassadors for a channel.

The biggest challenge, undoubtedly, is to sustain viewer interest. With many television channels and shows across genres, viewers today are spoilt for choice. As such, it becomes imperative for a channel to put together the best mix of concept, storyline and characterisation to pique audience interest levels on a daily basis.

Characters that India loves

Fiction:

  • Ishita (Yeh Hai Mohabbatein)
  • Jethalal (Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah)
  • Ashok (Chakravartin Ashok Samrat)
  • Akshara (Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai)
  • Pragya (Kumkum Bhagya)

Non-fiction

  • Kapil Sharma (The Kapil Sharma Show)
  • Sunil Grover as Dr Mashoor Gulati (The Kapil Sharma Show)
  • Rannvijay Singh (Roadies)
  • Salman Khan (Bigg Boss) — show off air at the time of research, yet at No. 4
  • Kirron Kher (India’s Got Talent)

Source: Ormax Characters India Loves study

*The ranking is based on the performance over the last three months

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