An English feast on TV

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: Sep 12 2012, 08:03am hrs
Star started the trend with Satyamev Jayate, simulcasting the Aamir Khan-hosted gritty reality show across its channels and also on Doordarshan. Zee followed it up with Ramayan. Now, English general entertainment channels are also looking at the possibility of widening its reach by bringing more fresh content to Indian television and by simulcasting the new shows across the networks channels.

So, come September 14, the BIG CBS network of Reliance and CBS will air The X-Factor, Season 2, almost concurrently with the US release, two days prior, across its three channels in IndiaPrime, Love and Spark. When we launched BIG CBS we promised to bring the latest shows. The X-Factor Season 2 has Britney Spears as a judge and she is very popular in India, says Anand Chakravarty, head, BIG CBS Networks and CMO, Reliance Broadcast Network. We are also airing it just two days after its US release and across our channels. It is the first large format reality show that will be simulcast, he adds. The X-Factor, created by Simon Cowell and produced by Fremantle Media North America, is a brand upmarket audiences in India are familiar with and it has a great pulse, points out Chakravarthy. Already Sony Experia and Airtel have associated themselves with the show.

Analysts and industry insiders say the English TV viewership is still small in India. About 30% of the population can read and write English, but not even 5% watch English television. Ratings rarely touch the levels of Hindi general entertainment shows, but ask programming heads of Star, Zee, BIG CBS and other channels about the potential of English content, and they will all say its huge. And while the rise of social media is helping it tremendously, digitisation will give a huge boost to English GECs. But then, even though most of the English general entertainment channels are all over Facebook and Twitter, publicising and marketing their content, popularity on social media doesnt always convert to high viewership. Star Worlds action drama Missing, which was aired four days before its US release, didnt fire up the ratings chart, neither did Zees Miss World 2012 live telecast, which was simulcast across all Zee English channels. According to Ashesh Jani, partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, the viewership of English content does not show a striking upward trend, but is on a constant upscale. The reason for no dramatic movements could be because of the reason that the content is viewed more and mainly in the metro cities. Digitisation will only help in improving the quality, reach, etc, he adds. English general entertainment channels have experimented a lot with genres (crime, food, music and dance and so forth), but everyone agreed its hard to pinpoint what works with Indian audiences. But some of the top shows are Masterchef Australia (Star World), which is currently on air and was broadcast a month after it was launched in Australia, The Big Bang Theory (Zee Cafe) or Castle (Star world) and The Good Wife (BIG CBS Love). According to insiders, getting top shows (Masterchef is a popular show in the UK, US and Australia) is expensive and though costs can depend on a number of factors, an hour of a top shows episode can cost up to $4,000.

Jani points out that English general entertainment channels may get additional push from advertisers if the content of these GECs is of a popular nature. Subtitles/dubbing in local languages may also help increase viewership, he says. Chakravarty adds that with Indians watching a lot of Hollywood films, which are dubbed, this is bound to fuel the growth of English entertainment on television. Then again, the target audience for English content is usually the SEC (socio-economic class) in the metros, those between age 15 and 45-plus, who are technology savvy and have more disposable income. This audience is becoming more demanding too, and hence the clamour for fresh content. According to Saurabh Yagnik, business head, English channels, Star India, Masterchef Australia is one of the most popular shows on the channel. We had organised a live cook off for Masterchef in four cities for publication readers so that readers can experience the world of Masterchef and a social buffet application on Facebook. For its latest property, Greys Anatomy, Star composed a music video which is around the core theme of Greys Anatomycoming of age.

But Greys Anatomy is already in its ninth season in the US and Star is airing the show from season 1. We bring the most popular and biggest US shows in India. Greys Anatomy is one of the most popular series in India. The strategy behind bringing the show from season 1 is to draw connect with the Indian audience and the viewers can live the journey of Meredith Grey, the protagonist, saysYagnik. With Greys Anatomy we are adopting a new programming strategy by bringing a drama show at prime time, he adds. Pankaj Saxena, head of programming, BBC Worldwide Channels (south Asia) says BBC simulcasts epoch-making British events on the channel, like the Kate-William royal wedding or recently the Queens Diamond Jubilee. We have embarked upon a comprehensive plan to bring a slew of big titles to India, soon after their UK premiere. The 12th series of The Graham Norton Show is expected to air in India in November, within 15 days of its premiere in the UK. This will be followed by the 19th series of Top Gear early next year, within 10 days of its UK premiere, he adds. The English channels are now promoting their shows across other channels and digital media too. For Greys Anatomy, Star is promoting it on various platforms. Saxena points out that the jubilee events, including the concert, were promoted heavily on our network and via the digital audiences. The strategy for the next quarter is also the same. Stars Yagnik says the channel is trying to get international shows in India closest to its US airing. We have in the pipeline 2 Broke Girls, All Star Masterchef, Two and a Half Men Season 9, which are soon to launch on Star World, he adds. Zee Cafe, too, drew up an elaborative marketing campaign to promote the latest season of The Big Bang Theory. Zee Caf tied up with Cocoberry, which served a special flavour called The Big Bang to customers; it also planned an elaborative digital campaign to tap online mediums.