Let the shows begin

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: May 25 2011, 07:03am hrs
With the Indian Premier League of cricket ending on May 28, television channels across the spectrum are preparing to launch big-ticket non-fiction shows, including X-Factor, Survivor, Just Dance, Fear Factor. Also on the anvil are a host of serials like Zees Shobha Somnath Ki or Sonys Bade Achche Lagte Hain from the Balaji stable.

While Sony will launch the Indian version of popular international talent hunt show X Factor on May 29, Star Plus is enticing Hrithik Roshan to the world of television with a dance reality show, Just Dance, in June.

Just Dance is the ultimate dance reality show. We are unfolding the campaign with Hrithik and its amazing what he has done to the show, says Monica Shergill, senior creative director, Star Plus. The response to the show was fantastic, says Shergill, adding that sponsors came on board many months ago, such was the buzz behind Hrithiks first small-screen appearance. The show will launch on June 18. Also on the same day, television will see the return of Simi Garewal on Star World with a chat show with Indias most desirables like Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Abhay Deol and so forth. With Koffee with Karan wrapped up, this will be the only celebrity chat show on air in June.

Star Plus is also readying to launch the big international reality format, Survivor. Theres no artifice in Survivor, its the ultimate reality show where a participant has to survive against nature and fellow human beings. When you are hungry and exhausted, you dont know how you will behave, she points out. Though participantsat least 10 celebrities are slated to be on the show and big names like Kapil Dev are doing the rounds, with John Abraham as likely hostare yet to be announced, the show is going to be shot in The Philippines with its virgin beaches and forests.

For Sony, it doesnt get bigger than the X Factorthe show has enjoyed seven seasons in the UK and has broken all viewership records, says Ashesh Jani, partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells. Usually, countries opt for one music reality show, either American Idol or X Factor, but India, which has already seen several seasons of Indian Idol, is gearing up to host X Factor too, created by Simon Fuller. Says Danish Khan, marketing head, Sony TV, The scale is huge and gives participants a concert-like feeling, with 3,000-5,000 spectators. Anyone between 16-50 years of age can participate and from what I have seen in auditions in small towns, the talent out there is quite amazing.

Khan says with a panel of judges including Sonu Nigam, Sanjay Leela Bhansali (music producer for Guzaarish) and Shreya Ghoshal, we have a great product on our hands.

SAB TV is also scheduling new comedy shows to grab eyeballs after IPL ends. Colors is stated to have a new fiction offering soon and is launching one more series of Khatron Ke Khiladi Torchaar with Akshay Kumar returning as host. This season, in its fourth outing, will air on weekends, instead of weekdays. Says Ashvini Yardi, programming head, Colors: While the earlier seasons were aired on weekdays, this season Khatron Ke Khiladi is slotted on the weekends to further strengthen our weekend viewing. Viewers are looking out for differentiated content and we are confident that Torchaar is their best weekend appetite. With the strong line-up of sponsors and partners, we are extending the show across all levels to every home.

Says Jani: All channels are aware that the world of possibilities will reopen once the cricket mania ends with the end of IPL-4. All channels, thus, have slated launches of their new programmes beginning the first week of June. Content also changes when schools reopen in June and one part of the audience (children) gets reduced due to this.

Sukesh Motwani, Zee TV fiction head, says the network is going to take viewers back to the 11th century for a story from Gujarat, Shobha Somnath Ki, starting June 18. Its a big budget historical and we have been working on it for the longest time. We are offering it a daily slot in prime time, he adds. The same day will see the launch of another fiction show, Mrs Kaushik Ke Paanch Bahuyein, a sweet story more to do with the smaller issues in life. All the programming heads we spoke to admit that content on TV is now veering towards believable, realistic, everyday stories. Says Motwani, Its actually a mixlarger than life dramatic stories also work, but people now dont want to see unreal plots or very loud dramas.

Shergill of StarPlus agrees that there is a tilt towards realistic story-telling. Says Jani: Unlike the olden days where only Doordarshan was a main source of popular TV entertainment, airing shows like Byomkesh Bakshi, Nukkad, Hum Log, Buniyaad, Mahabharat, Ramayan, etc, the audience is now spoilt for choice with channels and their numerous programmes.

Each broadcaster has now realised that without new and creative content, all the effort of production is lost and the balancesheet may have more of red ink if the viewership does not pick up, adds Jani. With different age groups having different choices, TV shows should be a mix of drama, fiction, romance, comedy, tragedy and thrillers. Insiders say everyone is in the race to churn out something to beat the competitor with and grip the audience for a number of episodes. Only then will the sponsors pour in money, Jani points out.

Motwani says the audience likes original, off-beat content, but as Jani points out, shows based on true incidents and other reality shows work well, but every such reality show doesnt necessarily hit the spot.

Indian television is again on the cusp of change, technologically speaking. Now broadcasters are faced with the need to move from standard to high-definition services (HD), which is beset with a host of challenges. Says Jani: If the content is not HD worthy, then the money spent in the production and launch will be lost. Every content is not required to go HD, hence producers and broadcasters need to be aware that only the required content, like nature shows etc, need to go HD.

With 3D around the corner, it is high time that more time is spent on content than on say marketing, which may give only limited gains.

Rising content costs is a cause for concern, admits Motwani, but points out that at Zee a lot of thought goes into returns on investment. A lesson in this for new channels off the block.