Recent BARC ratings place KBC at the numero uno position amidst a fierce ratings war in a multi-channel environment…but it wasn’t always like this. Imagine a single channel world — DD — that played local drama series, international programmes, non-fiction entertainment, news, sports, music and movies — and that too would shut down for one-three days in the event of a death of a head of state. Yes, those were simpler times; the pace was slower and the cacophony less. In the ‘90s, satellite television came to India, destroying the DD monopoly. Soon we had separate channels for everything — general entertainment, music, movies, sports, lifestyle, even news. The multi-channel universe also meant no longer waiting for the approval of the mandarins of Mandi House. Everyone was invited to the creative party. By the end of the ‘90s, television content and channels had stabilised into a steady pecking order. Zee and Sony were 1 and 2, Star a distant third and most other contenders — Home TV, BITV, Jain TV, etc — fell by the wayside. Weekly dramas ruled but increasingly catered to a growing mass audience. And alongside ruled talk and lifestyle shows of every hue and colour.
At the risk of being partial, some names pop out of that period. Ruby Bhatia in BPL Oye, Vinta Nanda and Raman Kumar’s Tara, Deeya and Tony Singh’s Banegi Apni Baat, Ravi Rai’s Sailaab, Ajay Shukla’s Astitva, Neerja Guleri’s Chandrakanta, Amit Khanna and Mahesh Bhatt’s Kabhie Kabhie, Shobha De written Swabhimaan, Sanjeev Bhattacharya’s Amanat and Neena Gupta’s Saans. It was an idyllic time. But all this was about to change. In July, 2000, Amitabh Bachchan descended on the small screen with Kaun Banega Crorepati and riding on the back of that tsunami was an obscure little daily soap called Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. These two shows, as different as chalk and cheese, proceeded to turn television content on its head. While AB’s success paved way for all Bollywood stars, big and small, to make a beeline for the small screen, KBC jumpstarted legally licensing international formats for adaptation in India.
The following years saw Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa, Indian Idol, India’s Got Talent and Bigg Boss among others win the rating wars. Even homegrown formats like Laughter Challenge, The Great Indian Comedy Show, Koffee with Karan, Swayamvar and Nach Baliye worked like magic.
But the outstanding success story of the decade was the daily soap revolution that Ekta Kapoor’s K-soaps unleashed. The daily soap in primetime became the killer app of fiction television content. Over the next 15 years, the daily soap completely dominated fiction storytelling. Even comedies, mythologies and historicals were done in a daily soap format.
Today, entertainment on television is poised at a cliff edge. The audience base has now grown to 165 million homes. The daily soap genre continues to chug along as do the returning seasons of format shows. But the first 100 million are getting restive. Nearly a generation has passed since the dawn of K-soaps and an evolved audience that patronises `400 crore worth of smart cinema in theatres each year, is looking for entertainment drama beyond the daily soap. This is the opportunity that beckons content creators. Technology — internet, mobile, smart devices and digital platforms — coupled with a giant fatiguing TV audience has created a huge need gap and an opportunity. A need gap for high quality drama series, told in shorter formats —
10-15 episodes of 30-45 minute duration that are available all at once for binge viewing with the promise of multiple seasons to follow. This is in many ways a return to the content styles of the ‘80s and early ‘90s — stories and narrative styles that go beyond the daily soap opera that tackle multiple subjects and use a mix of film, television and theatre talent.
The elite amongst us have tasted the premium content on Netflix and Amazon. We love it. Now it’s time for a larger urban mass in India — the world between Naagin and Narcos — to get a desi version of premium storytelling. We need our own House of Cards, This Is Us, Game of Thrones and Homeland. Adapted or originally conceived, we need to tell these stories set in our milieus and context. We have the creative talent and the ability to make them. The audience and technology are ready and in place. It is time for the content and creators to catch up.
Author is CEO, Applause Entertainment