Shailesh Kapoor: In A Family-Friendly Pack

20 Sep,2012

By Shailesh Kapoor


Bigg Boss will soon be back on the telly, for a sixth time. But this time, the programme that has courted controversy year-on-year, will be seen in new, “family-friendly” version. At 9 pm, in the heart of the prime time, Colors promises a programme that will get rid of the abuses, the affairs, the pole dances, the works. A whole new Bigg Boss indeed.


There is scepticism about whether this new avatar will work for Bigg Boss. Only time will tell us. But there is enough evidence over the last five seasons to say that the franchise had hit a glass ceiling on viewership. Every possible trick in the trade was tried, some of them being nothing short of masterstrokes. But the programme could never compete with the top serials running in prime time. It got irregular and non-GEC viewers interested, while most core GEC viewers largely stayed away.


Bigg Boss always gets media attention. News channels and newspapers love the property for the material it gives them. But the buzz doesn’t convert very well into eyeballs for the show. This week, an A-rated, “bold” film (Heroine) is set for a huge opening at the box office. But television content that’s even remotely bold loses out on a viewer base, especially in the lower socio-economic classes. Why?


A part of the answer is obvious. Theatre viewing is primarily a friends-based activity, while television viewing is primarily a family-based activity. An 18-year-old would enjoy Heroine immensely in the theatre, but will quickly change the channel when the movie’s U/A-rated promo appears on the television set. That’s the element of ‘sanskaar’ still playing a role in the life of the Indian youth. How they behave at home is very different from how they behave outside it, once the family filters are switched off.


But does that explain everything? What about the thousands of homes where such cultural filters don’t apply? Like your home or my home? In bigger cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Pune, there are many posh neighbourhoods that have “progressed” to more liberal (read Western) lifestyle and attitudes. This segment includes several professionals, entrepreneurs and opinion leaders, from across industries.


In a country of over 100 million satellite television households, this “progressive” segment doesn’t add up to much. Even if they did, it’s unlikely that they would allow their house to be metered for viewership measurement. You will be able to feel the pulse of this audience on elite media options like Twitter, or even the more mass facebook, but it will never reflect in the mainstream audience ratings.


Back in the 90s, when satellite television was still nascent, this audience ruled the roost. They were early adopters of a cable connection. Their taste reflected in the programming that succeeded in those times. Tara, for example, was a landmark show that was appreciated for its path-breaking portrayal of women. Somewhere in the late 90s, the ilk of Tara-like shows was overtaken by the Amanat ilk. Because the median market had moved from Mumbai to Indore. The median SEC had moved from A2 to B.


Today, the median market is probably a Gwalior or an Allahabad. And the median SEC is C. And as satellite television (or rather its measurement) penetrates further, the medians will continue to shift even more. The large problem with this method of measurement is that it doesn’t take into account the purchasing power. A rich South Mumbai household is given the same weightage as a poor household in small-town Satna in Madhya Pradesh. Yes, the media agencies can filter data on markets and SEC, but popular perception is not based on such filters. It’s always the “4+ HSM” rating that is reported, be it in the trade media or in the mass media. The verdict is passed with equal importance being given to the two households above, not withstanding that one spends more than 500 times the other on brands that advertise on television.


In any case, no data cuts are available by mindset or attitudes, leading to the entire planning process being based on stereotyping target audience into age, gender, SEC and market brackets.


I have always felt that Bigg Boss has actually been a much bigger success than what its ratings have reflected. It gets the eyeballs of premium and progressive audiences. But our current measurement system is not suited to monetizing these eyeballs in an equitable manner.


Our films have progressed over the last two decades. With our television, though, the progression has been very specific to a mass audience base residing in mini-metros and small towns. The big town audiences will be right in feeling left out. In cinema, they are put on a pedestal because they pay five times more than the small-town cine goer. But in television, nobody cares about them.


Till we find a fair way of evaluating eyeballs that have the purchasing power, the ‘sanskaari’ family theme will dominate our mainstream television landscape. And we will be a poorer television nation for that reason.


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media & entertainment research and consulting firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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