Shailesh Kapoor: Too Much Oxytocin on TV? Try Adrenaline

01 Aug,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


If you have been watching Star Plus’ Mahabharat, you would know that the worthy show is nearing a worthy conclusion soon. The story is currently in the latter half of the epic Kurukshetra war, though the mindgames off the battlefield are equally, if not more, intriguing.


The sudden and decisive jump in Mahabharat’s ratings over the last two weeks has been heartening to see. From averaging 3.1 TVR in Week 25-28, the show jumped to 4.4 TVR in Week 29, and has held onto that number in Week 30 too. This is the period when the battle has gathered steam, and stalwarts like Abhimanyu, Bhishma and Drona have been killed, but not before providing high drama and excitement.


Conventional television wisdom may suggest that war scenes are not the most TV-friendly content, especially in the Indian context, where GEC viewing is still largely family-led. I’m not sure if Indian parents would want their children to see Bheem drinking Dushasana’s blood. Wars are essentially violent, and that female audiences have low thresholds for violence is a universally proven fact, both via research and science.


Yet, war is working. Not just in Mahabharat, but recent war sequences in Jodha Akbar and Maharana Pratap too have managed to pull in new audiences, and engage the existing audiences better. There could be several reasons for this, but the one I find particularly strong resonance in is: Adrenaline.


Several years ago, I heard a channel programming head remark: “Television is all about hormones”. The line has stayed with me ever since. It has eternal relevance, because it is based on how we, the human beings, are made.


Some recent work made me read up more on various hormones and their functions. I was seeking correlation with their impact on television and film content. Essentially, almost all the explanation came down to three hormones – oxytocin (the love hormone), endorphins (stress-reducing or the happy hormone) and adrenaline.


More than 90% of successful television and film content can be explained using one (or a combination) of these three hormones. Oxytocin gets its due when we speak of romance, chemistry and falling in love. Its impact extends to love that may not be “romantic” in nature, like a warm hug given by a mother to her child.


Endorphins reduce stress, and the comedy genre is known to activate the release of this set of hormones. Indian audiences have even coined a phrase for it, something that everyone who works with us is familiar with: Mind Fresh.


But adrenaline has been generally ignored. Being more “outdoorsy” in nature, this hormone tends to link closely to male content preferences, than those of female audiences in India. But increasingly, its impact is being observed in our work. This impact was strong enough for us to include the impact of adrenaline as a separate parameter in our content testing tool Ormax True Value earlier this year.


If you have been following the Commonwealth Games closely, you would have noticed that weightlifters are given a sniff of adrenaline by their coaches just before they step forward to make their lift. A battle scene, if executed well, can provide a milder form of that rush to the audience at home. (I have never sniffed that adrenaline, so not quite sure of the comparison. Wonder why it is even legal for lifters to do that!)


Indian content makers and analysts have ignored adrenaline for a while now, probably because execution capabilities to deliver the rush were missing in this marketplace. But that may be changing fast.


It’s time the ‘josh’ hormone got its due!


TV Trails is a weekly column written by Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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