An ‘Uncommon’ Bigg Boss Season

27 Jan,2017

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

For a decade, now, Bigg Boss has been the standout reality show in the Indian TV space, especially for its differentiation. Almost every other non-fiction show we have seen in India is about “talent” of some kind or the other, dominated by singing, dancing and comedy. Also, all such shows are aired on the weekend. Bigg Boss, when on air (about 15-16 weeks every year), has at least seven hours of original content every week, twice more than any other non-fiction show and more than any fiction show too.

 

The Bigg Boss brand has huge traction in the online community and among the advertisers. It provides for product placements and integrations in a way that’s natural to the format. It also has immense talk value, fueling organic press coverage around it.

 

Yet, the ratings have not been easy to come by. Colors, who have aired nine of the 10 seasons, have tried every possible slot. But there’s an evident upper limit to how much a show that is essentially metro-skewed and not exactly family-inclusive can deliver. The format has seen its own share of innovations over the years in the attempt to boost the ratings. While some of these have helped, the larger picture is that Bigg Boss has acquired the status of a “cult niche show” over time, with a relatively small but diehard fan base.

 

This season, which culminates on Sunday, January 29, saw a bold attempt by the channel and the producers (Endemol Shine) to disrupt the format more significantly than ever before. The season featured commoners (called ‘Indiawaale’) along with celebrities. This well-thought decision (call-for-entries promos broke a year ago at the end of Season 9) was a brave gamble to play. If they lost even a part of a niche loyal audience base, it would have meant an abrupt spiral downwards.

 

But that didn’t happen. The season started weak, and hovered around the rating levels of Season 9, which itself was not a high scorer, in the same 10.30pm slot, which faces a challenge given the abrupt drop in TV viewership in India 11pm onwards.

 

But somewhere in the middle of this season, the numbers began to look up. The one week when host Salman Khan said he will not blame the audiences if they changed the channel during the show, because the way a particular housemate (one Priyanka Jagga) was conducting herself was repulsive, was ironically the start of the minor but significant upswing. Over the last month, the show has settled at a rating level that’s about 20% higher than Season 9.

 

The presence of commoners did not provide the pull factor initially. But as the season progressed, some of them emerged stronger and more watchable than the celebrities in the house. The raw passion to give it their all seemed to be the point of difference. Over the last three-four seasons, celebrities in the show have played the guessing game, trying to out-think the producers on their next move. There has been too much “this will show on the cameras” talk, which can confuse, even disillusion, viewers.

 

But most commoners did not bring any of that baggage, of maintain or nurturing an image, with them. Over the first six weeks of the show, Bani Judge (popular as VJ Bani) was the most popular housemate on the show on Ormax Characters India Loves. In the second half of the show, Manu Punjabi took that position from her briefly, before it passed on to another commoner, ManveerGurjar.

 

This shift in popularity balance coincided with the increase in ratings. There is high chance that Gurjar could win this season, though Bani and he are close contenders for the title. But irrespective of whether he wins or finishes second best, he, along with Punjabi, have set the template for the show for the coming years. They have given the makers the confidence that it can be a show driven by the commoners. Some celebrities may be needed, at least for the next few years, but over time, it can even be a commoners-only show.

 

This helps the production cost significantly. It also makes running the show easier, with celebrities, some of them merely so, bringing their own share of problems with them. And if these benefits come with additional ratings, it’s a masterstroke.

 

Will Season 11 push the envelope even further? We will know in due course of time.

 

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