Shailesh Kapoor: Why are fiction franchises on Hindi GECs misfiring?

27 Aug,2021

Shailesh KapoorBy Shailesh Kapoor

 

In both films and streaming categories, it is now well-established that building strong franchises is a key to success. Over the last decade, it is nearly impossible to find a film in Hollywood’s top grossers’ list that’s not a sequel or a spin-off. For every hit show on Netflix that’s a new story, about two others are new seasons of a successful franchise show.

 

Bollywood has been flirting with franchises for over a decade, with mixed success. The streaming category in India, however, has taken to the idea better. Shorter gap between two seasons allows for better continuity, and the story and the characters have been kept consistent across seasons too. Very soon, some of India’s top streaming shows will be entering their third seasons.

 

The latest to be bitten by the franchise bug is the Hindi GEC fiction category. Though there was that odd show here and there (Na Aana Iss Des Laado 2, for example) in the past, it’s the last few months that have seen a lot of action on this front. New seasons of Saath Nibhaana Saathiya, Pratigya, Sasural Simar Ka, Kuch Rang Pyaar Ke Aise Bhi, Balika Vadhu and Bade Achhe Lagte Hain have all come in quick succession.

 

But it’s not been a smooth ride. Most of these shows have performed poorly, and even the better ones have been more than a few notches lower than their respective originals in their ratings. In fact, there is no example at all where the new show has grown over the previous one, which is the essential premise of why franchises are built in the first place.

 

There are a few reasons why this has happened. The idea of seasons and franchises is alien to GEC audiences. Theatrical audiences in India got introduced to franchises because of Hollywood. Franchises are easily the most intuitive option for streaming, where you can binge-watch seasons, not just episodes. But on television, where appointment remains the Holy Grail, viewers have no reference points. There is no overlap with onternational audience at all, and audiences for Indian streaming shows are still a fraction of the mass GEC base, at less than 20% at best. For the rest, it’s a new idea being dished out.

 

Hence, for the idea to work, viewers would need to see its organic value. ‘Why is the show coming back after all these years?’ is the central question to answer. Unfortunately, most shows have not managed to answer this question, or even attempt to. Saath Nibhaana Saathiya did a good job of creating a promotional and content segue from the old show into the new in its launch month. But most others have left it to the viewers to figure out things for themselves, perhaps implicitly assuming that the franchise education of Hindi GEC audiences is already complete.

 

It is not. It would have been if Bollywood would have had a better track record with franchises. But with films like Race 3, it has created an impression that doing new parts of a series is just a marketing gimmick. Which is probably true as well. So many franchise films, and now fiction shows on TV, in India are just branding ideas than story ideas. Many of them do not have the cast or the characters from the original, making the connect a tenuous (at best) thematic one. On a category where daily time-spent is the key, a branding idea can never replace a content idea. GECs may be learning this the hard way.

 

In the first-ever column I wrote for this website (read here), way back in 2012, I strongly advocated seasons for fiction shows on Indian television. But the argument there was entirely different. It was about using the mid-season breaks to buy time for quality content development, and to prevent the show from looking progressively stale. Ironically, most shows that have launched new seasons this year ended way past their best-by dates in their first seasons, and had lost their peak equity much before they did.

 

Building GEC fiction franchises is still a great idea. But GECs are currently missing this trick. Stories much be imagined and developed in seasons. But that would mean taking a seasonal break at a cliffhanger moment, when the story is perhaps peaking. In a largely risk-averse category, I won’t place my bets on that happening in a hurry.

 

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