Big Ticket Non-Fiction – Survival of the Fittest?

The early 2000s saw the launch and entry of the big ticket, international super formats into India starting with Who wants to be a millionaire (kaun banega crorepati) followed by music, dance, variety entertainment, adventure and cookery formats. India had never seen entertainment so scaled up, larger than life and dialed up with massive doses of bollywood stars, high pitched marketing and premium advertising. Some of these international formats tanked and some formats have gone on to become extremely successful, established brands in the market.

Over the years there have been several indigenous ‘me-too’ formats as well as some smart adaptations that succeeded in providing the same shot in the arm for broadcasters but at half the cost. Regional channels came up with their local versions that were substantially cheaper.

As the viewership of television gets increasingly fragmented, more and more broadcasters are feeling the pressure the reduce the cost of these big-budget non-fiction shows to justify the visibly lower ratings. The ones laughing all the way to the bank in the meantime, are the celebrity judges who never had it so good. One day in the week for three months or less and they stroll home with ready finance for the next film or the next holiday home! As for the international formats, the license fee and ancillary rights take away another sizeable chunk of the show budget.

Eventually, it boils down to business. There will be a few notable developments in this space.

  1. There will be many more locally created formats that are budget friendly and still deliver the marketing and brand positioning for broadcasters.
  2. International format companies will be forced to reassess pricing to survive in the high pressure, competitive market.
  3. The current international formats will need to evolve, innovate and bring in drastically new elements to sustain their viewership.
  4. New formats will need to be highly interactive and enable digital spin-offs to bring in new viewers and thus pave the way for data mining, so crucial for any brand today.
  5. There will be the new non-fiction in the guise of finite, upscale, concept driven fiction that will help build the digital arm for broadcasters and also enable international distribution and adaptation. These shows will be rich in local folklore and indian ethos to provide a connect for local viewers and a window to the exotic unknown for the international viewers.
  6. Content that can be platform agnostic will curry favour with the commissioners because the race is now for aggregating viewership to the best and most efficient business advantage for each of the networks.
  7. Non-scripted will always have to deal with its lack of repeat value and to compensate will have to be increasingly live and interactive in its offering.
  8. Talk shows will find their way in as high voltage, celebrity studded, contemporary and entertaining take on the socio-cultural and political environment.

There is immense fatigue in the content space and poised for a revolution. New entrants and surprises await the naysayers, as well as viewers who are increasingly seeking an alternative to the old, repetitive, recycled content.

published in the Brandwagon edition of Financial Express on 9th January, 2018

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