Sticky content is often used in the television circles to connote a show that attracts and retains a large number of loyal viewers and builds new audiences for the broadcaster. In reality, stickiness has become so unsticky that its worth questioning if we need a fresh approach to clocking loyal viewers.

The top parameters for stickiness in fiction are usually, a strong one line descriptive providing a lens into new worlds and communities to help build initial curiosity; powerful writing; characters that build bridges with viewers and lock them in as loyalists and fans. Once this is achieved, the story can usually travel into bizarre stretches of imagination or time leaps and still retain audiences.

If a daily gets traction in the first couple of weeks then the challenge is to sustain and build on the initial success for months and years to come. It is a constant effort to create a new dramatic twist in the plot. The problem is that 7-8 dailies per broadcaster are all focused on the same strategy of winning audiences. It is no wonder that all that prime space is gradually becoming a blind spot. A clear indication is that while the measurement sample size has increased, the show ratings have not. Instead, there is increased fragmentation.

Non-fiction is largely a mix of international brands that have been built with huge doses of licensing, production and marketing money. It would help to rest them for a year now and then, to keep them fresh and relevant. However, the investment that’s gone into building them is the very reason that they enjoy a longer shelf life. These brands have a loyal following as well as the ability to attract and build new audiences for the broadcaster. They also meet the needs of premium advertisers in terms of visibility and celeb association.

The indigenous non-fiction shows are usually an amalgam of many international formats thrown into a blender. Many of them have done a season and disappeared from the radar. New shows along the same lines are slipped in, adding to the confusion. SaReGaMaPa, Dance India Dance, Karan Johar’s chat show and Comedy Nights with Kapil are some successful examples of indigenous brands.

Viewers know what to expect from non-fiction formats. High value entertainment, good talent across both sides of the table, storytelling and characters, star power, high production values, special effects and staging in one attractive package.

While the makers and creators understand the science of stickiness, there is a larger challenge of montony and predictability in both fiction and non-fiction. One of the key challenges is the scheduling grid we have locked ourselves into with 5-7 days/week dailies across non-prime and prime time bands. The monotony that comes from creating shows dictated by a scheduling grid is mind numbing.

Finite fiction has yet to find its groove. This grammar is very different from soap writing. Involving bollywood producers in the creation of these shows is not always the answer as the true merit of good fiction is writing first and then execution. Television teams are equally good at scale and are eager to experiment. The real investment needs to be directed towards building a new breed of writers for television.

Published in the Brandwagon edition of the Financial Express on the 20th September 2016

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