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Challenges of TV programmers in a fragmented market

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MUMBAI: Tailoring content to fit into a fragmented television and fast-changing socio-economic milieu is a fresh challenge that content creators face in India today. An expansive youth population makes the task even more daunting. So what works? Gut feeling backed by research and knowledge of social changes taking place in the country, say senior programming executives of leading entertainment broadcasters.

The decision of launching a new show is, indeed, very complex. Zee TV programming head Ajay Bhalwankar says, "Research gives us certain ideas, but it is not a prescription. One should go with instinct more than research. And it is something that one needs to understand from the viewer?s point of view. What we perceive, what we do, how will the society react is very complex and it is a programming person?s job to understand this complexity."

TV programming executives need to understand the societal changes that are taking place in India as the economy opens up and the speed of growth accelerates, albeit with inequalities and other challenges. Indian viewers have shown that they have taste for social issue-based entertainment content, evident from the popularity of Balika Vadhu that has stayed for long as Colors? flagship show. Research helps in providing information and capturing these trends.

Says Bhalwankar, "When you are creating a show for Indian audiences, you have to behave like a family member and that viewpoint can come through a research. There is a lot of gut feeling involved while creating a show but that needs to be informed through research and also evolved along with the changes taking place in society."

Though private television has expanded its reach in the country, there are still 220 million people who don?t watch TV. Programming executives need to create content that will make them watch.

Says Star India SVP-content strategy Gaurav Banerjee, "We are shaping India in the real sense. C&S has a large effect on women in rural India. There have been behavioural changes that have been seen. As content creators, it is our responsibility to also reach out to people who don?t watch television."

Making TV shows that have an impact is important. Says Storyshare International?s television producer Peter Dodds, "Creative producers have to take the vision of writers and directors ahead. We can?t take drama for granted. If you say that content is king, then the story has to be relevant and engaging. At the same time, the nature of this business is that one has to be risk friendly. No one exactly knows what works and what doesn?t." Based out of Australia, Storyshare International is producer of shows such as Neighbours and A Country Practice.

Driven by profit pressures in a tough global economy, broadcasters yield to commercial considerations when they decide on content. Producing popular content is, thus, very important and not an easy task.

According to Ormax Media CEO Shailesh Kapoor, there have been 91 new show launches in India in 2011, out of which only 7-8 have had lasting impact. Most of them didn?t even survive for more than six months.

"Television shows in India have 15 per cent success rate. The research team of channels should work in co-ordination with the creative team. Research plays an important role and can help this 15 per cent grow to at least 30 per cent," says Kapoor, co-founder of a consumer knowledge firm that specialises in the media and entertainment business.

Following the herd and adapting ?me too? concepts do not work. The biggest example of this is the ?Saas-Bahu? theme, popularised by content production house Balaji Telefilms through its three serials (Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kasauti Zindagi ki), that ran successfully on primetime television on Star Plus for so long but failed on other Hindi entertainment channels that tried to create similar dramas.

Spotting the trend is important. "For the last year or so, the general mood of entertainment in the country is light-hearted dramas. There has to be a rare mix of uniqueness and relevance in the content. Formats like ?Bade Achche Lagte Hain? on Sony are good examples," says Kapoor.

Opines Bhalwankar, "The formula today is to work outside the formula."

Programming executives should keep their creative juices alive, going beyond research and commercial considerations. Says Geo TV CEO Ibrahim Rahman, "One should do something with conviction and passion and not only think about making money. In Pakistan, the popular dramatic television shows are issue-based."

International reality show formats have mushroomed in India, but their initial spark is dimming. Says Banerjee, "We are beginning to see the first steps of indigenous reality content. We launched ?Aap Ki Kachehri? with Kiran Bedi. The trend of bringing International formats is still there, but it?s not easy anymore. There is nothing like KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati) that happened years ago and it has grown because it is truly Indian. We don?t get the same impact for non-fiction properties these days. The most popular shows are fiction because they are more Indian."

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