Sony betting big on Diwali launch of 'Indian Idols'

MUMBAI: Talk about build ups to the BIG push... It started last year with Jassi and is continuing with Yeh Meri Life Hain.

However, it is with Indian Idols , the desi version of Fremantle Media's music based reality show Pop Idol, that Sony Entertaintment's flagship channel SET is looking at making a serious play at shaking up the channel positions.

Idols is scheduled for an October launch, soon after the Champions Trophy, Sony's big ticket cricket event for 2004, which concludes on 25 September.

Talking to, Sony's ad sales and revenue management head Rohit Gupta said, "The name Indian Idols has been taken because this show is envisioned as an annual event wherein each year someone is chosen. It has the possibility of becoming a phenomenon." Gupta pointed out that in the 25 countries where localised versions of Pop Idol were done, channel fortunes had turned around dramatically. It is pertinent to note here that it is Rupert Murdoch's Fox network in the US that has been the biggest gainer in this respect. "There is no reason why India should be different," said Gupta.

"It is a fallacy to say that foreign shows do not work here. Jassi worked for us and proved skeptics wrong. What KBC and Jassi have shown is that original format shows work." Speaking about Indian Idols, Gupta said, "Here, there is a plug-in for the viewer. He/she decides the fate of the contestants, not judges and not celebrity guests on the show. That is why Fox got more votes for the finale of American Idol than the US elections. Even Singaporeans have gone berserk following American Idol."

As far as promoting Indian Idols is concerned, Sony is looking at using the Holland Tourney and Champions Trophy on sister channel Max as vehicles to create awareness. "It will appeal to people across India and not only to certain regions. This is because people from different music backgrounds will pit their talents against each other. It is not just pop music," Gupta was at pains to stress.

"It could be a Bollywood singer, a Bhangra performer, some Tamilian guy, all competing. There will be heavy on-ground activity. We will visit 12-15 towns. In four to five Metros we will conduct auditions which will kick off in the July-August period."

As regards the on-ground activity, while Gupta did not provide any specifics, the information available with is that Sony will be trying to recreate an elections kind of atmosphere (right down to polling booths where people can log in votes for the contestants of their choice).

A point raised with Gupta was on the technical backend, which was found wanting in the US with jammed phone lines preventing viewers from voting. Gupta asserted that would not be an issue in India, what with the telecom technology available here being as good as anywhere in the world.

Talking about SET's performance in general, Gupta pointed out, "If you look at the past two to three quarters, the channel has grown from strength to strength. Sony's prime time viewer band has grown by 40 per cent. It is not just Jassi that has done well. We are able to give the advertiser a fairly large bouquet of programmes that deliver ratings. We are no longer a channel with just two shows doing well.

"There are six of them that are pulling in audiences. If you compare with Star's old shows, none of their new shows have done well if you use their own benchmarks. Star has had about a 20 per cent drop in their primetime GRPs which is because we have managed to eat into their share."

"A year and a half back we were at Zee's level. Now we are three times them in terms of GRPs. Yeh Meri Life is doing well in a time band that everybody thought Star Plus could not be touched. It has been getting ratings of five and six which is huge. In August we will be launching three more shows. Of course a dramatic change in the channel pecking order is not going to happen in a hurry. It will take a year but at least we are on the right track."

And what does the "Indian Idol 2004" stand to gain from all this other than a possible career in playback singing? How does lending voice to a Karan Johar blockbuster film as the launch platform sound? Something on that scale could well be what is being envisioned by the Sony think tank.

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