Kyunki, 3Ks have sustaining power

Whoever said soaps on television are passe? Fatigued and routine kitchen politics maybe! But have they stopped delivering? Are they no more an advertiser‘s dream? Have they stopped irking competition?

At least the three Ks in Star Plus have beaten the track: Four years running and they are still going strong. Kyunki saas bhi kabhie thi, Kahaani ghar ghar kii, and Kasautii Zindagi Kay have not only sustained their ratings but also travelled to become brands.

When they started, Star Plus was languishing as a poor third most-watched general entertainment channel. Then came the Amitabh Bachchan-hosted Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), the Indian version of the international hit show Who Wants to be a Millionaire and the channel catapaulted into leadership position.

Supporting KBC were the three daily soaps from the Balaji Telefilms stable. Launched in mid-2000 and early 2001, these shows have outlasted KBC and helped Star Plus retain its dominant position. In fact, Star Plus had nearly five times as much viewership of its nearest rival Sony by September 2003.

Flash back to 2000, the year Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi launched. The show garnered an average rating of 6.4 that year in the CS 4+ six metro markets, according to TAM data. In 2001, there was almost a 50 per cent spike in ratings with the soap cloaking 12.04 TVRs. The show sustained its high ratings in 2002 and 2003 with 11.50 TVRs and 11.30 TVRs. Nothing has changed this year. Kyunki.. has recorded an average rating of 11.42 TVRs and a peak rating of 19.41 in CS 4+ across all Hindi speaking markets for the week ended 16 October, 2004.

The story of Kahaani... is no different. The family saga not only drew in audiences from the start but also grew them. In the debut year, Kahaani...saw an average rating of 3.09 TVRs in the CS 4+ (six metros). But in 2001 this climbed up to an average of 7.85 TVRs. And in 2002, it touched double digit ratings at 10.37 while in 2003 it maintained an average of 10.17 TVR. There is a marginal dip this year with an average TVR of 9.58.

Kasautii... began with an average of 4.44 TVR. In 2002, the ratings improved to 7.51 TVRs. This further jumped to 9.14 TVRs in 2003. The ratings this year is still strong at 8.83 TVRs.

So what has been the recipe of their success? On the face of it, the formula seems pretty straightforward. A simple story, but led by strong concepts.

Says Centre for advocacy and research head Akhila Shivadas, "All these three serials came at a time when people were looking for something different. These offerings were unique. The experimentation with a new telling format also was an instant hit."

The 3 Ks were born at the right time. Hindi programming at that stage had reached a juncture where audiences were on the lookout for something new. Besides, the shows raised the standards of Indian television in terms of production values, show packaging, the introduction of catchy title songs and opening montages. It brought in aspirational lifestyles, stylised sets and a very upmarket and glossy image which was never witnessed before.

Another reason behind the success, analysts say, is the cultural message of the shows. They celebrated large joint families and traditional women propagating traditional values.

What worked in Star‘s favour was a clever programming strategy. Capturing the 9.00 pm to 10.00 pm slot with KBC, the channel rode on that success to build the 10.00 pm to 11.00 pm slot. This ensured that it would still dominate prime time programming, if KBC was to decline in viewer popularity.

Star Plus has successfully funnelled audiences from one show to another and has today a strong loyal base of viewers, with original programming from 7.30 to 11.30 pm.

When KBC started falling, Sony took the 9-10 pm band with two leading shows Kkusum and Kutumb which dominated the slot tilll mid-2002. Despite several high profile attempts to regain lost audiences, Sony‘s share in this band continued to erode. And Star Plus had managed to retain its hegemony in prime time through the three Ks.

The Tam data supports this. Star Plus‘ average ratings was 13.2 TVRs, as compared to Sony‘s with 1.3 TVRs in 2003.

Star India creative director Shailja Kejriwal attributes the success of these soaps to its strong concepts. "The biggest reason for the success of these shows is the fact that they started off as concepts and not stories. If you look at a serial like Kahin Kisi Roz (KKR), that‘s a story and hence is finite. All the three K‘s are concept driven. Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi is a concept. It‘s basically about saas and bahus and does not revolve around any particular character in the story. Again Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki is a story of every family. So any story can be incorporated into Kahaani; the story is not about any particular character. Kasautii Zindagi Kay,talking about the crossroads of life, is again a strong concept. That‘s the essential difference between these three K‘s and any other show across channels."

The three shows are similar in nature, built on a strong foundation, with each addressing a different theme in a family-driven saga. The result: Star Plus has evolved as probably the strongest ‘family brand‘ in India.

The second crucial ingredient was characterisation. These soaps built on their characters more than the story. Also, Balaji Telefilms, the production house, picked talented unknown artists who stood out from the clutter. The audience did not associate these faces with previous serials.

Says Kejriwal, "An important ingredient was building on characters and not the story. The idea is making that character such a part of your life that you don‘t tire of seeing them. You can get tired of a story. For instance, Tulsi is a Pandit‘s daughter who got married to a rich man‘s son and her life evolves around the house. There is actually no story to her, if you look at it. But what we did was built her character as a strong ideal woman ."

" In a concept driven serial, small plots are created to build up characters. Once the character is built, you follow the character. You want to see every action of the character. If you go back to the beginning of Kahaani... it didn‘t start off with Parvati‘s story (the protagonist) at all. It started with one of the daughters of the household who was married. She was coming back home, leaving her husband and one followed that woman‘s story for the first 16 - 20 episodes. So, what was interesting was that Parvati‘s character was built by the stand that she took on the situation. The idea is to build small plots in a concept serial to build on the characters," she adds.

The build up of characters on an average, says Kejriwal, takes place in the first 30 - 40 episodes. Every serial has a lot of stories woven around it. Every story on an average goes on for about 40 - 45 episodes. By the 30th episode, one has to start sowing the seeds for the next story.

While the first 45 episodes in the case of Kahaani.. built up the protagonist, the following serials then focussed on the antagonist (Pallavi). Then on, began their clash which was the battle between the good and evil. This formed the essence and the serial played on this eternal conflict.

Promos for these serials also were unique. Almost shot like movie trailors, they struck an immediate chord with the viewer who had never sampled anything like this before. Star‘s promos have been crucial in drawing viewers on a consistent basis. Star was the pioneer in the building of the promo specialisation trend and actually incorporated separate writers and producers, says an analyst. Today, every channel has a dedicated on-air promos team as it has become an essential part of television packaging.

Says television analyst Shailaja Bajpai, "The fact that all the three serials are the embodiment of being ideal characters went a long way in creating a bond with the viewers. Additionally, Ekta Kapoor managed to fuse in tradition with certain elements of modernity. The strong characters - be it a Komalika, a Prerna, a Tulsi, a Parvati or a Pallavi - were so intensely depicted that it made an immediate impact. Also the slick presentation of these soaps were a visual treat for the Indian audiences."

Adds media analyst Sevanti Ninan, "The three serials were based on market research as Star was looking at widening their audiences and going beyond the metros. Focus group discussions that were conducted by the network gave them a fair idea of what viewers wanted - a glimpse of their everyday lives. Star also incentivised the production house on the delivery of ratings. So, if the ratings were good on a show, a percentage was given to the production house."

The strategy behind sustained ratings, Kejriwal explains, is about having a core and a shifting audience. "Some of your audience grows up. But then there is also a new set of audience coming in. So we have to always take into account the psyche of the newer audiences as everything changes in a four year cycle. This thought process has to be incorporated. One has to keep understanding this. The effort is really on how to make the shows constantly innovative and contemporary. Like in Kahanni… we brought in some bikers who are dressed in leather jackets and funky clothes. We could have launched a new show with these people. But the idea is that once you have a brand that has a huge loyal following, you try to introduce a subtle change within to widen your viewership base."

In 2002, CFAR conducted a reality check by doing a survey on how average Indian families felt about the serial and what was common to them and their own lives. The findings revealed that 50 per cent of the respondents found some similarities between the Aggarwal family and their own lives and responded positively to certain elements in the serial. Some of their quotes being:

Shama Gupta: "Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki is my story but only to an extent. We also saw our family disintegrating over business. My daughter was of Shruti‘s age when all that was happening. What I do find is that in real life older members of the family (like Babuji in Kahani…) are confused about their role. They do not know how to hold the family together."

Abha Singh:"People in Aligarh watch KGGK because we like to watch Parvati. We like to see ourselves as Parvati. She is the kind of daughter-in-law every mother-in-law would like to have. My husband is extremely busy with work, entrusting the entire family responsibility to me. I have two young sons and am always trying to bridge the generation gap between the youngsters and the grandparents. In a sense, Parvati is also been doing that."

However, all of them expressed growing discontentment with the serial. What caused this discontentment? Many of them were irked by the portrayal of women characters in the serial. A few specifically complained about it being "unrealistic," reducing the drama to all kinds of improbabilities.

Swati Mathur: "Pallavi‘s character is bordering on the absurd. Parvati is no better. In fact, she makes me sick. She is supposed to be the role model for all daughters-in-laws. What message is she putting out? She has been thrown out of the house and yet she has chosen to be loyal to the same family! She is stripped of all her dignity, made to beg and even fall at Pallavi‘s feet."

Anjali Dargar: "Though, I have got into this habit of watching it, I find the serial totally unrealistic. 200 crore ke baat karte hain _ how can it be a Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki? And the characters keep transforming. Parvati has changed her colours just now. Pallavi has already been through personality transformation `twice‘. Such women cannot exist in real life."

Dargar quote above seems to be quite the jist of a lot of bviewers of these serials. The point here is, yes there are watching it, but thats becasue of they now becoming virtual addicts. Many respondents have actualy made secret resolves never to get hooked onto to another serial like this again.

The serials have over time, says Shivdas, ceased to become talking points and reached a stage of saturation. A Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin on Sony, on the other hand, is still a talking point. Although that may not get translated in ratings, these K serials have lost their original spice.

Also, all these three family soaps have now started tilting towards a thriller format. In Kyunki... there is speculation on whether Tulsi will kill her own kith and kin Ansh. In Kasutii.. there is the whole mystery about the Anurags. At different peaks these soaps adorn different formats. Interestingly, none of these soaps have really been marketed like all the other aggressive marketing ones seen today.

For surviving in the continuously changing market conditions, the foundation of these three serials have been very strong. The brand and the product can be a definite success if the concept and communications are well built.

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