Mumbai: Raghu Ram, executive producer of MTV India’s reality show Roadies 6, auditions youngsters keen to appear on the show which was launched on 10 January. Jibes, profanity and rude jokes pepper the auditions, in the spirit of the earlier shows.
Again, the Hero Honda Sa Re Ga Ma Pa reality show on Zee had judges vociferously disagreeing over a contestant’s performance.
It is these episodes of gruffness which could be keeping viewer and advertiser interest alive in not only the show but also the entire broadcast genre of reality shows, which is losing viewership substantially each year, say experts.
Reality as a genre had an average viewing score of 1.5 television rating points (TVR) last year, while in 2008 TVR dropped to 0.8, shows TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd’s data for cable and satellite, four-plus age group, Hindi-speaking markets. TVR is a function of the number of people watching a show and the amount of time they spent watching it.
On a high: MTV Roadies 5. Youth today are looking for ‘unlicensed thrills’ and high-adrenalin drama. Hindustan Times
Still, the reality genre saw a downturn in 2008, said Rajiv Gopinath, chief operating officer (COO) of Madison Media Infinity, an arm of Madison Communications Pvt. Ltd. “The rating efficiency (reach) the genre gives is less than 50% of regular soaps. There’s also a 30% drop in (ad) break ratings over programme ratings for the reality genre,” he said.
Programmes with edge hope to stem the slide. Ashish Patil, general manager and senior vice-president, creative and content, MTV India, says that Roadies is no longer a programme but a cult. “Youth today are looking for ‘unlicensed thrills’ and high adrenalin-pumping drama. Roadies delivers that and by design has to be racy and edgy to do the same.” The show’s ratings ranged from 0.1 to 0.55 in December, according to TAM Media readings.
It’s true that reality shows attempt to differentiate by their positioning: Some are about song and dance reality formats (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa on Zee and Indian Idol on channel Sony). Some drive on voyeurism and sensuality (Big Brother on VH1 and recently concluded Bigg Boss 2 on Colors). Others are about adventure (Roadies). A thread binding most of these shows is, however, increasing edginess. “Judges crossing swords, fights between contestants and tearful breakdowns are all par for the course and give sudden and short blips in viewership,” says a media buyer, who did not want to be identified.
Little wonder that media agencies such as Madison Communications slot these shows on “controversy” levels which may colour media planning and buying decisions. Family shows such as Voice of India are rated as low in controversy by Madison, Nach Baliye and Indian Idol are rated medium in controversy while Roadies and Bigg Boss are seen as highly controversial shows.
New levels of edginess are seen as a way to refresh a cluttered genre where every big success spawns me-toos. From about seven shows in 2007, there were 17 in 2008 as per last count. About 67% of the top 15 reality shows in 2008 have been new shows, says Gopinath of Madison. “Channels such as Star Plus, which have a large soaps line-up, will have about 15% of their revenues from reality, while the other channels would have 25-40% from reality,” he said.
Reality formats now attract about 25% of overall Hindi general entertainment channels’ (GEC) revenues of Rs2,500 crore, said L.S. Krishnan, president, Radar, Mudra Communications Pvt. Ltd. Its share was about 20% in 2007, says a buyer. Revenue yields per show are, however, often static or decreasing, and reality’s burgeoning share in the ad stakes is due to more entrants in the genre.
Also, most reality shows are sold as premium properties, since production costs for reality shows are at least 30-40% more than ordinary shows. Sanjoy Chakrabarty, COO of New Delhi-based media specialist Dentsu Media Ltd, said that a 10-second spot could come at Rs1 lakh or more, depending on the popularity of the show.
Falling viewerships or not, advertisers are still buying reality based on sheer qualitative parameters, since reality generally offers more audience interaction and engagement, which could help brand recall, say some media buyers.
Broadcasters such as Anupama Mandloi, senior vice-president, Star India Pvt. Ltd, believe that non-fiction will never go out of fashion because they are great perception builders (for the channel) and marketing vehicles. “Non-fiction is an area where one can afford to explore and experiment because the viewer is evolving.”
For all the plays at drama and hype, reality will, however, have to work harder in the year ahead. Media buyers such as Krishnan from Mudra say that competing shows on various channels are eating into the same sub-set of audiences, while Gopinath of Madison presages investments in reality ads being scrutinized more by clients who are stressing efficiency of ad spending.