Every Friday and Saturday night, the three largest general entertainment TV channels in India search for “the one voice that is the nation’s pride”, as Sony Entertainment Television Pvt. Ltd puts it. The fact that the reality shows are near replicas of each other doesn’t affect their popularity with either viewers or advertisers. These voice talent hunts, based on popular Hindi film music, have always attracted high viewership ratings and television executives, as well as advertisers, say the lack of originality doesn’t matter because “the genre works”.
Officially, though, the channels hotly protest any sameness. Things came to a head when Gajendrra Siingh’s team, which produced and presented Zee TV’s music competition, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge, moved to Star India Pvt. Ltd. While Star officials maintain that their programme, Star Voice of India (VoI), has little to do with the earlier version broadcast by Zee, the fact that it has the same host (Shaan) and judges makes the resemblance striking.
“When Siingh left, he told us he was launching his production house,” says Ashish Kaul, executive vice-president, Essel Group. Zee is part of the Essel Group.
“Then, we heard he was doing a similar show for Star. This is unethical. His production house has been sued for it, as has Star.”
Star has already toned down the similarity one decibel. Until recently, its programme was called Star Voice of India Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa, with a slogan, “Sargam ab hogi poori (Now the scales will be complete)”, a dig at Zee TV’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa.
Now, Star VoI has dropped the latter half of its name. “The ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’ thing was just a descriptor,” says Ajay Vidyasagar, vice-president, content, Star India. “That was some stray line.” But its official release on 15 May referred to Star Voice of India Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa three times in the seven paragraphs announcing its launch. “If you want to hear that we copied from Zee TV,” says Vidyasagar, “you’re fishing in the wrong pond. I’m not using a show that somebody previously used. A production house came to me with a show that I believe works.”
But there is no denying the resemblance among the three talent shows on air currently—Zee TV’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Star’s VoI and Sony’s Indian Idol, which, incidentally, is a licensed version of the US hit show, American Idol.
Kamlesh Pandey, who had conceptualized Antakshari, the forerunner of these shows, in 1995, says the shows are “exactly the same”. The brand managers, however, take pains to underline the differences. “There’s enough space for each programme to forge its own identity,” says Kaul. Paritosh Joshi, vice-president, ad sales, Star India, takes a similar line. He says getting the mix right is a “finely nuanced thing. They’re not all the same. Everyone would get the formula right every single time if it were that simple.”
The formula, there’s no doubt, works to an extent. On 18 May, VoI opened with ratings of 2.18%, according to aMap, the television audience measurement agency. That day, Indian Idol achieved ratings of 1.78%, while Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge touched 3.35%. Though Indian Idol has not touched the 2.18% mark this season, the Zee show has dipped below the figure only twice in eight episodes. And it is not just the prime time effect.The talent shows have doubled the ratings in these time slots for Zee TV and Sony.
Even with its new cast of presenter and judges, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge, which describes itself as “music’s first world war”, has managed a top slot. Presenter Aditya Narayan has the same friendly demeanour as his predecessors Sonu Nigam and Shaan, while contestants are drawn from across the world.
Zee Group’s chief executive Subhash Chandra, however, had not been impressed by the idea when the first variant, Antakshari, was created by Siingh at the behest of Pandey, then creative head at Zee TV.
Chandra had cancelled the show, but was persuaded to give Siingh another chance. Siingh was later part of the core team that developed Sa Re Ga Ma Pa.
The format thus devised thus revised has seen various clones, and sponsors and advertisers have bought into most. Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison Communications, a marketing communications and media buying company, says as long as their television rating points (TRPs) are good, programmes will attract advertisers, irrespective of the similarity among the shows.
“Today, if a show has a TRP of 3%, it looks attractive,” he says. “A music talent show in a reality format is an eternal thing. It has found favour not just here, but across the world.”So it’s no surprise that it’s so popular in India. No wonder the three shows have leading advertisers on their platforms.
Says Star’s Joshi: “It didn’t take us a lot of time to sell the property. Look, musical competitions aren’t a radical breakthrough. They’ve been around for a long time.” Star VoI boasts of Hutchison Essar, Reliance Money, Nokia, Reckitt Benckiser, Cadbury India Ltd and Tata Sky in addition to the main sponsor, Amul. The Zee show, not surprisingly, has 10 sponsors, including Hero Honda, Dabur, Dish TV, General Motors, Reliance, Coca-Cola, Tata AIG and Nokia. “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge is the second most popular show on Zee. It is a weekly show and still is neck and neck in the ratings with Saat Phere, which is a daily,” says Kaul.
Indian Idol, currently the highest-rated show on Sony, has eight sponsors, including Sony Ericsson, Maruti, Airtel and L’Oreal.
With such a star line-up of advertisers, talent shows are likely to see more variants, clones or not.