Mumbai: You could argue endlessly about which of the Khans is the king of Bollywood, but when it comes to sheer marketing genius, there really can be no dispute that Aamir Khan is the savviest of them all. Consider this: For his television debut, Khan is getting Rs 3 crore per episode, which is far and away the most that any Bollywood actor has charged for being an anchor. This list includes Amitabh Bachchan (Kaun Banega Crorepati, or KBC), Shah Rukh Khan (also for KBC and Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain?), Salman Khan (Bigg Boss), Akshay Kumar (Khatron Ke Khiladi) and Hrithik Roshan (Just Dance), who charged between Rs 1 crore and Rs 2 crore for each appearance on the small screen.
The anchor fee and other numbers in this story were provided by people with knowledge of the show. They didn’t want to be identified.
Aamir Khan’s anchor fee by itself ensures that the new show on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star Plus is setting records in India’s television industry. Each episode of Satyamev Jayate, expected to be about ordinary people and to start airing on 6 May, will cost more than Rs 4 crore to produce. (On an average, a 30-minute episode of a prime-time Hindi soap costs Rs 8-9 lakh. A reality show could cost between Rs 35 lakh and Rs 2 crore an episode, depending on the stars hosting the show.)
To make all that financially worthwhile, advertisers will have to fork out Rs 10 lakh for a 10-second spot. Compare that with the Rs 4 lakh that advertisers pay for the same commercial time during this year’s Indian Premier League.
Television debut: Bollywood actor Aamir Khan. Rajanish Kakade/AP
“It is a very expensive show and we have to recover the cost,” Star India Pvt. Ltd’s chief operating office Sanjay Gupta said of the ad rate.
Star India, which runs Star Plus, is taking a gamble that such an expensive show will work with audiences. But it has hedged its bets in several ways. The first and most critical component of this is Khan himself, known for his involvement in all aspects of whatever he does and his aforementioned marketing skills—already evident in the media attention being lavished on the show.
Khan insisted that the show needed to be different in several ways, starting with its closely guarded theme and its telecast time—11am, unlike most marquee programmes that are usually shown during the prime time of 8-11pm.
Gupta explained that Khan, whose film company Aamir Khan Productions Pvt. Ltd is producing the show, did not want viewers to be “in a rush to run to the mall or the pub” while watching the show. “The audiences have to be true to the content.” Although the star is keen to occupy the time slot during which Ramayan and Mahabharat (that aired in the mid to late 1980s) used to be shown, resulting in the emptying of streets in parts of India, critics argue that TV viewing habits have changed drastically since then.
Another departure from the norm is that Star is pushing for the widest possible audience, which means simultaneous telecasts on up to 10 channels, and not all of them owned by Star. This includes state-owned Doordarshan, which has about 21 million terrestrial television homes, according to TAM Media Research.
The others include Star Utsav, the English-language Star World as well as the broadcaster’s Bangla, Marathi and southern-language entertainment channels. The show can also be seen on Maa TV, which is not owned by Star, dubbed in Telugu.
Khan, who could not be reached for comment, is said to have been personally involved in looking for suitable voices for dubbing the show in the southern languages of Tamil and Telugu. For English and other regional-language channels, the programme will have subtitles.
“Star’s attempt at creating premium blockbuster content and backing it with the entire strength of the network and supplementing it by using Doordarshan is an innovative approach to garnering audiences. It is seeking to bring back appointment viewing through this approach,” said Habeeb Nizamudin, chief growth officer at Lodestar Universal, a media-buying agency.
If the strategy works, it could set a precedent and address advertisers’ needs in a fragmented audience environment. According to Nizamudin, going by the number of advertisers and the exclusivity it has created in terms of categories, Star has managed to market the property successfully.
Sponsors have already bet big money on the show. India’s biggest mobile services company, Bharti Airtel Ltd, is the presenting sponsor of the show at a cost of Rs 18 crore. Water purification specialist Aquaguard has paid Rs 16 crore to “power” the show. Media buyers at top agencies and Kevin Vaz, president (advertising sales) at Star India, confirmed the names of the sponsors of the show. Bharti Airtel did not respond to Mint’s query on sponsorship.
Star India has on board six associate sponsors—Axis Bank Ltd, Coca-Cola India, Skoda Auto India, Berger Paints India Ltd, Dixcy Textiles Pvt. Ltd and Johnson and Johnson Ltd—at a cost of Rs.6-7 crore each. Vaz confirmed the advertisers, adding that the network is in talks with two other brands. “Even before Satyamev Jayate’s promo ad was released, 80% of the show’s commercial time was sold,” he added.
Since the 13-episode show will be telecast across multiple channels at the same time, Star India has tweaked its ad sales strategy.
“We are offering category exclusivity to all advertisers on the show—to sponsors and spot buyers,” said Vaz, which means that brands in the same categories cannot advertise.
Star will take a “very minor” share of the revenue generated by Doordarshan, according to Gupta. He refused to elaborate on the arrangement with other channels. “The focus is more on distribution reach for a programme of this scale,” he said.
Aamir Khan Productions and Star India will jointly own the intellectual property rights of the show for the first year of the programme.
The documentary nature of Satyamev Jayate sets it apart from all other reality shows, said Basabdatta Chowdhury, chief executive officer of Platinum Media, a division of media buying agency Madison Media. “For Star India, it is not about launching yet another reality show, but more about building on a leadership position,” he said.