New Delhi: To boost audience engagement with their reality shows, Hindi general entertainment channels are increasingly adding play-along features which allow them to explore two-way communication with the traditional non-interactive television medium.

For Salman Khan’s 10 Ka Dum , broadcaster Sony Entertainment Television has got audiences to play-along through the SonyLIV app answering questions at home as the show airs on TV. Sony, that first introduced the play-along feature in association with Reliance Jio for Kaun Banega Crorepati last year has also extended the format to its other reality show Zindagi Ke Crossroads, where audiences across the country will poll in simultaneously with the studio audiences. For its new reality show Sabse Smart Kaun, Star Plus will also get viewers across the country to answer the same questions as the contestants through its Hotstar app.

To be sure, interactivity is the first benefit of the play-along feature. “The first couple of years of online video were just to entrench the idea of video-on-demand, while being mobile. The next step was to take the mobile experience beyond just being a hand-held screen, and really leveraging the interactivity it affords, to engage users even more deeply with their content," said a Hotstar spokesperson. The person added that its Watch ‘N Play innovation, a game launched during the IPL delivered fabulous engagement for Hotstar through the tournament, with players of Watch’N Play clocking more than double the watch time of non-players on the app.

According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report 2017, smartphone penetration reached around 33% of the country in the year. The rapid uptake of connected devices is instrumental in media consumption shifting beyond traditional formats to digital mediums.

While there is a lot of conversation around how the mobile screen is taking eyeballs away from the television screen, Sony thought to turn this shift on its head. “What gave us the idea to get into this in a big way was the fact that there are approximately 24 crore TV homes in the country, but the number of smartphones is 35 crore," said Amogh Dusad, head of digital products, Sony Entertainment Television. “The moment you start interacting the two screens, the engagement and experience level of the consumer shoots up."

Over a ten-week period, Dusad said there were almost 30 million users who played along on JioChat for KBC at least once and on an average, around 3.5 million people who played along on every episode. Apart from 10 Ka Dum, Sony now plans to extend the play-along feature to the upcoming season of KBC, other reality shows like Indian Idol and Comedy Circus and to some fiction formats as well.

To be sure, while the users engaging with the interactive format are paying in terms of mobile data, television broadcasters are not the only ones vying for their attention. The brand partner, such as Jio, in case of KBC, is equally keen to draw audiences. Gurbaksh Singh, chief creative technologist and head of digital creative at digital agency Dentsu Webchutney, said such reality shows provide mass visibility and an opportunity for brand promotion. Since the KBC play-along feature was routed through JioChat, a user who installs the app for the duration of the show may choose to stick to it even afterwards giving Jio a chance to keep pushing value-added services. Some other brands like 10 Ka Dum’s presenting sponsor Kamla Pasand are not big on digital, but being present on the SonyLIV app provides extra advertising space and an opportunity for brand recall and to push reward programs.

“One of the questions we’re all grappling with is what are those new formats that can allow people to come back and keep engaging with one’s platform on a more regular basis," said Sameer Batra, chief executive officer at Wynk, Airtel’s music app. Airtel TV had offered its users unlimited free streaming of IPL 2018 via Hotstar, along with a curated section that allowed users to select their favourite teams, play quizzes, make match predictions and so on. “There’s also a sense of competitiveness as a culture so the whole purpose is can we get new users to come on to the platform and allow existing users to come back more often. We’re quite encouraged (with the response to the IPL innovation) and are seeing how we can build this (interactive features) as a capability."

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