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Can seasons click with Indian viewers?

In view of the difficult-to-break habits of audiences, will the Indian TV viewer accept seasons in her soaps?

Will the seasons format in family soaps click on Indian television? The answer to that question is what Raj Nayak, chief executive officer of Colors, is also waiting for, having announced Season 2 of Naagin on his channel. While reality TV shows (such as Bigg Boss, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Khatron Ke Khiladi) on Hindi television channels have always returned in fresh seasons, it is not every day that you see a fiction show making a comeback. Naagin 2 will return on Colors in October.

Before it went off air in June, Naagin was a superhit fiction show on Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd’s flagship Hindi channel and ranked number one across Hindi general entertainment channels in urban and rural markets, according to data by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India. It was, however, a one-hour, bi-weekly show and not a daily soap which, according to Sameer Nair, group CEO at Balaji Telefilms Ltd—the company that produced the show—lends itself to be broken up into seasons. “It’s a smart thing to do. Naagin was always planned as a seasonal show. We will soon be back with Naagin 2… a first for Indian television fiction," he says.

According to Nayak, the idea was to take a break when Naagin was at its peak so that viewers wait for Season 2. In doing so, Colors may be adopting the strategy followed by most American TV channels, which break their fiction series into seasons and ride on the popularity of shows such as Friends, House of Cards, Homeland and Game of Thrones, among others.

The move will keep the franchise alive. Besides, it gives a breather to the creative team to re-group and work on the story, says Nayak. But Indian entertainment TV, so far, has depended on serials that run without a break for several years. For instance, on 31 July, Colors will finally end Balika Vadhu, the soap it has been running non-stop for eight years. The show highlighted social issues such as child marriage and widow re-marriage.

By and large, most fiction on Indian television for the past 16 years has been in the daily soap format, akin to the tele-novella. It is designed not to end quickly, nor take a break and go into seasons, says Nair.

Nayak said that it required tremendous courage and conviction on the part of the producer and the channel programming head to break up Naagin into seasons.

With that, the channel has taken a big risk too. This is simply because even today, Indian television is driven predominantly by the woman of the house. Add to that the fact that India is, by and large, a single TV household market unlike the US, which is a multi-TV home market. Let’s face it, the woman viewer likes to go back to the same soap every day. It is not easy to break that habit. If you try to do that, she may move away and on to some other programme. In fact, that may have happened when Colors replaced Naagin with Kawach… Kali Shaktiyon Se. The serial, also in the realm of the supernatural, did not meet viewers’ expectations and was no match for Naagin’s super success. The audiences moved away.

Considering that 80% of the programming on Indian TV still comprises daily soaps, will the concept of seasons take off in India? While Nayak hopes it will, it is far easier to build a daily habit. Besides, there is the question of cost. Programming expenditure on American television is stupendous. The budget for an average Indian soap on TV ( 8-10 lakh per episode) may seem high by our standards, but is minuscule in comparison with American shows. (Someone who worked closely with Khatron Ke Khiladi said that the cost of one episode of Fear Factor (the original format of the Hindi show) in the US is the cost of the reality show’s entire season in India.)

Programmes broken up into seasons cost more. In India, the production houses/channels are used to milking the daily soap dry. The economics work better if the serial is long-running. The cost of the set and the marketing costs are amortized over this period. Note, even if the serial takes a leap in time and introduces the next generation in the story, it’s shy of taking a break for fear of losing its audience. A break is considered dangerous and costly.

If entertainment TV moves to the seasons concept, it will also see more fluctuations in channel ratings. Soaps allow you to have a longer reign at the top and there is less fluctuation. In view of the difficult-to-break habits of audiences, will the Indian TV viewer accept seasons in her soaps?

Nayak is optimistic.

“If the Indian audiences can watch film franchises like Housefull 3, then I think they will watch TV shows too. At the end of the day, content has to live up to their expectations," he says.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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