On, 15 April, Viacom18, the promoter of channels like Colors, MTV and Nickelodeon, launched reality show Bigg Boss on Colors Marathi, its Marathi language channel. Come June and you will see the show in Malayalam as well. The Malayalam version, however, will be launched by Star India Pvt. Ltd which, incidentally, also has the rights to Bigg Boss in Tamil and Telugu.

And if Abhishek Rege, the chief executive of Endemol Shine, the firm that owns the Bigg Boss format in India, has his way, you will soon see a Bigg Boss version in a couple of neighbouring countries. “We will be increasing footprint in Nepal and Bangladesh in 2019," says Rege.

Bigg Boss, fashioned after the original Dutch series Big Brother, is a reality show where a bunch of contestants (or housemates) are put together in a purpose-built house with no contact with the outside world. Every day, they are given tasks to perform. Based on their performance and behaviour, they keep getting evicted from the house. The winner manages to stay on in the house.

Right now, Bigg Boss seems to be the reality show with most language versions on Indian television. The format has spawned several vernacular versions, besides Hindi which has already seen 11 seasons. Currently, the Hindi version is telecast on Colors, the general entertainment channel of Viacom18. The broadcaster also makes the show in Kannada and Bengali.

So what makes Bigg Boss among the most popular reality shows in India?

Of course, first and foremost is voyeurism where viewers get a peek into the lives and interpersonal relationships of the housemates.

However, Kevin Vaz, chief executive, South region at Star India, is quick to add that Bigg Boss appeals to the entire family. “It is not sleazy. The show is about the housemates most of whom are celebrities. You can vote for your favourite and make them stay in the house. It is all about creating stories."

To be sure, Bigg Boss offers a fly-on-the-wall experience where you start relating to the characters in the house.

Little surprise then that in its first season last year, Bigg Boss Telugu on Star Maa opened with a television rating point (TVR) of 16.2 and saw the highest season average on Telugu television at 8.6 TVR, says Vaz. In Tamil, too, the show on Star Vijay was followed by 7 crore viewers in Tamil Nadu plus 1.5 crore viewers across India, he says.

According to Ravish Kumar, head of regional entertainment at Viacom18, Bigg Boss is a unique and rare format. It reinvents itself the moment you have new people in the house. “Viewers’ appetite is driven by their interpersonal relationships. But it is not a scripted drama like people think. What we do is to give tasks and the show takes a life of its own," he says.

Since the contestants are put in what can be termed as a pressure cooker environment for almost three months, and the show appears on your screens every day, it is habit-forming. “You can call it the IPL (Indian Premier League) of non-fiction shows," says Vaz. Clearly, it galvanizes the prime time and builds a slot for the channel. It creates both buzz and sampling and could bring a channel within striking distance of being number one.

Interestingly, while the Hindi version of Bigg Boss is slotted at 10.30pm every night, the regional language versions are telecast at 9.30. Keeping in mind India’s largely single TV households, channels, especially, in the regional languages, ensure that the show is not too explicit for family viewing. Limits are set even for the controversies lest they alienate the family audiences.

Explaining why Viacom opted for the language versions of Bigg Boss, Ravish Kumar says that it is a winning format. “It is the most expensive and complex show in any regional market. Besides, it is a world-class format," he says. Even across languages, the same instinct and sentiment work for the show.

Since Bigg Boss grabs eyeballs, it makes sense for advertisers as well. “It is immersive content and a great conversation piece," says Viacom’s Kumar. That is not all. It lends itself to brand integrations.

According to a person closely associated with Bigg Boss in the past, the show is attractive to broadcasters as it is monetizable property.

“Hypothetically speaking, if you spend Rs100 crore on the property in three months, you will make Rs150 crore on it. It is compelling content for advertisers," he says.

Little surprise then that Endemol’s Rege says there is big demand for Bigg Boss. And what makes it tick is the casting and the freshness of the tasks in the house.

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. Respond to this column at shuchi.b@livemint.com.

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