Takes three to tango

Consumers Rule

Takes three to tango

 ‘Balika Vadhu’.

If one goes by the age-old adage, it takes two to tango. However, ask anyone connected to the Indian television industry, they will tell you that it takes three. Surprised? Well, that is how it is. The industry that is bread and butter to hundreds of thousands of workers across the country does need the producer, broadcaster and audience together to make a successful production. Unless the three work in tandem and tango, success will continue to remain a distant word.

Interestingly enough, 2009 saw the Indian television change — dramatically — on all these three parameters. The result? A number of new concepts, serials, actors, producers and broadcasters have made it to the successful category dethroning the existing numero unos. Sunday Herald tries to trace back the path and find out what changed in the Indian television industry in 2009 and how.

The audience 

Undoubtedly, the most important amongst the three, the audience is the demand creator and in many ways controls the other two stakeholders. In 2009, the quantum and quality of demand from the audience underwent substantial change thereby forcing the producers and broadcasters to go back to the drawing boards and think about newer ideas for making serials. 

When the year started, the viewer was fresh out of the decade’s own saas-bahu sagas (Kyun Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kasauti Zindagi Kay and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki) which had just got over. Naturally, they wanted something fresh, something that would clear the stale taste left lingering by the long-lasting soap operas.

‘Tere Mere Sapne’. This demand set the producers and broadcasters thinking, and all the new serials that started this year — Uttaran, Aap Ki Antara, Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Keejo, Balika Vadhu, etc — were distinctly different from their predecessors. Not only did they launch a retinue of fresh faces (Tina Dutta, Rashmi Desai, Ratan Rajput, etc), but the storyline also changed from the predictable and irrelevant saas-bahu fights to socially relevant topics like child marriage, autism and human trafficking. Something that no one could think of even a year back. 

If fictional shows changed so much, could their non-fictional counterparts (read reality shows) be far behind? Definitely not. This year saw the next generation reality shows being launched. These were shows that moved beyond talent hunt contests and invaded our privacy in every possible way. Be it Sach Ka Saamna, Splitsvilla, Bigg Boss or the more recent Emotional Atyachar, the objective of these shows was to ignite the gossiping fire in us and make us feel happy at the cost of others’ suffering! The broadcasters and the producers very rightly understood the untapped potential of such reality shows and went full throttle in outdoing each other in this area.   

The producers 

If the audience is the demand creator, the producers are the people who meet that demand. And with the shift in the nature of the demand this year, a power shift was also seen in the producer fraternity. When the year started, it was Balaji Telefilms all over and no one could dare question them on the fare they meted out. The K-serials had just got over and failure was a word unknown to them till then. In fact, the production house was so big that even the failure of the mammoth Kahani Mahabharat Ki could not shake it.

But the audience’s new tastes and demands did shake its position in 2009 quite a bit. A number of Star’s serials flopped and they were late in terms of catching the ‘social theme’ bus for serials. It is only recently, after Ekta dropped her fetish for the K-tag, that her shows have seen some success this year. Be it Bairi Piya on Colors or Pavitra Rishta on Star, they are trying their best to revive the good old days of Ekta Kapoor and Balaji Telefilms. 

Interestingly enough, where Ekta’s team lost ground was the freshness that the audience demanded. Balaji Telefilms has always been successful in terms of launching new faces, but this year it was found lacking in launching new ideas.

That is where producers like Rajan Shahi (Bidaai, Yeh Rishta Keya Kehlata Hai, Swarg), Monish Sekhri (Aap Ki Antara), Swastik Pictures (Aagle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Keejo) scored. They gave the audience fresh faces (Parul Chauhan, Sarah Khan, Angad Hasija, Ratan Rajput et al) as well as new storylines which were distinctly different from what we have seen till date.

The result was obvious — they walked away with the cake and ate it too. Sounds unbelievable, but almost all the serials that have been successful this year are from new production houses. The only reason that can be attributed to this success is their dare-to- try attitude. Balaji had too much at stake in terms of their fame — especially after the mega failure of Mahabharat, whereas the newbies had little to lose. Thus, while a Director’s Kut or Swastik Pictures could afford to take the risk and fail, Balaji could not. 

The result? Balaji being dethroned from the undisputed queen’s status that it had enjoyed for more than a decade in the Indian television world. While it still continues to enjoy the status of the most important production house in the television industry, the days of its dictatorship are over.

The broadcaster 

Should the broadcasters control the producers or vice versa? During the Doordarshan days, it was definitely the former. But with the advent of satellite channels and the need for 24 by 7 content for different niche channels, it started becoming the latter. So if a famous producer had a fight with a particular channel, the latter’s future could be deemed because they would have nothing to broadcast!

Remember what happened during the television industry strike in 2008? For close to a month, we had to be content with watching re-runs because the production houses were having some issues with the technicians and the broadcasters.  

One feels, this (producers controlling broadcasters) was one of the reasons for the major power shift we saw in the broadcasting scenario in 2009. For the first time since 2000, Star Plus was dethroned as the numero uno in the general entertainment channel (GEC) space.

In early 2000, Star gained the number one slot because of its fresh programmes — a combination of K-serials and game shows like KBC. But with the same producers (who were in a way controlling the broadcaster) dishing out the same old fare and the creative team getting too used to the comfort of being number one, Star Plus lost its freshness and USP. In the last nine years, no matter what the channel dished out, viewers were just waiting to latch on to it and digest. But not anymore — especially with newer options coming in.  

A channel — Colors — which was launched last year was able to do what biggies like Sony and Zee could not. It removed Star from the number one slot and stayed on top for the rest of the year. How was this possible? This, one feels, was possible just because of the freshness factor of the serials that was being aired on Colors.

Be it Uttaran, Balika Vadhu or Naa Aana Is Desh Main Laado, all the shows touched the Indian audience like never before. Enthused by the success, Colors even managed to rope in Amitabh Bachchan for hosting Bigg Boss — something that no one thought could be possible. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that Colors beat Star Plus in their own game.  

Though it did try to bounce back with a plethora of new serials — Pratigya,Tere Mere Sapne, Sajan Ghar Jaana Hai — but till December, they were not able to re-establish their leadership position and Colors continued to rule. 

Whatever the case may be, 2009 once again proved that consumer is king (or queen). At least in the television industry. And no one is complaining. 

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