Star-spangled reality!

By Hindustan Times

Like all of India’s people, television also loves her movie stars. Or else, why would it persist with drawing Bollywood celebrities in on its programmes in increasing numbers? Because people will watch them anywhere — at theatres and on the small screen.

Bollywood celebrities too are making a beeline for television in increasing numbers. Why? Because people will watch them anywhere — at theatres and on the small screen. Also, celeb-led programmes — mostly reality shows — enjoy prime time slots on channels.

But there’s more for the celebrities there. When India’s resurgent Bollywood darling, Salman Khan, could charge something like a Rs 4-5 crore fee (industry estimate) for each episode of Bigg Boss 5 last year, and Priyanka Chopra could charge Rs 1.2 crore per episode for Khatron Ke Khiladi 3 in 2010 — both shows on Colors — that’s not small money we’re looking at.

Last year saw Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Hritik Roshan, Karan Johar, Farah Khan, Preity Zinta and Dharmendra hosted reality shows.

This year, we are already seeing Arjun Rampal hosting Love to Hate You on Star Plus. Coming up very soon is also Aamir Khan with his talk show based on social issues, again on Star Plus. A number of the successful reality shows that have run more than one season will also return in 2012, with the same celebs or others.

“A reality show is itself a celebrity-maker. Reality shows see the dreams of millions of Indians come true. It makes audiences relate to the characters that appear on the screen, and this makes the shows more meaningful than any tearjerker,” said Prasoon Joshi, president, McCann Worldgroup, South Asia.

Some in the TV industry point out that channels may not make money from reality shows with Bollywood hosts because the costs are too high, adding up to higher budgets than what is spent on TV soaps. According to the FICCI- KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry 2011 report, one celeb-hosted reality episode could cost up to Rs 1-2 crore, as compared with Rs 8-10 lakh for a normal soap’s episode.

“Also, reality shows have a shorter life of three to four seasons, which makes achieving breakeven difficult. However, they are considered important by broadcasters since they generate good media coverage, thereby helping build GRPs (gross rating points) and channel branding. However, with costs rising, managing production costs is likely to be critical for broadcasters,” said Rajesh Jain, executive director (entertainment), KPMG.

What all channels also acknowledge is that reality shows help them draw new eyeballs to the channels. After that, it is the channel’s challenge to retain as much of the new viewership as it can with its other programme formats.

“Masterchef India boosted the somewhat flagging TRPs of Star Plus. The show notched up a robust viewership,” said film trade analyst Amod Mehra. The first season of Masterchef India was hosted by Akshay Kumar. The actor charged Rs 1.5 crore per episode.

Not all celeb-hosted shows are unprofitable for channels. Successful international-format shows in their Indian avatars can draw in more money. “Ad-slot rates of celebrity pushed reality shows is at least 40% higher than the non-celeb show. Star power attracts enormous advertiser traction,” said Rajani Menon, associate VP, Carat Media, a media buying house.

But not all seasons of a show may deliver profits. “Channels have never made money out of reality formats. For instance, Kaun Banega Crorepati is not repeated every year because of the overall production cost. But these formats dramatically help in driving audience and adding on to the overall valuation of the rest of the programmes,” Menon said.

“With competition rising in the business due to channel clutter, broadcasters are ready to spend huge amounts on celebrities in the hope of wooing a more fragmented audience,” said Sneha Rajani, senior EVP and business head, Sony Entertainment Television.

“Most of the top Bollywood actors can ensure the initial success of a show and boost viewership ratings tremendously. After that, if a show has intrinsic strength, its chances of shoring up big advertising revenues automatically multiply,” said Mehra.

“It is all about business in reality. Stars and producers are doing simple business. The price tags may be big but the fact remains that TV producers are paying up because it sells,” said Joshi.

“These shows are all about formats and programme producers see a huge opportunity. Other soaps and dramas are like staple diet — necessary but routine,” said Niret Alva, co- founder, Miditech, a production house, and executive producer of Survivor India, an ongoing reality show on Star Plus in its first Indian-avatar season.

In spite of it being expensive, film celeb-pushed ‘reality’ has become an important content category. “The fiction vs. ‘reality’ divide is far more balanced today,” said Jain.

That soaps on television are staple diet is possibly the biggest reason why Bollywood stars don’t really act in them, even though soaps deliver the highest viewership. And TV soap actors who break into Bollywood are quick to drop out of the TV soaps circuit too. Film stars have no objections to hosting reality shows on TV, however, because that doesn’t overlap with what they do on the silver screen.

This may change soon with Anil Kapoor essaying Keifer Southerland’s role in the cult American TV series, 24, of which he bought the rights and has sold it to Star Plus for the production and broadcast of its Indian version this year. As with reality shows, it is possible that international fiction shows in their Indian avatars may attract more Bollywood actors to the small screen, reckon industry people, though they are not ready to put their signatures on it yet.

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