Saturday, May 2, 2009

What Makes for Sticky Eyeballs Today?

Indian pollsters and psephologists seek prescience in figuring out who will lead this Lok Sabha polls.
And over the years, corporates in India, and TAM ratings have tried to figure out which GEC - General Entertainment Channel - leads. More importantly, WHY it leads. The secret, if any, of its success.

Post liberalization, Zee TV was the first off the starting block in the early '90s. A few years later, Star TV arrived. Riding on the success of KBC, it soon grabbed the eyeballs with its K serials. It was the new superstar, just like Amitabh Bachchan in the early '70s.

Gaudy, over the top, dressed in their best even in bed stories of 'joint families' and their murky family stories. HAHK, MPK in the drawing room stories (and no wonder, this became a category killer to Sooraj Barjatya's movies). Celebrating 'traditional' values in a nation rapidly telescoping into the future, became the recipe for success. Soon, they began to believe in their own myth and endlessly flogging the same theme became their raison d'etre.

Next came NDTV Imagine. Launched with a lot of fanfare, it started with a big bang. And it suffered the way a Bollywood movie does. When launched with an array of top stars, but lack of a screenplay. Makes for good page three but not good trade paper ratings.

The most recent entrant has been Colors. That, in a span of a few months (and without the flagship of any program equivalent to the initial KBC) has endured, grown and shot up to the top.

What exactly happened?

Some of my students at a few MBA institutes, in a class on Consumer Insight Mining, did a dipstick. A few (really a dipstick) folks were called at random and interviewed over the cell phone. All over India. What was the imagery of the four channels... beliefs... how would they recognize the channel from its program if the name of the channel was masked... which / what visuals did folks associate with a channel...

What this classroom study ( students, each calling a few folks on the cell phone...) brought out is this...

It has become fashionable for the middle classes - once the bastions of Star TV - to bash its K serials. Somewhat like we Mumbaikars bashed our political leaders recently, and ultimately, we all live with them (only 40% came out to vote)...
The point is not whether they watch it or not - for many continue to do so - but the increasing defensiveness in watching it. Akin to young college girls reading Mills & Boon - but hiding it.

Zee TV is the Steady State theory types. No Big Bang here, but gently and relentlessly going strong. The Dharmendra of the '60s and '70s...Song and Dance is the mainstay, and gaana bajaana is part of the Indian psyche, now nicely packed with an appropriate dose of Reality TV.

NDTV Imagine has a schizophrenic image at best... represents anything and everything - and nothing. Lack of a clear distinct image. Is it Farhan Akhtar? Mythology based? Flagship soap opera based? Not at all clear.

Colors is the only one that comes out smelling of roses. And what's more, even with a diverse imagery - 'for young people' ; 'for families' - there is a common underlying thread.It is seen as socially relevant. And this is invariable spoken of, with awe.

In a post liberalized world that has by now accepted the initial onslaught of consumerism, its goodies and products and a better life, the viewers were ready for 'social soul searching' - of course vicariously. Catch the Indian Middle Class actually jumping into the fray. Inward gazing as we all are. We all want more of the feel good stories. We want the Slumdog slum kids to get a better life, and read their stories on the front pages avidly... and ignore that child outside our car window at the traffic signal...

And this channel is fulfilling this need wonderfully. Balika Badhu et al.
Via this 'social relevance' frame of mind, the MCM - the middle class millions - (it is the Middle Class that watches Digital / Cable TV, let's face it. It is NOT about the total India)... these MCM can go to bed peacefully each night. Secure in the thought that the world we inhabit is nicely and wonderfully colored.

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