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BW Businessworld

Naagin Rules The Roost

Hindustan Unilever and P&G must have now discovered that they had been selling sachet shampoos and tea on the wrong channels. Remember the ghost show Aahat on Sony around 1999-2000?

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News has just come in that a new Hindi TV soap called Naagin on Colors has shot up to No.1 in the last week. The serial, about two snake women out for revenge and love, and who can seamlessly turn from hip-shaking beauties to venomous reptiles, has pitch-forked Colors to ankle-biting distance of industry leader Star Plus.

Things have not changed much since Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. It was launched in July 2000 and did 1,833 episodes uninterruptedly till it was literally dragged off the air by a court order in 2008. But Saas, along with Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, not only brought Star Plus to its lofty, unassailable heights, but also redefined Hindi soaps. The scheming mother-in-law, the love triangles and the ostentatious bedrooms all have now become common sets of different dramas.

Sample these: Sasural Simar Ka is a leading soap today on Colors. It is the story of Roli and Simar, who fall in love with two brothers and live together amidst plotting, tears and heartbreak in the Bhardwaj household. A couple of years back Sasuraal Genda Phool on Star Plus dominated the drawing rooms where the story of a rich, spoilt Suhana caught in a love triangle played out. A tweak here, and little change there, but it is pretty much the same ghar ghar ki kahani that dominates TV watching.

The only thing that has changed for the better is the entry of comedy and humour. Colors’ Comedy Nights Bachao, a roast of celebrities like Salman Khan by funny anchors, has got huge ratings. And while the flagship Sony Entertainment Television (SET) has disappeared from the radar, its poor comedy cousin SAB TV continues to make waves with Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashma. The show has been stuck in the Top 10 for weeks. There is some logic in blowing steam at a cruel and stressful world!

Yet if one wants to understand the business of television, it is this space of Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) one must watch. For they account for as much as 60-70 per cent of the eyeballs and pull in 45-50 per cent of the Rs 16,000-crore of advertising revenue that comes to television annually. At the top, it has been a two-horse race with Star Plus taking pole position in the past few years, and late challenger Colors — which was launched in 2008 — piping the leader off and on. Last year, Star Plus ruled unchallenged; but this year, in recent weeks, Colors has been beating Star Plus in audience numbers.

It is an expensive game too. Programming costs are huge with film stars as anchors; and each of these channels sink in Rs 75-100 crore a quarter to stay in the reckoning. That is why Zee has a more cost-effective, non-celebrity model. Puneet Goenka, head of Zee Entertainment, once told this author: “It is not worth the huge investment for No.1 slot. We prefer being No.3. It gives us the best return on investment.”

Which brings us back to Naagin! Starting October, this year, audience measurement agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), has included rural households in their eyeball count, and it has completely queered the pitch. By including 77 million TV rural households, earlier untouched, what people watch and consume has begun to look different. Unwatched in the metros, channels like Zee Anmol and Star Utsav, which are free-to-air and run largely on repeats, have become significant players. Zee Anmol had the second-largest channel share in recent weeks! DD National, with nearly 54 minutes as the average time spent, scored the highest among GECs.

Hindustan Unilever and P&G must have now discovered that they had been selling sachet shampoos and tea on the wrong channels. Remember the ghost show Aahat on Sony around 1999-2000? It was on top giving then leader Zee TV a huge headache. Naagin hitting No.1 is a similar trend. With the new expanded rural data, channels will have to lower the bar and look for fresh ghosts and occult shows.

[email protected]; @gurbir110

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-12-2015)