It's not about the money

Star India CEO says that Satyamev Jayate is a not-for-profit show, and that socially relevant entertainment is his moral responsibility.
 Ajita Shashidhar        Print Edition: April 13, 2014
It's not about the money

Like many Indians, Star India CEO Uday Shankar is an Aamir Khan fan. "I admire him for being an entertainer who tries to address social issues," he says. So one Saturday evening in January 2009, he stepped out of INOX cinema in Mumbai's Nariman Point after watching 3 Idiots, wondering if he could get Khan to anchor a reality show on social issues. "My 15-year-old daughter made me think harder by telling me we should look at creating such content on Star."

A week later, Shankar met Khan, and recalls that the actor seemed unexcited about a TV show. He says: "He thought I had approached him for a run-of-the-mill reality show and said he couldn't see himself anchoring one." Shankar explained that he would not approach the maker of films such as Taare Zameen Par to do a regular reality show. More than a year later, Khan called Shankar and said he would consider anchoring a show on hard-hitting social issues. And so Satyamev Jayate (SMJ) was born.

The question Shankar has repeatedly fielded is whether he can make money on the show. To put things in perspective, producing an episode of a regular TV soap opera costs Rs 11-12 lakh. The figure could be up to Rs 1 crore for a reality show such as Bigg Boss or Kaun Banega Crorepati. But for SMJ, Star spent Rs 4 crore per episode in Season One, and as much as Rs 6 crore in Season Two. Khan reportedly charged Rs 3 crore per episode in Season One, and is charging Rs 4 crore in the current season.

As for revenues, a 10-second advertising slot on Star Plus went for Rs 4.5 lakh during Season One, according to a senior media planner, and advertisers who wanted to reach a wider audience by also advertising on Doordarshan, where the show was simulcast, paid close to Rs 6 lakh. Media planning agencies say the broadcaster had pre-sold almost its entire inventory, and the show was profitable in the first season.

But Season One ratings were disappointing, and many media planners said that Star, which had attracted advertisers by pitching Aamir Khan, would have trouble finding enough takers for Season Two. The show's average rating for Season One was two GRPs (gross rating points). By contrast, a property such as IPL, whose ad rates are comparable to SMJ's, has an average rating of four GRPs, and is more attractive to advertisers.

Though Season Two has attracted new advertisers, media planners say there has been a rationalisation in ad prices. A 10-second spot is around Rs 3 lakh on Star Plus, and Rs 4.5 lakh for the six language channels on which the show is being simulcast. Less inventory has been presold than in Season One. Despite lower ad rates, Shankar has reason to smile, as ratings are up and unsold inventory can now command a premium. The first two episodes of Season Two were watched by a total of 210 million viewers, according to TAM Media Research, and got over 280 million impressions on the digital platform. The show has a rating of around 3.5 GRPs - higher than Season One. "With elections just a few days away, Indian viewers are more receptive to content that has a social angle. I expect SMJ to do much better this time," says N.P. Sathyamurthy, President of DDB Mudra Max, the media planning arm of DDB Mudra.

Shankar says SMJ was never meant to be a profitable property. "We were defying the traditional definition of entertainment content … [and] prepared to take losses," he says. He says he hadn't even told his sales team what the show was about in the first season. "We didn't give reels to our sales team to show to advertisers, as we didn't want them to form impressions. The people who put in money had nothing but faith in us."

Mohit Beotra, Chief Brand Officer at Bharti Airtel, SMJ's principal sponsor, says the show had a positive rub-off on the Airtel brand in the first season. "We are thrilled to partner this year's edition of Satyamev Jayate…. Airtel has always taken the lead in associating with… initiatives that resonate with today's India."

Aakash Chaudhry, Director at Aakash Educational Services, which is an associate sponsor, says that backing a show focused on social issues enhances the brand equity of a company like his. He says he doesn't think he is paying too much. "In print media, for instance, one would have to advertise in multiple editions to reach out across the country. By doing so, we would probably have paid 60 per cent more than we are on SMJ."

Jehil Thakkar, Head (Media and Entertainment Practice), KPMG, says shows such as SMJ indicate that the broadcast industry is maturing. "As of now, the quality of our programme is nowhere near what many developed markets do. Doing differential programming will need deep pockets and Star is in a position to take those risks."

Shankar agrees that SMJ is not cheap to make, but says his network's content will increasingly focus on social issues. "We will not do regressive content," he says.

BEFORE ELECTIONS, A NEW TREND

Veera, the lead character of the eponymous show on Star Plus, woos 18-year-olds to vote in the upcoming elections. Halla Bol, a 13-episode show on the youth channel Bindass, features real stories of women who have fought out sexual harassment. With general elections around the corner, programmes that focus on socially relevant issues are the latest trend among broadcasters across genres.

Bindaas has also created an online platform, called ‘B For Change’, where it is inviting youth to vote on questions pertaining to social ills that they would like to change. “With elections approaching socially relevant issues are top-of-mind,” says Indrajit Ray, Executive Director, Content, Disney UTV

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