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Is he still the Big Boss?

Colors ups the stakes in general entertainment by getting Amitabh Bachchan onto a reality show in a bid to establish a decisive lead.

Anusha Subramanian        Print Edition: October 18, 2009

Nau baj gaya kya?
July 2000: Amitabh Bachchan is the host on the Indian version of the television quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The superstar is on the small screen for the first time, on Rupert Murdoch’s STAR Plus, which is running the risk of withering in the shadow of television broadcasting pioneer Zee Entertainment. Like STAR Plus, the 58-year-old Big B’s career, too, is uncertain.

SPLASH OF COLOR
It’s been a heady beginning in the GEC space.
#3 on day of launch.
Crossed 100 GRPs in week 2.
#2 in the 10th week of launch.
#1 after nine months.
Clocked 325 GRPs in the 6-12 September week, the highest by any Hindi GEC since Colors was launched.

In a matter of days, the verdict is as clear as a picture on a HDTV flat-screen TV. The Big B is back. STAR Plus has raced to #1 on the back of Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). The numbers are eyepopping: In the first episode, STAR Plus’s channel share races from 2 per cent to 25 per cent! The programming team, led by Sameer Nair, follows up KBC with some ground-breaking women-oriented soaps. Nair’s gambit of wooing Bachchan has paid off. STAR Plus rules the small screen in the general entertainment space for the next eight years. And nine o’clock primetime viewing will never be the same.

October 4, 2009: Bachchan is back on the small screen after four years. He’s not with STAR Plus any more. This time around, he’s signed up with broadcasting upstart Colors, the Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) from the stable of Viacom 18 (a joint venture between Viacom and Network18 Group). The question on every couch potato’s lips: Can the Bachchan magic work again?

There are few parallels, however, to be drawn between Big B’s TV debut nine years ago, and the journey he has now embarked upon. For one, the formats are completely different, as is the role Bachchan will play—that of a “Pop Philosopher” for the third season of Bigg Boss, an adaptation of UK reality show Big Brother. For another, the circumstances are very different for Colors today than they were for STAR Plus in 2000. And therein hangs an intriguing tale.

Meteoric wouldn’t be an inappropriate adjective to describe Colors’ progress, which launched 14 months ago. Today, it’s running neck-andneck with STAR Plus. For week 38 (September 13-19), both Colors and STAR Plus recorded a channel share of 22 per cent. Indeed, it’s been a fascinating weekly tussle between the two broadcasters, with leadership see-sawing between the two. For instance, in week 37, Colors was comfortably at pole position with 325 gross rating points (GRPs). The following week, however, belonged to STAR Plus, which crept ahead with 281 GRPs, a slender lead of just two points over Colors.

It’s against this highly-competitive backdrop that bringing on Big B takes a new twist. Nine years ago, it was the case of the underdog coming from behind (behind Zee and Sony). Today, with Bachchan in tow, Colors is hoping to race ahead of its too-close-for-comfort competitor STAR Plus. Says Rajesh Kamat, CEO, Colors: “Everyone wants a new twist either in the form of a new format or a new show or a new big-ticket celebrity. Today, we are fighting a battle that is neck-and-neck. So, the question for us is: What will help us widen the gap further with the market leader.”

Kamat dubs Bigg Boss-3 as Level 3. Level 2 happened with the recently launched Fear Factor-Khatron ke Khiladi (KKK), which allowed Colors to get within striking distance of STAR Plus. While KKK-1 opened with a rating of 2 when it launched, KKK-2 opened with a rating of 4.4 TVR in the first week of its launch. “(With Bigg Boss-3) we hope to stabilise and settle at a level which will widen the gap between #1 and #2,” adds Kamat.

Unlike KBC, however, in Bigg Boss-3, Big B won’t be in viewers’ faces virtually every single day. Rather, he will appear only twice a week (as against five times a week when KBC was initially launched) on Fridays and Saturdays. So, of 84 episodes, Bachchan will be present only in 24. In contrast, the superstar was host for 85 episodes in KBC’s first run.

The money, however, continues to be attractive. It is estimated that Big B earned Rs 15 crore for 85 episodes of KBC-1. Industry officials point out that he would now be earning roughly Rs 2.25 crore per episode of Bigg Boss-3—a cool Rs 50 crore for a biweekly appearance. Colors officials would not confirm the figure.

So is Bachchan for just two days of the week—the show will run every day of the week—good enough to deliver the goods for Colors? Nair, who knows a thing or two about working with the Big B on the small screen, says the two roles are not comparable. “Unlike KBC, where he was seen Monday to Friday start to end, in his current role he will appear only twice a week; so in that sense his role is limited in the show. But there’s no doubt: Big B will do a lot of good for the Bigg Boss show,” says Nair, now CEO of another GEC, NDTV Imagine. Nair, in fact, was keen to get Bachchan to host a show on NDTV Imagine. “We had spoken to him about the idea and he had liked it as well. But finally it did not materialise from our end,” shrugs Nair.

Clearly, Colors is gambling big on Bachchan to gain a decisive leadership. The company is still in investment mode, and breakeven is targeted for 2010-11. Vivek Couto, Executive Director, Media Partners Asia, a Hong Kong-based Media Research and Consultancy firm, expects Colors to contribute close to Rs 400 crore to Viacom 18’s revenues by the end of the current fiscal. That will be more than double what Viacom 18’s other TV channels— MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1— are expected to bring in. Kamat hints that he’s still got plenty of ammunition in store.

“All our programming slots are not full yet. We still have 5-6 hours of original programming slots to be filled up. We still haven’t started the afternoon band. So, we have a lot of scope,” says Kamat. For the time being, however, plenty rests on the broad, albeit aging, shoulders of the Big B. “He has an everlasting charisma,” says Nair. Yet, it remains to be seen whether that charisma in small doses will be good enough to make Colors the Big Boss in Indian general entertainment.

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