The entertainment industry comes alive every time a big budget film releases. It’s one such week. Everyone in the industry is talking about Ek Tha Tiger. Everyone has a view on it. Not just on its content but on its box office prospects too. The “everyone” also includes the television fraternity. Ek Tha Tiger’s fate at the box-office may not concern most of them directly, but it’s a favourite topic of discussion anyway, with a certain ‘coolness’ tag attached to it.
I have always wondered why television has this keen professional interest in Bollywood, but not vice versa. Last year, when I mentioned Balika Vadhu as a recommended promotional platform to a top Bollywood star who wanted to target female audiences for his upcoming film, I may as well have spoken Greek. He hadn’t even heard of Balika Vadhu. I had to subtly tell him that it gets more audience every single day, than the lifetime audience of the biggest Hindi film put together.
The historical argument may be obvious. Because films came before television, they continue to feature higher up in the pecking order. Also understandably, Bollywood has a larger-than-life aura around it, creating aspiration for TV stars. But very few TV executives aspire to work in film studios. Yet many wear their fascination for films on their sleeve.
Things begin to become interesting (not in the positive way) when this fascination begins to influence business decisions. The most common example of this is the appearance of film stars in reality shows (and now even serials). These unpaid appearances are seen as a win-win situation for both sides. You get to promote your film, while our programme benefits from your star power.
But here’s the catch. The situation may not be win-win in equal measure. We have conclusive quantitative data to prove that reality show appearances impact the box-office prospects of unreleased films significantly. The Monday-after buzz of a big film always show a sizeable jump, especially if the reality shows are in the top league, a la Dance India Dance. This jump is even more significant when the integration is executed well, than just being reduced to the stars making an appearance that adds little to the content.
Hence, it should make a lot of sense if producers obsess about which reality shows their stars should appear in, and in which week. Some recent conversations with film studios are in the ballpark: “Let’s see what the tracking looks like on Monday, I have got Indian Idol and Jhalak on the weekend.”
ut is the reverse true? Does the viewership of a reality show (or a serial) witness a sizeable jump when a star appears in an otherwise regular episode of the program? Both quantitative and qualitative data suggest that the answer may be in the negative. Such integrations are no longer novel for the TV viewer, and hence, their ability to influence ratings is becoming increasingly limited.
Then why should a producer, who pays upto Rs 3 million for a print ad, not pay a rupee for getting a wider, more contextual (audio-video and entertainment) medium to meet the same objectives better? Because TV has never asked for it! Because the pecking order is twisted enough for old-school film producers and stars to still believe that they, and not the channel, are the ones extending a favour by making an “appearance”.
Bollywood has always being savvy when it comes to dealing with television. They track ratings and come up with the most tangential arguments to hike satellite prices year after year, pricing their films far more than what a “fair market price” should be. When the top stars are signed for reality shows as hosts or jury, their fees constitute a major portion of the reality show budget, often unreasonably so. Yet, when it comes to using the medium for their film’s promotion, they know how to get it done free.
Someone needs to bell the proverbial cat here. If you can charge a brand millions to put its logo on a reality show, why should a producer, who gets to showcase his promo and his film “in-programme” for almost an hour, not pay? Make them pay, and if they don’t, let them skip reality shows as a medium of promotion. Sooner than later, they will get used to the idea. As they must!
As our TV industry matures, we need to reflect upon our film star obsession. In MasterChef Australia, there are no film stars. In the second season of the Indian version, we didn’t miss Akshay Kumar. In fact, he arguably spoilt the finale of an otherwise well-executed season. We need to see more such case studies. Dance India Dance is indeed a brilliant one, with three unknown judges becoming popular celebrities today, on the back of the show. But we need more than these rare one-offs.
There are an estimated 400 million people in India who have never been to a theatre, but watch primetime GEC content across various languages every night. Like our film star didn’t know what Balika Vadhu is, majority of these 400 million don’t know who Ranbir Kapoor is. So, if he appears on Balika Vadhu to promote his next film, he will be David and she will be Goliath. Not the other way round!
This post first appeared on mxmindia.com, on my weekly column ‘TV Trail’