From THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, November 08, 2001


All TVs a stage

Ratna Bhushan

Dream girls, Hum Sab Ek Hain, Kambakht Ishq, Govinda No 1, Teen Queen If you thought this was a list of the latest flicks from Bollywood, youre on the wrong track. You are, instead, reading the names of stage shows created and produced by television channels for themselves.

Welcome to yet another stage of the evolution of entertainment. Though a concept thats barely out of infancy, it shows all the signs of staying put. As Pratibha Vinayak, Vice-President, Marketing Services, Sony Entertainment Television (SET), observes, Stage shows for television are one way of creating good software. One cannot always be telecasting live events.

Explains Sameer Nair, Executive Vice-President, Head of Television Programming, News Television (India) Ltd, The masses are constantly in search of entertainment. Recently, there have been a whole lot of stage shows or events being held in association with film stars in India and abroad. And some of these shows are very well made as far as their production values and content are concerned. Since many potential viewers may not be able to watch these events live, to bring them on television helps reach the mass audiences.

The strategy, as a senior ad executive at leading ad agency HTA puts it, is straightforward, Its clear -- if there are no events happening, create your own. The idea is to grab sticky eyeballs and stop viewers from clicking on that remote control button to go on to another channel.

The idea, not necessarily unfamiliar to most Indian audiences, has matured and assumed significant proportions only in recent times.

What is actually different now is that stage shows are being produced by television channels and staged for a private audience on a larger-than-life scale, explained an industry watcher.

Therefore theres been a Govinda No 1, the Daler Mehndi show, and an event titled Kambakht Ishq featuring the sultry Urmila Matondkar, and even a Navaratri Show recently on Star Plus.

Late last year, Sony Entertainment aired the Cineyug-produced Dreamgirls, a stage show packed with glamour, with six top, reigning Bollywood actresses dancing to legendary music straddling six genres. Sony followed Dreamgirls with another stage show on the lines of a tribute to legendary singer Kishore Kumar.

The show had the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Karisma Kapoor enacting golden oldies rendered by Kumar. While Sony officials are tightlipped about the money they doled out to get leading Hindi movie stars to perform for them, industry watchers reckon that the budgets would have easily run into a couple of crores of rupees.

Between December 2000 and now, Zee TV has telecast Ishq Pyaar Mohabbat, Govinda Aala Re Aala and Alpha Gaurav, besides a smattering of awards shows such as the Zee Cine Awards, the IMI Zee Sangeet Awards, Zee Technical Awards and the India Teen Queen. And just earlier this month came the Sunday Sitaron Ka event with Govinda and a series of leading Hindi film actresses. Sunday Sitaron Ka, an all-round entertainment show, is aired every third Sunday of the month. The objective, explains Partha Pratim Sinha, Director, Marketing, Zee Telefilms Ltd, is to build long-term properties rather than organising routine one-off events. Therefore an event such as the recently telecast Teen Queen, for example, is being planned as an annual event henceforth. And hopefully, the stature of the show will grow the following year, Sinha adds.

Its hardly surprising that the big chunk of stage event content comprises Bollywood fare, besides music and dance-based shows. Channels have obviously realised that. Agrees Nair, It is a given that film-based functions are very popular.

And as Vinayak adds, Even Hindi movies are held together by song and dance.

The big challenge is to grab and retain audiences attention for a good two-three hours, which is the duration for which a stage show typically carries on.

Its like walking a tightrope, but as an industry analyst says, The audience interest depends on what you put in the show and how well you package it.

Observes Nair, Getting the viewers to tune in at a stretch depends on the production values, talent and objective of the show. An awards event, a road show or even a special charity programme can be successful provided the mix is right.

And the HTA official explains, Creating the necessary hype around such events is akin to launching a new brand. One needs similar inputs and marketing effort to generate trials and then retain interest.

But what about ratings and more importantly, ad revenues, when its a given that costs incurred to produce stage shows such as these are steep?

While channels do not divulge costs incurred, Sinha says, Such shows help in increasing penetration and reach of the channels, which leads to sponsors willing to put in money.

Dreamgirls, says Sony Entertainment, notched up very high ratings in the original telecast. Of course, interest waned in the subsequent telecasts -- the show has been repeated on multiple occasions at least twice after the original telecast.

While refuting the suggestion that repeat telecasts are mere fillers, Vinayak says, We got a lot of requests from viewers to repeat Dreamgirls.

And while a major chunk of the ad revenue does come from the first airing, the repeat value of the show was also high.

Sinha mentions Hum Sab Ek Hain and Cine Awards as among the shows that have done well for themselves on Zee, and adds that the latter has become a brand by itself.

Among the clutch of shows Zee has in the pipeline include a baby show, expected to be aired within this calendar year.

And while it does not fit in the same basket as shows exclusively produced for television audiences, Star Plus has the Screen Awards lined up as its next stage event.

According to Sony Entertainment officials, while nothing is on the anvil right now, stage shows are expected on the channel sooner than later.

According to the HTA official, most entertainment channels are now putting on their creative caps to dole out Diwali and New Year specials.

The world is clearly a stage, whether its live or enacted.

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