Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India, addresses viewership feedback on Satyamev Jayate (SMJ) and the network’s approach to the show
There is a general industry belief that general entertainment channels (GECs) do not pick up sensitive issues that could involve legal hurdles. How difficult was it to handle these 12 social subjects?
It is unfair to say that GECs do not handle sensitive issues. It is a chicken and egg situation. In this country, while everyone complains that GECs have repetitive programming, no one lets a GEC explore something different. The moment a channel attempts to differentiate, people comment ‘you are going beyond your brief’. In case of SMJ, because of the mutual conviction shared by Aamir Khan and STAR India, we were committed to going beyond the brief. We were conscious that we were exposing ourselves to serious ramifications, and we were prepared for it.
Did you expect the viewership response to be as it was?
I have not seen TAM TV ratings data on SMJ even once, primarily because there are so many other ways in which the show has been such a tremendous success. I have a healthy disrespect for TAM data, which is not to say that I don’t believe in it. It has a role, but it is not the sole determinant of the power of content. SMJ was telecast on an unconventional time band, with unprecedented positioning and unusual format. Irrespective of the response, we were committed to seeing the format through. I didn’t want to see any TAM data on SMJ because I knew the show had innate power to connect. And if a network such as STAR doesn’t talk about issues such as child sexual abuse or female foeticide, then how can we say that we have pre-eminent relationships with Indian households?
Despite the buzz, many advertisers still said that it was not up to the mark in terms of return on investments (RoI). Do you expect them to come back for the second year?
The show ratings are very good. The reach of the show is phenomenal. Wherever you associate with a creative idea, you don’t associate only with the commodity of ratings. Companies also want to stand by something desirable and positive. It may be intangible, but it is not of small value. How many shows in this country have created this kind of positive vibe? I don’t see why an advertiser would be unhappy. Any advertiser who looks at impact will definitely associate with such a show.
There is a general industry belief that the show did not deliver in terms of ratings…
Who in the industry?
The first two episodes did well, but ratings from the third episode stagnated. Was this expected?
When a viewer switches television channels today, he expects laughs, drama, song and dance. This is a traditional perception defined by the nature of content broadcasters have offered over the years. Obviously, the first episodes were big because they benefited from the crescendo effect of the launch and it had to eventually settle down. However, content of this kind will become big in the country in the longer term. Once people get used to the idea, it becomes part of the viewing pattern. Thirteen episodes alone cannot change viewing habits and decades-old perceptions of a nation. A common feedback to SMJ was that it is a great show, but too heavy. This feedback primarily came because we are used to content that doesn’t necessarily force viewers to think. SMJ did that.
Do you think television can be a change agent?
Yes, very much. Every show that you watch on TV acts as a change agent. Some are big, some are small. But when we say ‘change agent’, we are not talking about creating revolutions. The role of media is to put the spotlight on an issue and make sure that the audience is aware, informed and has the context to initiate a dialogue in society. In the media, your job is not to go on a campaign -- campaigners are in fact dangerous.
Source: Impact on Net?