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Reality television saves Bollywood stars

Faced with BO losses, stars flock to TV to make money

Priyanka Joshi  |  Mumbai 

Faced with losses at the box office, stars are flocking to reality shows on television to make money. Anxious to appease advertisers, TV channels are only too happy to oblige.

Not everyone can be a Salman Khan, whose movies have showed more consistency at the box office than the actor’s considerable ability to generate controversy. For the film industry’s other stars—like Akshay Kumar, or Hrithik Roshan—though, things haven’t worked out quite so well. Luckily for them, however, the ‘idiot box’, through its seemingly endless reality shows has become the de-facto saviour of Bollywood’s stars.

It is a convenient, symbiotic relationship and the reason for it is simple. According to industry estimates, while a celebrity-hosted reality show can cost the channel up to Rs 2-Rs 2.5 crore (per episode), a fiction show costs just Rs 8-10 lakh (per episode). Therefore, a television channel may or may not break even on their investments on a Bollywood star.

The great Indian television payoff
Film Stars Shows Fees Paid
Kaun Banega Crorepati 
(KBC), Bigg Boss
Salman Khan Bigg Boss, Dus Ka Dum 1.00-1.60
Akshay Kumar Masterchef India, 
Khataron Ke Khiladi
Shah Rukh Khan Zor Ka Jhatka, KBC 1.50
Madhuri Dixit Jhalak Dikhla Ja 1.00
Sanjay Dutt Bigg Boss 
(upcoming season 5)
Priyanka Chopra Khataron Ke Khiladi 0.80-0.90
Preity Zinta Guinness  Records, PZ  0.70-0.85
Shilpa Shetty Bigg Boss 0.50-0.70
Figures in Rs crore/episode         Source: Industry Estimates

However, the audience volume and A-list brands that get associated with the channel with such shows is the ultimate prize. “Show TRPs (which is an average of daily viewership rating) drive media coverage, draw advertisers and keep the audience connected with the platform. The bigger task, which most channels face, is to maintain this new chunk of audience even after the celebrity-hosted show is over,” says an executive with the Colors TV channel.

This trend makes even more sense when you consider the prospects for Indian television. According to KPMG, India is world’s third largest TV market next to China and the US, with almost 138 million TV households . With 600 million viewers in 2010 and 550 channels vying for attention, it’s not hard to see why TV content producers resort to attracting viewers with a bevy of big bollywood names. The other reason is in the advertising numbers: The Indian TV advertising market is valued at Rs 118 billion in 2011 and projected to touch Rs 136 billion by KPMG, maintaining a CAGR of 16 per cent in 2010-2015.

Bollywood-driven reality shows ensure media coverage which helps in a channel’s branding and are thus considered important by broadcasters. With most GECs maintaining a programming mix of 70:30 in favour of fiction shows, a big star-led non-fiction show allows the channel to sell its advertising inventory at a premium. “Usually 80 per cent of a non-fiction show’s ad inventory (saleable ad seconds) are sold to advertisers in advance and rest is sold as spot ad sales depending on what TRPs the show can drive. It is the spot ad sales that are sold at a premium once the show hits good viewership ratings,” explains KPMG.

In its fifth season of Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC-5), Sony Television is expected to garner nearly Rs 200 crore, double of what it managed last season. Amitabh Bachchan’s KBC- 5 opened with TRPs of 4.5. The opening numbers were enough to line up big advertisers like Cadbury India and Idea Cellular, who reportedly paid Rs 25 crore and Rs 35 crore respectively. The channel soon added associate sponsors like Samsung Smart TV, Maruti, Pepsi, Just Dial, Hero MotoCorp and Axis Bank, where each allegedly paid around Rs 15 crore for a 60-second commercial spot in each episode.

Danish Khan, senior VP and marketing head, Sony Entertainment Television says, “What Amitabh Bachchan brings to KBC is his awe-inspiring personality, a clean yet intelligent family show and his own unique style of making the format interactive. Most leading brands see the power in associating themselves with such a show that connects with audiences effortlessly.”

Duds at the box office, getting wealthy on television


Film stars seem to have figured out the economics of the Indian TV industry. For instance, Hrithik Roshan, (with the recent exception of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) has had a string of noticeable failures at the box office, starting with Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar, in 2008, which made just Rs 35 crore . In 2009, a guest appearance in Luck by Chance and a box-office dud, Kites (which made just Rs 50-60 crore against the cost of Rs 90-95 crore) dogged the star. His appearance in loss-making Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Guzaarish, which reportedly earned just Rs 20-25 crore (against Rs 75 crore of investments) was enough for the star to make his debut on the TV with a dance reality show Just Dance. The math is easy. Roshan, who charges anywhere between Rs 8-10 crore for a film, could get Star TV to pay him Rs 1.2 crore per episode (for the 15-20 episodes where the star makes an appearance).


Akshay Kumar, despite giving a spate of box office failures like House Full, Tees Maar Khan, Thank You, Patiala House, Khatta Meetha and De Dana Dan, has been able to draw the TV audiences. MasterChef India is all set to make a comeback. The show opened on Star TV with TRPs of 2.6 in the first episode, and eventually averaged about 2.2 TRPs. Even though MasterChef India cannot be declared a big hit, it did bring the channel a dedicated female viewership, cutting through the clutter of lifestyle and food shows on niche channels. Amul was the show’s title sponsor and associate sponsorship came from brands like Fortune Plus, Marico Saffola Oats, India Gate Basmati Rice and Knorr Soupy Noodles.

Kumar, who reportedly charges up to Rs 1.5 crore per episode, can command no more than Rs 7-8 crore for a film after his poor box office performance. But TV channels are not shy to approach the stunt-loving actor. Newer GECs like Colors wooed the actor to host the fourth season of Khataron Ke Khiladi, dumping Priyanka Chopra who failed to deliver TRPs for in season 3. Consequently, Kumar has added Micromax, Manappuram General Finance & Leasing, Grasim Suitings to his list of brand endorsements.

The closest TRPs that challenge KBC-5 is the dance reality show Just Dance on Star TV, hosted by Hrithik Roshan. On a simultaneous telecast—on Star Plus, Star One and Star Parvah—the show raked in an opening of 4.7 TRPs (as per TAM). Sources in Star say that the TRPs were good enough to get brands such as Maruti Suzuki and Cadbury to line up as title sponsors for around Rs 40 crore, while associate sponsors Nokia, Parle Hide&Seek, Kinder Joy, GNIIT, India Gate Basmati rice, Adiction, Fair & Lovely among others paid upwards of Rs 3 crore.

Even for stars doing well at the box office, being on TV makes sense. According to industry experts like Chakravarthy of Big Magic, “With movie business itself becoming increasingly competitive, even A-list stars understand the need to stay in the consumer mindspace to ensure that their upcoming movies get a dekho at the box office. At times, stars take up a show which is being aired during the release of a big banner movie of theirs. Also, the remuneration offered by TV channels to Stars, in most instances, exceeds the remuneration they get from a movie, with the same or at times even lesser time commitment.”

As per a sales executive in Star TV group, established film stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan or Akshay Kumar charge upwards of Rs 7 crore for a film that can involve 6 months of rigorous shooting, post-production duties and couple of weeks of film marketing schedules. Instead, the same star during his TV stint, gets a paycheck that can easily rise to around 25 crores for a little more than a month’s work.

Plus the workdays in television involve a little more than half the number of hours of what a film entails (as dubbing these days is done on the spot, towards the end of the day, and not at the end of the entire shoot.) “The channels then resort to selling their celeb-show’ ad inventories at about Rs 1-2 crore per episode, rope in couple of title sponsors for the season, tweak the show format to get the star to promote a brand within the show and all sorts of tricks in the book to earn whatever revenues they can get from brands,” lists the Star TV executive. During 2010, when TV ad sales grew just 17 per cent as compared to 2009 (KPMG), stars like Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Madhuri Dixit and Mallika Sherawat made crores in fees for work that did not extend beyond 30-45 days of shoot.

For production houses, it is a high stakes game, where success can often prove elusive. Endemol, a production house which specialises in adopting international reality & game shows for Indian masses, has seen its share of hits and misses. The company burnt its hands with Zor Ka Jhatka (the adopted version of WipeOut) for which it had roped in Shah Rukh Khan. The show opened to poor TRPs and the star power did no magic for the channel Imagine TV. But Dhar insists, “The rating for Zor Ka Jhatka were healthy. We did face challenges in its uptake but the concept is engaging and it was quite popular among North India crowds.”

Zor Ka Jhatka opened with a TVR of 2.6 but could not manage to attract audience in its second week and its average rating dropped to 1.7 to 1.4 TVR reportedly. Sources in Imagine TV point that the channel had serious expectations from the show on which it spent over Rs 10 crore in promotions across media platforms. One such initiative was an offer of a toll free drive to Mumbaikars on Bandra-Worli Sea Link for two hours in evening so that they could beat the traffic and reach home in time to witness the unveiling of Zor Ka Jhatka on February 1 at 9:00 pm—an unprecedented one to date. Yet the show tanked.

Undeterred, Endemol is firm that they would shoot another season of Wipeout soon but would not disclose if Shah Rukh Khan would be seen again as the show host. The production house is also set to launch several new internationals formats for India like Million Pound Drop and 1vs100, besides its earlier shows Fear Factor and Bigg Boss.

As long as audiences love their stars, the union between Bollywood and television is destined to continue, with stars continuing to line their pockets with easy money.

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First Published: Wed, September 28 2011. 00:24 IST