Ananya Saha
Oct 11, 2013

All about: SMS votes vs. new alternatives

Text messages that delivered votes and revenue aren’t growing, finds Ananya Saha

All about: SMS votes vs. new alternatives

What do reality shows have in common, apart from doing everything possible to generate better viewership? Exploring alternate revenue streams and increasing engagement avenues, key among them being the second screen – the mobile.

1. From The Pitch on Bloomberg UTV to Dance India Dance on Zee TV, TV channels have been exploring SMS as a medium to engage audiences. One of the early adopters to integrate SMS into its show was Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin on Sony TV in 2003-‘04. Viewers were provided with a short code, using which they could download the title song of the show as ringtone. Thus began a journey that has since then been exploited to ask viewers to vote for their favourite contestants in reality shows such as Indian Idol, or participate in the show as a contestant or answer the questions in Kaun Banega Crorepati. From the days of one-way communication (and viewing), SMS helped channels interact with viewers and boost engagement.

2. In 2003-‘04, revenues generated by SMS were split between the service provider, broadcaster, and mobile operator, generally in the ratio of 25:25:50, says one planner. Now, the ratio and commissions are largely decided on a case-to-case basis, even as audience shells out Rs 3 to Rs 6 for sending a premium SMS. For Satyamev Jayate, for instance, the telecom brand and title sponsor Airtel reduced the cost of SMS from Rs 3 to Re 1 as a gesture towards increasing engagement. Moreover, the revenue collected via SMS was donated towards charity. As part of this integration, brand Airtel was associated with the show via integrations like Airtel 3G video calls to participants, exclusive availability of Satyamev Jayate title track on Hello Tunes for Airtel customers, transfer of donation amounts to NGOs through Airtel Money, etc. Of the 1,49,72,514 responses submitted to the show in the form of messages and votes across web, social and mobile channels, SMS votes contributed 20.41 per cent, according to the Satyamev Jayate website.

3. SMS might have enjoyed its glorious days, and is still very popular, but is currently facing challenge from various other interactive platforms. As mobile penetration grows, and the use of smart phones increases, channels are finding newer ways to engage audiences. In 2012, Zee TV devised a ‘Missed Call’ voting system for Dance India Dance Season 3. The official statement issued back, then stated, “(This) will ensure that there’s no fallacy in choosing a winner and will also erase all doubts about the existence of any benefits to the channel in the voting process. The channel will incorporate the same in its future reality shows as well.” The communiqué quoted Akash Chawla, head marketing, national channels, ZEEL, as saying, “With DID Season 3 - Voting Free, we are aiming for never before achieved viewer’s participation in the show. With this Missed Call voting system, every unique missed call will be counted as one unique vote thus making junta janardan the true adjudicator in deciding the fate of our show. Technology is helping us value the viewer’s point of view even further. I’m sure that with India being a price sensitive country, the decision of free voting is a welcome change to those who have hitherto refrained from participating owing to extra charges for an SMS to special numbers! There can be nothing more transparent than this mechanism in the decision of choosing the final winner of any reality show on Zee TV!”

4. In May 2013, a study released by mobile solutions company Mobilix stated that 86 per cent of reality show viewers preferred ‘Missed call’ voting over SMS voting. The company used missed calls as a voting method in Zee TV’s Dance India Dance and DID ‘Lil Masters, Jo Jeeta Wohi Superstar and Nach Baliye on Star Plus and History Channel’s Greatest Indian and Bollywood 100.

5. Rohit Gupta, president (network sales), MSM, concurs with the report’s findings. He says, “SMS was a good thing of the past. The usage has come down by almost 15 to 20 per cent.” Two shows that use bulk of SMS on Sony’s channels are Indian Idol and KBC. Gupta added, “It is still an interactive play, but SMS is not a revenue stream for us and other broadcasters that is growing. Anyway, there have been too many restrictions that are in play for this platform imposed by TRAI, saying that it is inconvenient for the consumer.”

6. On the other hand, SMS being used by channels to push messages is also reducing, contend practitioners. PM Balakrishna, COO, Allied Media, surmises, “Earlier, SMS was the only means to connect. Today, it provides a limited purpose and role. To some extent, yes, there is traction. But the numbers and quality of votes is something I am not sure of. Today, the channels prefer reaching out to consumers with dynamic content, rather than the SMS, which can now be equated to snail mail.” He notes that brands, channels and GECs are not using the medium too much, for it does not offer the same potential as before.

What it means for…


  • Opportunities to engage have increased beyond SMS
  • It remains an option to generate revenue, but isn’t growing
  • With usage of smart phones rising, channels are figuring new ways to connect


The article appeared in the issue of Campaign India dated 4 October, 2013

Campaign India

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