Ashok Lalla
May 07, 2012

Ashok Lalla on 'Satyamev Jayate': Creating appointment viewing with social awakening

Lalla believes Star has decided to make a drastic break from the norm with its newest show, Satyamev Jayate that debuted on 6 May

Ashok Lalla on 'Satyamev Jayate': Creating appointment viewing with social awakening

Indian TV channels using Bollywood stars to host reality and game shows is no longer new. Starting with Kaun Banega Crorepati over 10 years back, it’s been done. Over and over.  With minor differences. Such as the format of the shows. The stars hosting them. Or the prizes on offer.  Some have passed like a ship in the night. Others have shone briefly. Only to fade away from memory. Till the next season comes along. Or the next show, and its new superstar host.

Star TV has had its own share of winning shows over the years. And probably has the recipe that delivers success more often than not.  In terms of audience appreciation, and well as in terms of that currency of the TV business, TRPs.

So it was interesting to notice Star decide to make a drastic break from the norm with its newest show, Satyamev Jayate that debuted on 6 May. I say drastic because it’s broken so many of the ‘rules’ of TV shows.  Let me take a look at it through the lens of the viewer-marketer I am.

Satyamev Jayate is what I call a Docu-Reality-Talk Show, perhaps an all-new genre in television programming in India.

Yes, it doesn’t have an ‘entertainment’ factor either in it. And no oomph. No jhatkas. No tamasha. No laughs. No winners.  No prize money.

It isn’t hosted at primetime, usually late evenings that draw people to their television sets. Its promo films don’t give a peep into the forthcoming episode.

So by conventional wisdom of TV and armchair pundits, this is a set up for failure. Whether they are right, time and the TRP reports will soon tell.

But what’s interesting is the key ingredient that is in the show.  Social causes.  Brands using Social causes are not exactly new. Tata Tea did it successfully with its 'Jaago Re' campaign and consumer platform. Idea and Aircel have used it to support causes that ranged from saving paper to saving tigers.  And there have been several others. 

But this is probably the first time a whole show (13 episodes) is dedicated to social causes. With the intent to present their stark reality. Up front and directly. To provoke audiences. To sit up and take notice.  To take action. To perhaps create a public movement that addresses the issues. 

The only packaging one sees is the slick production quality. And the inimitable Aamir Khan as the ‘sutradhar’ , the  host of the show.  Yes, the packaging is what may make the stark content more palatable to watch.

Another interesting aspect is the time slot of the show – 11 am on Sunday.  Not conventional primetime, and arguably not what families would look forward to watching on a Sunday morning, which usually is spent in more casual and trivial pursuits than that which serious social causes present.

Early response to the show that I picked up from Twitter was mixed. There were many who applauded the show and were moved to tears. Then there were several who were cynical about the show and asked whether it would make any real impact on those afflicted by the issues that would be shown. There were others who brought up the commercial considerations around the show, and wondered if this would turn out to be any more than a media opportunity for advertisers to reach the eyeballs of the audience. 

But then this is just some views, and that too from Twitterati, a collection of people who are usually fairly removed from the stark reality of such issues (the first episode covered female foeticide).  The good news is that Star TV has recognized that wide and deep reach into the heart of India is what could turn the show into a real movement. And therefore, for perhaps the first time, we have seen a simulticast on Doordarshan, the free-to-air TV channel managed by the government that has a reach many times more than satellite TV channels like Star do.

It’s also early days, as what will really help turn this show into social glue is its extensions beyond its airing on TV. Its outreach on-ground, its amplification through media. The opportunities it creates for people to get involved. And participate in the alleviation of the Social ills the show will portray.  Early signs point towards this being part of the plan.

But will Satyamev Jayate help awaken a populace of a billion people to the real issues around them, and ignite them into coming together to rid the country of its social ills? Or will it end up being a bold experiment in television programming that will merely inspire others to explore the genre of Docu-Reality-Talk Shows through their own unique lens?

Interestingly, shortly after the airing of the first episode, the only top 10 Twitter trend in India that did not pertain to the show was #PepsiFootyMania.  Interesting because, both Pepsi and Star through Satyamev Jayate are attempting to ‘Change the Game’.

Stay tuned to know if Satyamev Jayate will do so.

(Disclaimer: I work for Mindshare, an agency partner of Star TV. However, the views expressed here are my personal ones as a viewer-marketer.)


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