Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan has once again made history with its re-telecast on Doordarshan. The show has garnered the highest-ever rating for a GEC programme since 2015 when the BARC started measuring the TRPs for TV shows in India. Also back on air are BR Chopra’s Mahabharat, Chanakya, Shaktimaan, Dekh Bhai Dekh, Alif Laila, Shah Rukh Khan starrer Circus, Byomkesh Bakshi, Shriman Shrimati, Buniyaad and Upanishad Ganga.
So has the Covid pandemic provided Doordarshan a magic formula for revival? Nostalgia? Maybe. Evergreen content? Maybe. God? Godliness? Perhaps yes. The mind-blowing success of the Ramayan revival, and that of Mahabharat, is a very intriguing, and interesting phenomena. It would be somewhat naïve and perhaps too simplistic to presume, and believe, that the lockdown provided Doordarshan with sitting ducks … families confined to homes, with just one television in the house. Methinks there is more to it.
But before we get into any analysis and discussion, just a recap of what Doordarshan is actually doing. While ‘Ramayan’ is telecast twice at 9 am and 9 pm without any repeat on DD National every day, ‘Mahabharat’ is also shown twice with fresh episodes at 12 pm and 7 pm on DD Bharati daily. The entertainment lineup in the afternoon on DD National starts with Circus at 3 PM, Shriman Shrimati at 4 PM, Buniyad at 5 PM. Similarly, the evening band on DD National starts with Dekh Bhai Dekh at 6 PM followed by Shaktimaan at 8 PM and Ramayana at 9 PM and ends the day with Chanakya at 10 PM. Doordarshan has also scheduled Alif Laila at 10.30 AM on DD Bharati, and Upanishad Ganga at 6 PM on the same channel.
And now to the BARC data highlights:
- The viewership of the slots, 9am and 9pm, for Ramayan, has grown 60 times over the first two weeks since the re-airing of the epic began, while Mahabharat, at 12 noon and 7pm has led to a slot surge of 208 times.
- The exponential growth in TV viewership has been primarily driven by the 2-14 age group, which has registered a 52% rise, followed by 41-50 year olds at 43%.
- TV viewership, overall, grew by 43% in the third week of the Covid lockdown, up 4% over the previous week.
- Time spent on smartphones per user per week grew by 12.5 per cent in Week 3, versus 12 per cent in Week 2 of the Covid lockdown. This was of course in comparison to the pre-lockdown period.
A close look at the following graphs shows the indomitable lead that Doordarshan has built up with this rejuvenated old content. See below data from Week 14 (Saturday, 4th April 2020 to Friday, 10th April 2020) for Hindi GEC Channels:
It goes without saying that Doordarshan has hit a purple patch. Sure, it may not endure post the opening up of the lockdown. But still, there are important points to ponder … discuss and debate … without treating this as a freak viewing period which will hopefully not get replicated ever soon.
- God still sells. Both Ramayan and Mahabharat are doing extraordinarily well. And doing well in both Free and Pay. So it is not a lower SEC phenomenon. The appeal of the epics is universal, not just across SECs but also across age-groups.
- It cannot be all nostalgia. Both these epics first ran 30 years ago. That generation of the ones who watched the original-runs are 40+ today, and more. The surge in viewership in the current airing has been exponential across age-groups.
- All the re-runs have not been as well received. Viewership figures for Dekh Bhai Dekh, Buniyaad and Chanakya are tepid compared to the two epics. So, just re-running old content that was once famous is not the winning formula.
- Even the Shahrukh starrer Circus is a laggard compared to the epics. So God sells, SRK doesn’t!
- The biggest positive of Ramayan is the simplicity of its narration, and the perfect casting done by Ramanand Sagar. Arun Govil as Ram and Dipika Chikhlia as Sita still look good despite the passage of more than three decades. Mahabharat too is equally well done. The quality of the content is almost a Perfect 10. It is evergreen; it is still relevant; it is still contemporary; and it is, in both cases, a story well told.
- Star TV too has re-aired the Mahabharat and Siya Ke Ram it created much after the Doordarshan originals. Both have shown poor ratings despite the obvious strength of the Star platform.
The reach of DD National has jumped 600% from Week 11 to Week 14. That is no mean achievement.
One must congratulate Doordarshan for maximising the available window of opportunity. It was smart thinking to bring back the epics; air them twice a day; surround the old stalwarts with equally strong other shows from the past. Good showing, for sure. God is in full command of the airwaves at Doordarshan. And reminding us all the time that God helps those who help themselves!
Dr. Sandeep Goyal has seen the original Ramayana and Mahabharata on Doordarshan. And is now happily enjoying the re-runs too!