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Our challenge is to funnel more & more audience to Navrangi Re!: Sudhanshu Vats

Rishtey is all set to launch its first original series – ‘Navrangi Re!’. The show is unique in the sense that it is a joint initiative of Viacom18, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and BBC Media Action and will highlight a critical issue like sanitation, especially in urban areas. 

Produced by Swastik Productions, ‘Navrangi Re!’ is a finite series with 26 episodes and will go on air from February 2, 2019. The show will air on Saturdays and Sundays at 9.30 pm. The show will also air on Colors Gujarati and Colors Odia at 6.30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, starting February 9. The series will also be available on Voot. 

Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO & MD, Viacom18; Madhu Krishna, India Country Lead, WSH, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Ankur Garg, Head of Program - Wash, BBC Media Action; and Archana Vyas, Head – Communications, Gates Foundation, spoke on the thought behind launching ‘Navrangi Re!’ , the show’s concept, how the three organisations came together for the series and more. 

Since you are investing in such a vast content, how does it make complete economic sense?
Sudhanshu Vats: If you look at the starting point of the message, this is a partnership. From a commercial point of view, we are sharing our resources together – the funding is being done by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while we are marketing it by giving it the channel network. The creative acumen has been taken up by BBC Action. Therefore, once the partners come together you are able to manage even the commerce aspect of it. 

We felt that Rishtey was best suited to air ‘Navrangi Re!’ as it has right audience and reaches out to the right set of people with hopefully the least spillover. While Rishtey is primarily a channel airing repeat content, for most people who watch Rishtey, a lot of the content is their first time viewing. If you flip that over to an audience perspective, you could say that they are watching original content. As the space grows and the channel grows, then we could look at originals, as you call them. 

We will do extensive promotions for ‘Navrangi Re!’ and try and drive audiences from different places. We will also run the show on parallely on Colors Gujarati and Colors Oriya. 

Why only on these two channels and not pan-India?
Sudhanshu Vats: The appeal in the way the show has been made is in this space as well as the availability of programming space were the deciding factors in choosing these two channels; besides our other channels’ FPC is full. 

How did this partnership materialise?
Madhu Krishna: The discussion here is about Entertainment Education and a topic like Faecal Sludge Management, which ends the chain on sanitation. We have worked with BBC Media Action for a lot of our communications work, and when we thought which channel network would be the most receptive to such a programme, we zeroed in on Viacom18, who immediately came on board. 

Archana Vyas: The track record that Sudhanshu spoke about shows that they have been highlighting various social issues for a long time, as seen in their long-running shows like ‘Balika Vadhu’ and ‘Uttaran’; they have always made sure that social agendas are placed in the front and center of their shows. Sudhanshu is passionate about global citizens making sure that STGs are brought mainstream with films like ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’. 

Why did you feel you needed to do something on television?
Madhu Krishna: A large portion of our resources go to the government, but I think citizen engagement is the key to make this sustainable. The government can only do so much, but you and I have to get involved. The best way to reach the people is to go via television, and the best way to do it is in a creative, sustainable and entertaining way that changes people’s behaviour. Behaviour change is a very difficult animal to understand. All of us have our own biases. If you come at it with straight messages, there might be some impact but not enough. I think there is growing evidence that entertainment education results in growing behaviour change. 

What have you done in the past in entertainment education?
Madhu Krishna: We’ve done shows on Doordarshan. There is a show called ‘Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon’, which looks at women’s issues around family planning, childbirth, child mortality and maternal mortality and how to manage them. We are one of the only programmes with a foundation that looks at the urban population. Our programme on water sanitation is really focused on urban areas, which of course the Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan covers, but there are a lot of unaddressed spaces in the small towns and cities. Faecal Sludge Management is one issue that is really hitting hard in our cities and we are very excited to have a private organisation like Viacom18 take it on and not just the Doordarshan audiences. 

Archana Vyas: There is enough evidence that when messages are embedded in normative issues which are complex and entwined with the social fabric, then entertainment education becomes really compelling. BBC Media Action has a lot of experience not just working with the Gates Foundation, but other organisations in the development sector as well like the UNICEF. This approach is really powerful in shifting attitudes and behaviours when it comes to complex issues. 

Ankur Garg: Over the last 20 years, we have worked in 22 countries looking at the role of narrative waste interventions, communication interventions to create social change. In India, like Archana said, we have worked with UNICEF in a partnership that looked at gender sensitivity and created a show around that, which reached out to adolescents and was aired on Doordarshan, called ‘Otherful’. Before that we had done a programme on HIV awareness, ‘Jasoos’. Across the world we have done drama-based interventions not only on television, but on radio and digital media as well, which have then been evaluated to look at the impact they are having on people’s lives – their knowledge, attitude and actual practice. As a result of that we have been able to see attributable changes. 

What is the concept of ‘Navrangi Re!’?
Ankur Garg: ‘Navrangi Re!’ talks about urban sanitation in the form of a television drama to make the audience understand the building blocks around the issue. At the heart of the show is a ‘mohalla’ that has different characters with their own quirks and who come from different backgrounds and how they become aware of sanitation issues and join the cause of sanitation. The power of collective action is what really defines the show. It begins with sanitation, but it is really about urban lives that the drama addresses. 

Some disruption during implementation of new tariff structure: Sudhanshu Vats 

To Adgully’s query on the decision to air the drama series on weekends, which usually see a plethora of reality and non-fiction shows, Sudhanshu Vats said, “Our challenge is to funnel more and more audience to this show. There is no right or wrong time to air a series; if the content is strong then automatically we will get the eyeballs into the show. It’s a wait and watch as the show progresses.” 

The inevitable questions on the TRAI-mandated new tariff regime, which comes into force from February 1, 2018, followed. 

What kind of a TV viewership scenario do you envisage once the new tariff structure is implemented?
Sudhanshu Vats: Even though during the implementation phase there might be some challenges and a bit of disruption, in the long term it will be a good thing. I have seen reports that state that at least 40-50 per cent of the people on the cable side have opted for certain channel packs. If indeed a vast majority of India chooses by February 1, then there might be fewer hiccups. In the long term it will be a good thing, but it will require a considerable amount of education and the implementation could come up with some level of disruption. 

The good news is that everybody is working at some level of awareness. The four big broadcasters have come out with communication campaigns, TRAI is talking about it, and the IBF, too, has released an educational campaign. The biggest challenge in my mind is educating the consumer on how to choose what they want to watch. Then comes the question on what happens when people start choosing their channel packs – we are talking about 160 million homes; how do you implement it at those levels and are people geared up for it. There has been mixed response from distribution companies, while some feel they are geared up for the migration, some don’t. 

With this tariff order, there will be parity in the media and content packages across India. There is a wide variety to choose from in other products like toothpaste, etc., and now content, too, will have a wide variety of price ranges, which till now has been very flat. 

What about placement of FTA channels in the new regime?
The basic tier, as we call the top 100 FTA channels, has to be free to air. If I have an FTA channel, I might put it there, but we have got to do more and more compelling content. TRAI has clarified that in the 100-channel pack, there are FTA channels, but if you want limited FTA as a consumer then you can have some pay channels in that 100-channel pack as well. You will have to pay for those channels separately, but the fee is included in the top 100 FTA channels.

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