Making Talent a Profitable Business

talent.jpgAs I sit down for my daily dose of TV viewing in the evening and start scanning the channels for a ‘watchable’ television show, I come across many options. What strikes me is the extremely large number of ‘Talent Shows’ that are currently on air. All of whom demand that the loyal and dutiful section of their audience vote for them regularly for the noble cause of selecting the winner of the show, who would go on to become an indispensable part of our lives, according to them that is. A formula that has worked wonders for these channels, its effectiveness left unquestioned by the sheer size of the revenues that these shows have generated. On the other hand, I am also reminded of two incidents in particular, that have compelled me to think otherwise.

Earlier this year, ITV, UK’s largest producer of commercial content, was hit by a controversy surrounding on-air premium-rate phone lines. It was large enough to create a 20% dip in the revenues, and of course attract media speculation from all over the world. Cases to investigate if viewers were overcharged for taking part in phone-in competitions and voting were brought up in the court. One particular show on the channel was encouraging viewers to call in to take part in the show, despite the fact that the competitors were already chosen. As damage control all premium phone lines were suspended and efforts to bring back viewer confidence were made.

News of Chinese officials, unnerved by the deteriorating standards of the increasing number of talent shows in the country, is the second incident that I wish to shed light on.

The main concerns for the State Administration were the cheap stunts and marketing tactics adopted to target the youngsters. Reportedly, the wardrobe and songs in the show were branded as ‘vulgar’ and judges’ behavior lacked grace, as they constantly engaged in petty scuffles during the show. As a result, many such shows had to be shut down and strict action was taken against the rest.

Back home in India, the story looks much different as all the producers are optimistic about their show winning the greatest share of TRP with no complaints from the audience. Almost every channel now has its own singing, dancing and stand-up comedy talent show. Every one of them is creating the ‘unique’ star that is assured to rule the entertainment business for years. One wonders if the country is suddenly blessed with unseen and never-heard-before talent and the producers are obliged to give them the much needed platform. It goes without saying that the marketing budget has been sky rocketing, given the fact that all the channels are in close competition with each other.

I feel that the public polls are now turning into a platform for public dissent about issues that has nothing to do with selecting the talented. Often, contestants receive votes for their looks and style. The region that they belong to has gained importance too. Meanwhile, the number of celebrities that are created through the shows may not always find their demand in entertainment industry. A struggling class of wannabe stars has already been formed.

The concept of phone-in voting is comparatively very new for the Indian screens and till now the mantra has worked well with the public. But I believe, the Indian story is heading in pretty much the same direction as UK and China. Every SMS or phone call costs anywhere between Rs 5-7 as opposed to the regular rates of 25-50 paisa. Sooner or later, the revenues will suffer as the public realizes the futility of such polls. The ITV incident should be treated as a forewarning for shows that promote premium rate SMS and phone-in voting.