The rise of ‘Bigg Boss’ as a successful reality TV format
MUMBAI: Reality TV show Bigg Boss, the desi version of the Dutch reality show format ‘Big Brother’, has captured the imagination of Indian viewers since its debut in 2006.
The Bigg Boss franchise, owned by Endemol Shine India, has become a regular staple on Indian TV screens. The Hindi version of the show on Colors TV has completed 11 seasons with the 12th one in progress.
Having established its presence in the Hindi GEC space as a top reality TV format, Bigg Boss has also made rapid strides in the regional space with Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu versions. Earlier this year, the franchise entered the Marathi and Malayalam markets.
Bigg Boss across its language versions has helped its host broadcaster not only attract eyeballs but also rake in the ad moolah. It’s an expensive property but the returns also equally high.
So what is it about ‘Bigg Boss’ that makes it a successful reality TV format? Before delving into that subject we will look into the formative years of the show and how it became a phenomenon.
The inaugural edition of Bigg Boss Hindi aired on Sony Entertainment Television (SET) with Arshad Warsi as the host. The show was an instantaneous hit among the viewers.
However, the second edition of the show moved to Viacom18’s Colors TV. Since then, ‘Bigg Boss’ became an inalienable part of Colors’ content strategy since the channel’s launch in 2008 and has remained a tentpole property till date.
Between the show’s debut on SET and its subsequent move to Colors an incident occurred in far-away UK which played a key role in changing the show’s destiny in India.
Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty, who participated in the British version of the show Celebrity Big Brother season 5, was racially abused by fellow contestants. The comments created a furore in UK and India leading to the show’s suspension in 2008.
The negative publicity surrounding Celebrity Big Brother and the victory of Shilpa Shetty in the show gave the format a big boost back home.
Viacom18, which was setting up Colors under former Endemol India head Rajesh Kamat, didn’t want to miss the opportunity. Not only did the channel acquire the format rights it also roped in Shilpa Shetty as host.
Colors went on to become the number 1 channel within a few weeks of its launch with Bigg Boss playing a key role in the channel’s ascent to the top. Since then there has been no looking back for Bigg Boss.
According to Endemol Shine India MD Abhishek Rege, the key reason behind the viewer interest in Bigg Boss show is the inherent human behaviour of wanting to know what is happening in other person’s life.
In the Indian context, people are interested in the lives of celebrities. It also partly explains the reason why top film stars are chosen as show hosts and even the participants more often are picked from the film and TV world.
“It is the core of the format. Everyone wants to know what is happening in other people’s life. They love to peek into someone else’s life. However, in India, what people love more than anything is to know more about celebrities and peek in their life that is exactly what Bigg Boss offer. It is the basic human instinct which remains constant across languages and since it is the most primal thing Bigg Boss has witnessed success across seasons in several languages,” Rege told TelevisionPost.com.
He also states that the format of the show is tweaked every year to keep it relevant. While the high-profile hosts generate buzz about the show it is the contestants who ensure that the buzz remains alive through new twists and turns in the Bigg Boss house. The contestants are hand-picked carefully to keep the interest in the show alive.
“We have to balance the contestants according to the age group and background so that we have contestants with common characteristics as well as anti-polar characteristics. We have to feel at all the levels otherwise it will be a very homogenous group or entirely fighting group. We don’t want extremes to happen but to have a lot of different personalities,” says Rege.
Viacom18 COO Raj Nayak notes that the Bigg Boss is the biggest show on Colors both in terms of popularity and revenue. He also adds that the show transcends platforms and generates buzz not just on TV but also on digital.
“I think there is no other show in the history of Indian television that gives you the amount of traction that ‘Bigg Boss’ does. This is one show that goes beyond broadcast. If you look at Voot, we have a huge audience base there for the show. With our relationship with Jio, the show is also streamed through the Jio App,” Nayak stated.
Two networks that have taken a big bet on Bigg Boss are Viacom18 and Star India. The former has taken Bigg Boss format to markets like Kannada, Bangla, and Marathi in addition to Hindi. Star, on the other hand, has acquired the format South Indian markets of Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.
Explaining the interest from regional broadcasters in the format, Viacom18 head regional entertainment Ravish Kumar said that the beauty of the format is that the moment the contestants in the house change the entire show looks different.
“The format is very versatile and yet is relatable to different markets, national and international. The reactions and emotions of the contestant is what makes the show. When we pick the show, we look at what is the breadth of the format and what are those things that work and hold appeal in the market. Bigg Boss can fit in any market as it is about those people related to that market and there can’t be repetition,” he stated.
Concurring with Kumar, Asianet Senior Vice President Reju Ramachandran said that the show makes for good entertainment, not just the episodes but also with capsules like weekend special and behind the scenes.
Not just viewers Bigg Boss is also the advertisers’ delight. Madison Media VP Vandana Ramakrishna elaborated on this further, “While all reality shows span across a given period of months and allow brands to build awareness, Bigg Boss is one of the most ‘advertiser friendly’ reality show for seamless brand integrations.”
Endemol’s Rege says that the format ensures that advertisers get exposure for four months, one month before the start of the show and three and half months when it is on air. From four months of continued exposure to easy integration of brands targeting a different audience, the show offers credibility that is continuously vied for by markets,” he added.
Despite being a high budget show, Bigg Boss Hindi has managed to become profitable as the property has matured. “When Bigg Boss started, it was a loss-making thing but later on we broke even and now it is a profitable show. Although, not very profitable but the buzz that we are able to create and the loyal audience base that Bigg Boss has, I don’t think any other show enjoys that kind of response,” Nayak commented.
As part of its expansion strategy, Endemol Shine India is planning to launch the property in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The content studio is planning to shoot one of the shows in India whereas the other will be shot in its respective country.