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In-focus: Managing risks around TV contests, game shows and awards

Risk management in reality show formats from Ernst & Young’s July edition of Newsreel

Reality TV has come to stay on Indian TV screens. While it had started as a Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) phenomenon with shows such as KBC, Khatron Ke Khiladi and Indian Idol, reality TV has now moved to music and sports channels, regional GECs and even children’s channels.

However, there are significant risks in every show format that need to be managed, and those who think these are formatted shows that need to be produced by following a successful international mantra are mistaken!
We have developed a broad framework, which comprises the key areas, including its objectives, attraction and hygiene factors that need to be considered when producing a TV event.

Objective:
A show’s objective is usually creating audience attraction for a channel, their retention over a period of time and to build up an image of the channel. This was true when KBC was launched on Star over a decade ago and continues to be the same today. This is the first part of the game plan and is used to identify formats that can be acquired. Channels that have successfully used reality TV include Star — to gain a lead over tough rival Zee, Colors — to create an immediate differentiation in a solidly established Hindi GEC market and Sony — to garner a larger than proportionate share of advertising revenues vis-à-vis its ratings.

Attraction factors:
The main objective of all TV shows is to connect with a specified target group (TG) to build viewership. To achieve this target, there are certain factors that attract the audience to TV shows, including the following:
● The hype or peer group’s acceptance of the show, which is driven by advertising, promotion and PR
● The appeal and relevance of the concept for a given TG
● The perceived benefit that a member of the TG gains from viewing or participating in a show (which could be either a monetary benefit, an escape from viewers’ reality through music they like, access to stars, thrills, scandal, etc., or providing viewers with news they can use, either to grow or to gain acceptance within their desired peer groups)
● The type of emotion the show caters to — some viewers prefer laughs, others suspense, some sorrow, etc.
Broadcasters are required to ensure that the factors mentioned above are well thought through, especially when adapting foreign formats for the audience in India, since Indian tastes are often totally different from what the foreign audience likes. Even the same formatted show, when produced for different media (national and regional) requires to be differently scripted to cater to local tastes, a change in language, the host having a different “attitude” and “pace” and a unique set of participant-short listing characteristics.

Hygiene (or retention) factors:
However, once a person is attracted to a show, certain hygiene factors need to be addressed; otherwise the viewer may be dissatisfied and move away from the show. Some examples include:
● A high participation effort (a long registration process, for example) or extremely difficult participation processes could reduce viewer participation in contests and game shows.
Unfair rules of participation or an elimination or winner determination process that is seen as unfair or not transparent may decrease interest levels and viewership.
● If the show timing does not match the TV viewing habits of the TG, this could also reduce viewership.
● Lack of credibility (such as not knowing how a particular participant got selected or disqualified) could also reduce viewership
● A seemingly biased jury or not-so-interesting participants may also have a negative impact
Many content-production companies and broadcasters have learnt the hard way that a single poorly managed factor (the attitude of the host, the relevance of the concept or the perceived bias of the process) can significantly reduce viewership.
The credibility factor:
Credibility, once lost, is very difficult to rebuild — not just for a show, but for the entire channel. This is probably why more and more broadcasters ensure that risks relating to the credibility of their shows are well managed usually by:
● Defining a winner determination process (for studio and viewer participants), which is fair and transparent
● Engaging an independent third party to validate that the process, as defined, is being followed
● Having an independent entity validate at all levels, as well as the accurate counting of the jury’s scores and the public’s votes, so that the audience feel that their votes have not been given in vain.
Most established GECs (both national and regional) now engage independent process advisors to ensure that the end-to-end process of their non-fiction properties is fair and transparent.
However, validation requirements vary from show to show, based on a format’s complexities.

Avoiding litigation:
The other key aspect that many broadcasters worry about is that in the event of litigation by dissatisfied participants or audiences (and litigation, one must accept, is prevalent, since there are always more losers than winners in any contest!), they will not be in a position to demonstrate to the dissatisfied persons the reason for their loss or disqualification. Ernst & Young works with several broadcasters to advise them on their game shows, so that they have a defined and fair process, maintain an adequate audit trail of all the selections and disqualifications, and data for these is in the custody of the broadcasters or content production  companies.

Ashish Pherwani is an Associate Director with Ernst & Young’s Risk Advisory practice. He has served clients in the media and entertainment sector for 10 years, helping them to identify business and operating risks and develop systems to mitigate risks, including improving the efficiency and effectiveness of their key business processes.
He is the segment champion for print, outdoor media, radio and events at
Ernst & Young.

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