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"If you want to counter a successful product like KBC, you have to be doubly

prepared. Increasing the prize money alone will not do."

- Anupam Kher, commenting on the debacle of SDCK.

The Failure of Zee's Sawaal Dus Crore KA: Flop Show
December 2000 was a time of sweet victory for STAR TV's 1 Indian arm. Archrival
Zee TV's (Zee) desperate attempt to cash in on the gameshow 2 craze with their
'Sawal Dus Crore Ka' (SDCK), was making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
SDCK, launched to counter the success of Star's pioneering gameshow effort in
India, 'Kaun Banega Crorepati'3 (KBC), never really managed to hit it off with the
The final humiliation for SDCK came in the form of the termination of the
contracts of its two anchors, Anupam Kher and Manisha Koirala 4. Commenting
on this, Zee sources said, "Both anchors continued to lack the rapport and
harmony ever since the launch of the show and it is sad that their individual
ego should have marred or impaired the world's largest to be entertainment
Soon after the termination, Anupam Kher filed an injunction suite in the Mumbai
High Court against the channel claiming that the channel could not air the show
without him as host. However, the court rejected Kher's plea.
Reacting to Zee TV's comments on SDCK's failure being due to his and Manisha's
incompetence, Anupam Kher said, "When they have anyway thrown the two of us
out, why not go on with the existing format if we alone are to be blamed for its
failure?" Manisha Koirala also came out strongly against SDCK and Zee in the
media. She remarked, "When I first caught the telecast of SDCK in the second week
of November, I was appalled by its poor and tacky production.
There were flies sitting on the participant's faces and many of them were sweating
not because of tension but heat in the studio." Though plans of revamping SDCK
and of signing new anchors to host the show were made public, Zee TV eventually
pulled the program off the air. Having drawn criticism from all quarters, Zee TV was
forced to rethink its strategy to win the Indian television TRP 5 wars.
The Background
Zee TV, a Hindi television channel from Zee Telefilms Ltd. (ZTL) was launched in
October 1993. ZTL was originally incorporated as Empire Holdings Limited in 1982.
The company dealt mainly in leasing, hire purchase and other financial services
until 1992, when the company was reincorporated after its memorandum of
association was modified to include new businesses. The company was then rechristened ZTL. In the 1990s, the Government did not allow private channels to
uplink from India.

Therefore, Subhash Chandra, CEO, ZTL, co-promoted Asia Today Limited

(ATL) with a capital base of $ 11 million, contributed by a consortium of
NRIs. ATL was incorporated in Hong Kong to broadcast ZTL's channels. ZTL's
channels included Zee TV, Zee Music, Zee English, Zee MGM, Zee News,
ZED TV, Zee Cinema, Siticable and the Alpha range of regional language
channels. Launched in December 1991, Star Plus was the fifth channel from
the STAR TV Network.
STAR, a wholly owned subsidiary of News Corporation 6, was Asia's leading
multi-platform content and service provider. STAR TV channels included Star
Chinese Channel, Phoenix Chinese Channel, Star Plus, Star World, Channel
[V], ESPN, Star Sports, Star Movies, Star GOLD, Phoenix Movies, VIVA
Cinema and Star News, in addition to distributed channels Fox News, Sky
News and National Geographic Channel. In July 1993, News Corp acquired
63.6% stake in Star, and a further 36.4% stake in February 1995. In January
1994, News Corp entered into a strategic alliance with Zee and bought a
49.9% stake in ATL.
This alliance agreement limited Hindi programs on STAR to a maximum of 50% of its
total program time. Similarly, Zee was to limit its English programs to 50% in its
channels. In 1999, Zee bought News Corp's stake in ATL, Siticable and Program Asia
Trading Co. (Patco) for a consideration of Rs 1.26 billion, making the three
companies wholly owned subsidiaries of ZTL. In February 2001, STAR TV was rechristened to STAR.
The Star Offensive - KBC
When Star Plus was launched, it offered drama, comedy, talk shows, documentaries
and mystery movies solely in English. However, the channel failed to become as
popular as the channels offering programs in Hindi. Star realized that it was
handicapped by its image of being a foreign channel catering only to the
cosmopolitan English speaking population. To increase its presence in the Indian
market Star began a daily two-hour Hindi program band. Star Plus' move to 'go
Indian' met with a mixed response from the viewers.
While fans of the earlier programming mix lashed out strongly against the channel,
the media described this as Star's desperate attempt to garner viewership. Though
initially the move was criticized, Star Plus' smart and consumer oriented
programming (a mix of soaps and Bollywood based programs) won over the
viewers. Soon, Star Plus and Zee TV emerged as the hottest contenders for the
Indian satellite television market leadership.
Rivalry between the two channels on the TRP and ad revenue fronts became a
routine feature in the media. Zee TV's programs consistently fared well in the TRP
ratings war. According to Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) Peoplemeter
ratings, in August 1998, even Star's popular programs such as The News, Tu Tu Main
Main and Saans had taken a beating from Zee's top 10 programs like Amanat and
Hum Paanch.

The Star Offensive - KBC Contd...

Star Plus sought the help of research agency MARG to improve its TRP ratings.
MARG stressed on a new brand positioning for the channel to garner more
viewership. On MARG's advice, Star Plus launched the biggest game show in Indian
television history 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' (KBC) 7. It was hosted by none other than
Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Overnight, KBC pushed Star Plus into the
leadership position. Channel audience share peaked to a high of 8.7% during the
eight weeks beginning July 2nd 2000, compared with Sony TV's 7.2% and Zee TV's
By September 2000, the channel had 12 of its shows on the top 50 charts.
In the top 20 program list, Star Plus had 8 programs, versus Zee's 9 and
Sony's 3, as compared to the pre-KBC figures of 12 shows for Zee, 5 for
Sony and just 3 for Star Plus. From November 2000, Star managed to
occupy 12 top slots in the TRP ratings.
Post KBC, the image of Star Plus as foreign channel changed considerably
with viewers switching in hordes to the channel. Riding high on the
success of KBC, Star Plus launched follow-up programs for KBC to sustain
viewer interest in the channel. The prime time slot was changed from 9-10
to 9-11 with two family dramas8 being aired right after KBC.
This succeeded in retaining the viewership of the channel. Putting KBC in
the prime time slot (9-10 p.m.) paid off for the channel, largely at the
expense of Zee TV's prime time slots. Sony also suffered to an extent and
had to revamp its prime time serial slots, but it was Zee, which faced the
maximum erosion in its primetime viewership ratings.
The Zee Defensive - SDCK
KBC's success changed the ground rules in the TRP race between the television
channels. Zee TV had to pool all its resources to combat the effect of KBC. Zee even
changed the timings of its popular prime time soaps. To lure back the audience lost
due to the KBC effect, Zee launched its Malamaal 9 interactive contest. However, the
promotion did not do the trick for Zee, and the KBC menace continued to eat into its
TRP ratings and ad revenues. It was at this time that Zee TV decided that it had to
come out with a program, which could match KBC. Thus was born Sawal Dus Crore
Ka (SDCK).
Zee seemed to have hit the wrong note from the very beginning, when it decided to
make SDCK a replica of KBC with Anupam Kher and Manisha Koirala as anchors. To
lure away KBC viewers, Zee decided to feed on their greed by offering prize money
of Rs 100 million to the winner, as against KBC's Rs 10 million, giving the show a
tremendous response initially. SDCK had inaugural TRP ratings of 7.9 when it was
launched in October 2000. However, it slipped down to 3.7 within 3 weeks. During
the same period, KBC moved up from 9.3 to 10.5. SDCK was never able to reach the
rating of its inaugural show in its short lifespan.

SDCK failed to sustain the viewer's interest in the show from the very beginning.
Also, its anchors could not match the charisma and screen presence of Amitabh
Bachchan. SDCK was aired on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30 to 9:30
p.m. putting it in direct competition with KBC, which was aired on all weekdays,
except on Friday10, between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. Media analysts commented that
SDCK had failed to capture the imagination of the audience. The me-too image of
the show was seen as a major hindrance to its popularity.
SDCK sets looked similar to KBC's with the same seating arrangement and similar
blue lighting. But there were undefined arches under which the contestants seemed
to disappear. Even the audience section was badly lit. On the program content front,
SDCK's elimination rounds were confusing - making things long and dull for the
viewers. The language of the questions seemed to be complicated to the viewers. It
seemed as if even simple questions were complicated, and this seemed to create
confusion in the minds of the audience.
The Zee Defensive - SDCK Contd...
Instead of the 'three lifelines' of KBC, SDCK had three trumps; instead of 'lock kiya
jaye,' it was 'freeze kiya jaye.'11 There seemed to be no spontaneity in the show as
the anchors failed to strike a comfortable relationship with the participants. Lack of
a healthy working relationship between the two anchors also marred the show.
Some analysts felt that the presence of two anchors created confusion. Viewers
seemed to be irritated when both anchors spoke at the same time.
Gajendra Singh, Director, SDCK commented, "They had massive ego clashes and I
think it showed on screen." The anchors failed to win over the audience, whereas
KBC's anchor, with his immense popularity, had completely won over the viewers.
There was an also lot of audience interaction in KBC, which seemed to be missing
in SDCK. Before launching KBC, Star Plus had spent months preparing Amitabh
Bachchan for the show. However, according to Anupam Kher, they could not
rehearse for even three weeks before the shooting of the show commenced.
Meanwhile, KBC gave SDCK a tough time by airing 'special' shows with Bollywood
celebrities on the occasion of Diwali and New Year. Considering the show's
miserable TRP ratings, and the fact that it was drawing flak from all quarters, Zee
TV announced the termination of its contracts with both Anupam Kher and
Manisha Koirala after 26 shows were aired. It said it was doing this because the
poor working relationship between the two had affected the show badly. The
channel also announced that it was discontinuing the present format of SDCK.
It said it planned to re-launch the show with new anchors after re-conceptualising
and re-formatting it. Media reports indicated that Zee TV had actually worked out on
an altogether new format12 with a mega-appeal interface between anchor and the
contestant. However, the rising popularity of another game show, this time on Sony,
named 'Jeeto Chappar Phad Ke,' (JCPK)13 forced Zee to scrap SDCK permanently.
Reality Bites

In January 2001, all the Star channels were blocked for two weeks by cable
operators getting their feed from Siticable, cable network. Media reports indicated
that SDCK's failure had prompted Zee to use its arm Siticable, to harm KBC's TRPs
by preventing it from reaching viewers. (Another view was that Star, riding high on
the success of KBC, demanded higher payment for relaying its channels and
stopped feeding them to operators, mainly Siticable, who refused to oblige.) Though
Star's viewership did suffer as Siticable commanded 17% of the cable business, it
stood its ground, forcing Zee to make peace.
Following this, Siticable officials had a meeting with Star officials and reached an
agreement to restore Star channels. Having finally accepted the fact that SDCK was
a bad dream to be forgotten, Zee seemed to be moving on. The channel announced
plans to launch a totally new concept in Indian television with the first homegrown
reality television show,14 'Prisoner of War' (PoW). PoW was based on reality shows
like Survivor, which were being aired in Hindi and English by AXN channel. POW was
supposed to test the endurance and ingenuity of nine contestants, and was to be
shot entirely on location at a specially constructed, huge set at the Subhash
Chandra owned EsselWorld in Mumbai.
Sinha, Vice President (Marketing), Zee TV remarked, "Reality TV show has already
proved its credentials in the West, becoming the most popular genre of television
ever. We are today presenting the future of Indian television." Zee TV planned to
launch PoW in the near future. With KBC still going strong on the TRPs front, it
remained to be seen whether PoW would succeed in dethroning KBC from the
number one slot.