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The Promotion of Entertainment

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By: Screen Weekly IndiaFM
Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Promotion-hungry producers and content-starved channels are coming together like never before to form a happy alliance. It's all very well, except that you have to look hard to figure out where news ends and entertainment begins.

It was Bollywood's worst kept secret. The shocker ending of Rakeysh Mehra's Rang De Basanti was kept under wraps till its premiere. But Mehra bent the rules for NDTV. So keen was the filmmaker to involve the news channel in his youth anthem that he dared to bare his script to the channel executives even before he commenced shooting. In return, NDTV granted Mehra dollops of sacred air-time to put up a heady cocktail of in-branding, content interviews with stars, movie-clips and behind-the-scene footage. There was also the whooper: the entire star-cast appeared on the interactive debate, We The People.

You don't need to be Einstein to figure out that it makes for good television.Blame it all on those two lovable consters from Fursatganj, Bunty Aur Babli aka Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukerji. The day they decided to read the 8 pm news bulletin on NDTV India, film promotion on television got a new spin. And the line between news and entertainment became just that bit more blurred.

Prior to this, there was the usual film programming. You know, the predictable talkathon with stars and directors crooning about how good their film is and how it will change everyone's life. Who would have thought that serious news channels where grim-faced people in grey suits discuss "important" issues like falling governments, rising prices and crashing markets will one day chat about stuff like Akshay, John Aur Kaun? Or ask you and me to help Vishal Bhardwaj decide the title of his new film?

"Having Abhishek and Rani reading news in our studio was too good an idea to let go. It was a chance to do something innovative. We were aware that this move will generate tremendous viewer interest, so we decided to go ahead," says Sonal Joshi, Senior Producer, Entertainment, NDTV.

This simple philosophy has opened the floodgates. Starved for content, news channels and eager producers ever ready to promote their movies have started this new barter deal of exclusive movie tie-ups. If done tastefully, it's a definite win-win situation for the movie moghuls as well as for those starved for content in news channels. For Krrish, Rakesh Roshan tied up with STAR and doled out top-notch exclusives on the film's making only to Star News. More recently, NDTV bombarded viewers with exclusive on-the-sets footage of Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. Rajkumar Hirani's deliciously-uplifting Lage Raho Munnabhai also got the channel's nod for ample programming time just two weeks before its release. It can't just be a coincidence that all three films got crackling opening week figures. The lines have blurred to such an extent that the channel name appears as media partner in the opening credits. And that's surely not a mean feat.

Prabhat Choudhary, from Spice, a leading marketing and PR consultancy in entertainment space, terms this trend as "hype machine". According to him, "In 24-hour channels, there is always a dearth of content. The lingo is Aaj kya chalana hai. So if you have Bollywood stars talking on the channel, it means more eyeballs. This creates hype for both the players. It's like, if NDTV can promote Fanaa then Fanaa can also promote NDTV," he says.

And even as NDTV bags yet another tie-up, this time with Farhan Akhtar's upcoming Don, CNN-IBN also confirms its jump into the fray with the Salman Khan-Preity Zinta-Akshay Kumar film Jaan-E-Mann. "This will be our first ever tie-up with a Bollywood film," says Dilip Venkatraman, Director Marketing, CNN-IBN and IBN 7. "We are not closed to other tie-ups in the future," he adds.

Interestingly, even though such high stakes are involved, there is no exchange of money. Since it's a mutually-beneficial arrangement, it's a barter deal. "The biggest misnomer currently doing the rounds is that channels ge money out of the tie-ups. No cash is ever exchanged. We aren't looking at it as a business or a marketing prospect. It's just a way of ensuring great viewer interest with some great programming," says Joshi.

A similar sentiment is echoed by QW Naqvi, News Director, Aaj Tak. "We have always adopted the barter route wherein we are able to get content and visibility in lieu of promoting the movie," he said. The Hindi channel had recently tied up with Prakash Jha's Apaharan. While the Ajay Devgan film was promoted aggressively on Aaj Tak, the channel got its pound of flesh where an Aaj Tak reporter was weaved as a character in the film. "This was an innovative integration since the film showcased some of the key strengths of Aaj Tak as a brand - credibility, fastest time to market, fearless, incisive journalism, and the ability to build public opinion," says Naqvi. Ditto for Star News that got Priyanka Chopra to act as a correspondent in Krrish. Roshan's unit also shot at their Singapore head office. STAR being a GEC (read General Entertainment Channel) as opposed to the news channels that go in for the barter deal, paid handsomely (the buzz is a figure of Rs 8 crores) for this exclusivity. As part of this deal, Hrithik Roshan will perform exclusively on the STAR network. The deal also included global satellite distribution for Krrish, in-movie placement, the premieres of the movie in international markets and promotional rights.

STAR really milked the deal with Roshan. They put an embargo on television interviews with Hrithik Roshan and Priyanka Chopra and also got them to be the celebrity guests on sister channel Star One's hit show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge.

For the channels also there is galore of exclusive benefits that they get without paying a dime. Post-Kabhi Alvida Naa's release, Barkha Dutt got Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar in the NDTV studio to debate about the status of the Great Indian Marriage. With the entire country gunning for the duo after the moral backlash the film unleashed, only NDTV got the crucial first access.

On the surface, the scenario sounds hunky-dory. But when the media goes all out to plug a movie, certain fundamental lines are bound to blur. To begin with, the non-discerning viewer can be easily influenced into thinking that the film that his favourite news channel is promoting so aggressively is a good one. Maybe a disclaimer stating the channel's role, as a media partner, will make things more balanced.

Joshi confesses that there exists a divided stance in her organization about floating a disclaimer. "Some people think there should be a disclaimer, while others say there's no need for it. Rest assured that editorially we always take a call. When we tie up with a film, we make sure it's a high-quality film. All that we tell our viewers through our programming is that we think it will be a good film, but you please decide for yourself." Meanwhile, sources at CNN-IBN say the channel is yet to take an official decision on the matter.

The ethical issues will take their time to be sorted out but there's no denying that the exclusive tie-up game has caught on like fire. Currently, Joshi's inbox is flowing with 20 requests from all over Bollywood. Aaj Tak has rejected 10 requests and accepted only six. So far, so good. However, the experts believe that for the trend to last, experimentation and innovation have to be mastered. "In a few years, this process, like any other communication process, will mature. The viewers will become more discerning. So, the filmmakers need to ensure that the integration is done keeping the overall brand attributes in mind," says Naqvi.

Choudhary looks at Hollywood for inspiration where customized specific media-partnerships rule the roost. "Right now, we are just creating hype but out there it is very customized," he says. Take for instance, the latest instalment in the Superman series, the Brandon Routh movie Superman Returns. Just prior to the film's release, rumours about Superman's sexuality were floated. "It was a geat marketing move since this film had a romantic angle. So while the audience was hooked, the brand Superman was buzzing," says Choudhary.

For Pyaar Ke Side Effects, Choudhary's Spice tried to do something similar. Since the Rahul Bose-Mallika Sherawat film is pegged around the battle of the sexes, campus debates in Delhi and Pune universities are being planned where boys will be encouraged to speak about how they deal with aggressive girlfriends. Of course, expect Sherawat and Bose to say their bit on NDTV's We The People too.

So kicked are promoters and producers with the tie-up setup that "blanket deals" are next in the pipeline. In such a scenario, if you tie up with a big production house, then you promote all their productions on the channel. "This way, even the so-called smaller films get their due. For example, if we have a tie-up with Subhash Ghai's Mukta Arts and promise a big news channel exclusive stuff from Ghai's film, then we'll make sure that the films made by other directors for Ghai's banner also get promoted," says Archana Sadanand, CEO and Partner, Buzz PR.

That way everybody is happy. And it's an exclusive for all. The ethical issues will take time to sort out, but there's no denying that the exclusive tie-up game has caught on like fire. In a sentence, it is all about the 'Promotion' of Entertainment.

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