Monday, June 30, 2008

Slippery Salesmen

I attempted a different format. Do check the slideshow below.

Related Article:
Oye Hoe Dilli - Bargaining at Anand Shoes

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fiction mein Dum nahi hai

SET Max and Star Plus launched high profile quiz-game shows this summer, spending close to a crore on its hosts for each episode.Sadly for them, the two game shows on television aren't doing well at all. Dus Ka Dum hosted by Salman Khan on SET MAX delivered 2.5 TRP ratings on the day of its debut (June 6). Shah Rukh Khan's quiz show, Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez hain, on Star Plus got a first rating of 4.61 on April 25, before it dropped to 1.97 on June 6. For comparison: the inaugural IPL match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Bangalore Royal Challengers had 7.2 TRP. [Source]

Definition of TRP (For those who aren't clear about it)
TRP is measured by TAM Media, a joint venture between AC Nielsen and IMRB. They monitor TV habits in Class I towns (population greater than 1 lakh). One TRP point indicates that 1% of the population was watching the show. When used for the broadcast of a program, usually the average rating across the duration of the show is given. [Sources 1,2,3]

I was amazed to note that the sample covers only approximately 7000 households (translating to 30,000 respondents) across India, represnting around 35 million television households. Whereas across India there are close to 100 million households with a television set! Anyway, I'll continue the article with the assumption that the data collected is representative of the whole population.

What went wrong ? Was the problem in the show promotions ? No. In fact, both channels made heavy investments for that too. Star Plus definitely did a better and more rounded campaign than SET Max:

- Lots of humourous TVCs about normal people claiming that they are better than 5th graders(like this)
- A song-and-dance featuring Sharukh and the kids featured on the show (here)
- game tie-ups with Indiagames [Source]
- some viral campaigns too [Source]

In comparison, DuskaDum's campaign had been lacklustre.

- There were a bunch of brief 10 seconds promos announcing the name of the show followed by a key sponsor. These were mainly airted during the IPL matches (Note to SET : the fact that L'Oreal or LG is the sponsor is not an incentive for me to watch the show!)
- In a few others, Salman Khan would swagger up to the screen and mumble something about Dum.
- A song-and-dance sequence featuring the host himself (here)
- And of course, they had to start a blog about the show by Salman. They didn't even give the poor thing its own domain, hosting it on Blogspot. It is regularly updated, boring and clearly fake.

When the magic doesn't seem to be happening, they try to tweak the format a bit: Like Sony attempting to change from a generic music reality show to K for Kishore to decide a KishoreK prodigy. The singers, saccharine praises and judge antics however remained the same.

Then they try to add more drama: Like the RocknRoll Family show on ZEE where the whole family jiggles on stage in moronic costumes, and Ajay Devgan& Kajol try to cook up praises while adjudging awards like 'Best Dada' and 'Best Dadi'

Then when all ideas dry up, they just up the prize money hoping that'll be the clincher (like DusKaDum).

Me-too ideas have bombed multiple times!

Entertainment channels have a nice spectrum of shows spanning Fact and fiction. Fiction is when you know you are viewing imaginary characters, in an imaginary world - irrespective of the vivid depiction (like the K Serials). Fact is when can relate to the participants - you enjoy the rush of 'Had I been in his position' (like in Antakshari or KBC or Aaja NachLe). Reality shows forcibly plonked themselves somewhere in between, where we know the contestants are for real, but the scenarios are increasingly unreal.

Lets have a recap now!

Females with oodles of makeup giving each other the stink-eye in K serials: Fiction
Amitabh Bachchan doing an impression of Deewar on request from a KBC contestant - Fact with a sprinkling of fiction
Singing Contest Participant's candid outburst along with inputs from mummy, papa and the neighbours - Fact with dollops of fiction

In a recent promo for DusKaDum, the contestant (female of course) expressed her predilection for a song from 'Maine Pyaar Kiya'. Magically, they happen to procure the same song during the show. And then Salman and she danced while the audience cheered. Don't you think this time they went too far ?

In an attempt to the have the best of both, you are left with neither. When you try to entertain the audience, yet use 'one of them' in the nautanki, you have the risk of confusing them. When forced to innovate within the same format, the only immediate fix that occurs to the show developers is to dramatize things further.

Well, it doesn't work that way.

Related Readings:
Afaqs did a great analysis of a peculiar Indian phenomenon - of families still persisting on owning a single television set. They site some detailed and interesting reasons for it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Black Baniyan

The day I returned from my maiden dance class in April, I was brimming in good spirits. My parents noticed the same and enquired about the class. "Kya seekha?" they asked. Promptly I folded my arms across one another like Jeanie, squatted to a chair like posture. I said, "It began with this." and began gyrating my pelvis back and forth. Believe me, this is an excellent warm up sequence. But of course, they cleanly missed that aspect. They stood politely, but my sister couldn't take it. She gurgled and then went "A ha ha ha ha ha..."

The hip exercises were embarrassing enough. My demonstration ended abruptly and I escaped from showcasing any of the dance sequences over the last ten weeks.

Don't get me wrong. My parents are quite proud of my hobby. In fact, my mama was informed quite earnestly about it. He asked on the phone, "What kind of dance are you learning?" I couldn't gyrate over the phone. And Jazz is a mysterious term, providing no additional clarification to an average curious Indian. So I gave the next obvious clue, "You know... like Shiamak Davar..."

The phone went silent for a few seconds after which I heard "A ha ha ha ha ha...". Since then, When I pick up the phone to greet my mama, instead of a hello, I hear a mocking, "Mohabbat Karle Karle Re..."

Not dissuaded by the subtle lack of respect for the dance, I diligently attended the classes all through these ten weeks. Sure, the steps aren't brimming in masculinity. Nor has my hip movement gained any grace over this period. Still I thought the final dance show will be my answer to the cynics. My parents will realize there is more to this form than the silly stereotype they have in their head.
Well, yesterday we've been instructed to wear a black baniyan for the show.

They may call it by any fancy name - undershirt, singlet, vest. But its a baniyan nevertheless. The photographs on the web belie reality. An average joe can't look good in vests. There are too many issues about love handles, hair, bulges or the lack of them. Nothing punctures a well built personality like embarrassing clothing. Rippling muscles of humour and toned articulation fail when in combat with a derisive enemy.

In case they plan to sprinkle us with chamki or paint snakes on our noses for the show (like shown below), I will cease to be the same person!

The hunt for the right baniyan begins tomorrow.

p.s - For those in Delhi, Danceworx is organizing a show (from 26th - 29th June) at Sirifort Auditorium to showcase the work of their workshop batches - this covers students of varied experience levels, professionals in a wide spectrum of dance forms. Noida batches will be performing on 27th June @ 7.30p.m. See you there!

p.s2 - This one is headed by Ashley Lobo. Not Shiamak.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

MotoMusic in India

"Motorola is expanding its business in Asia. Recently, they launched another one of their Motomusic service in India. It is an added service provider for music or radio and net purposes of mobile phones. Bharti Airtel will be the first telecom to offer Motomusic." [Source]

Although the official website for Motorola isn't reflecting this change yet, I am hoping for an early rollout of this service. Given the proliferation of MP3 enabled mobile devices, a formal channel for music download is an imperative for the music business. I also happened to watch this video in the series Authors@Google with Don Tapscott. He is the author of the book Wikinomics - How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything . He made a wonderful statment about the music industry.

"Music should become a service, not a good....Nobody will steal music. You will never want to take possession of a song, if for say $7 you can have access to any recorded music ever, and any kind of service around it - say Mike Jagger's favourite folk songs."

The first statement is quite astonishing. What it implies is that once re-engineered, the cost structure of music business will be completely different. we won't be paying for the storage, manufacturing or distribution costs for music. Since the medium will be MP3 (or evolved versions of that), those heads come down to almost zero. Instead the payment will be for useful information. The MP3 will just be a part of the service. All the tagging, ranking and 'iLike' activity on platforms such as Facebook will actually be little computational activities that help sort the music according to taste, popularity etc. As such music choices is heavily weighed down by a bandwagon effect (choosing what others seem to like). Hence I'd gladly pick and choose those titles that are popular or sorted well. Another interesting effect of this shift is called The Long Tail - which is a shift in revenue proportion from mass-market v.s niche titles.

I hope the Indian music industry will embrace this well :)

p.s - Seth Godin recently wrote a similar piece for the publishing industry, which itself is going through a major shift. Read it here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sarkar Raj - Review

How would you like it if I wrote everything in bold ? I mean EVERYTHING. Had technology allowed it, I'd even add some jarring background score to it - Govinda Govinda Govinda Govinda Govinda Govinda...

That would be my primary peeve against the movie Sarkar Raj. A movie runs on a plot. When it depicts an interaction, the actors occasionally get a chance to twist their line to create a stunning scene. Some of these lines end up engulfing the scene, creating poignant quotes. Like Kramer saying "I am out." in Seinfeld, allegedly the funniest line in sitcom history. Or a more kindred Michael Corleone to Sonny - "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."

'Aap Idli Khaaiye...Idli Sambhar...Accha hai' doesn't count as a powerful line! Even if it is mouthed by BigB in his throaty style. It doesn't work the other way around. You can't cook up a dialogue, add visuals, music and force it to have an effect.

The movie start big with many such scenes. It runs well till the end, with a quick pace and adequate twists and shocks. In the last 15 odd minutes RGV lost steam. Thats when I guess he told his assistant - Abe yaaaaar.... bas narrate karke khatam karo...

BigB does a great job, carrying the same composure and weight from the prequel Sarkar. Whereas Abhishek Bachchan, though in character, looks perennially grouchy. He smiles exactly once in the whole movie and his mood varies from one shade of anger to another. And except for the Bachchan boys, all the anciliary characters - including Aishwarya Rai, her dad, the Gujrati middleman Vohra, the hitman all have received shallow character sketches. They enunciate repetitive one-liners to emphasize the reason for their existence.

Aishwarya Rai looks plastic in the movie - shedding uniformly spaced, uniformly sized, singular tears at sporadic moments in the movie. Jeans, combed back hair and vougish shades establish her as the Gori Mam. 'Ye project mere liye bahut important hai' is her line - an instant passport for gelling with the Nagre family.

Her dad, the evil businessman, as contrasted with the Nagres hams the line 'I am only interested in profit' and gleams in his upscale clothing. Profit ?? Oooh...bad man...very bad man.

Vohra is an important player in the political jigsaw. He hums songs and displays his crooked teeth instead of finishing his sentences. The hitman sports a glove. And he chooses not to speak. Thats it! Bechaara...

Majority of actors in the movie have a beard, the prickly ends delighting the sepia toned cinematography (The only exception would be Aishwarya Rai!). Plenty of scenes are dark, with shafts of streaming light illuminating whom they please - from the grouchy eyes of Abhishek Bachchan to Aishwarya Rai's weeping countenance.

Despite all its drawbacks, Sarkar Raj does have a strong grounded storyline. In real life we have witnessed violent agitations in Singur and Nandigram for business investments and land acquisitions. The movie's engrossing plot splays the politics of it all.

Sarkar Raj is not even close to RGV's classic movies - like Kaun or Company. But its worth a watch if you are willing to forgive the sins above. Lets hope his next movie Contract is refreshing.

* Screenshots from the official Eros Trailer

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Laptop Crisis

No this is not about my laptop.

My Salsa dance instructor happens to be my neighbour. Or to be more precise, I have a stunning girl next door who turns this verbose creature into prolonged alternating periods of incoherence and muteness. She intercepted me today as I was entering my home. Unfortunately my mom, my dadi and my sister were also present at the doorstep at that time (we were returning from an outing). She politely ignored the others and told me, "Hi Arvind. I wanted to ask you something. Do you have 10 minutes ?" I expected some discussion on the dance class or my performance. The other three stood politely while this happened. They had the sanest of expressions, though the best leg-pulling lines were being formed within. She continued, "I was thinking of buying a laptop. I wanted your opinion on the best options". My countenance betrayed me. I appeared stupefied. She thankfully mistook that for fatigue. She offered to postpone the discussion till tomorrow. I gratefully accepted that and walked in with the others.

She obviously has the same image of me from 8 years back - that was when I was a damn good C++ coder. I would stand upright, blush, hop around and do all nautanki that a typical teenager involuntarily does in the presence of beautiful ladies. Back then, in those sporadic interactions, I helped her setup the internet, burn CDs and fix an occasional Windows blip. I didn't have an option of washing her pretty feet, and hence failed to offer that service. Since then I have trudged through a non-technical five year course of architecture and even more useless 2 year management programme. Obviously I have little traces of any positive IT disposition left in me.

But obviously that can change.

All inspiration books cajole you to question yourself - When was the last time you revived a defunct interest for the first time ? Yes. Today is the day when I'll do that. The world of RAMs, ROMs is a pretty one filled with endless possibilities. The silver coating on HPs ooze more than just style. Or so it seems. I strive to go to the depths about this. Lenovos are black and ugly. But is there any beauty within ? Today the truth will reveal itself for higher causes. I will spend this night fruitfully, making use of all social networking and user-to-user interaction to gather information. I shall cover all possible brands, from A for Acer to T for Toshiba.

I will probably involve Sethi tomorrow to setup a ONE laptop bulk deal.
Blogger angels throwing in suggestions will receive special blessings from me.

I may not be able to Google to find happiness, but I will surely Google for love.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wassup Orkut!

Orkut has launched a new feature today for its photo albums - you can now tag photographs.[report]

Yippee ?? Well maybe not.

After Orkut's launch in 2004 and an annoying period of 'No Donuts' and 'Server Errors', we grew to like the quirky social networking phenomenon (Well I was quite skeptical! read the review here). Orkut was somehow slow to grasp changes happening in the online world. It held on to a strict limit of 12 photograph uploads while other websites encouraged gigabytes of photo upload. After a prolonged period, it changed the photo setting. It announced an odd development sporadically, none of them exciting enough to change our experience. When it allowed sharing of youtube videos, we politely smiled, since it was quite obvious that video sharing was the next move after photos. And now, Orkut is sluggishly emulating its competitor and hoping we don't notice that.

Well that isn't Google style at all!

Orkut in India
We Indians, being the superior jugaadu beings on the planet, managed to express ourselves in the constrained orkut space for over four years. For example, when there was no space other than 'About Me' for self expression. We've used it for a spectrum of purposes - a brief introduction, for location / job status, for phone number updates, for blog links. Because there was no other way.

Today close to 17% of orkut users are Indians. And that is despite the fact that somehow orkut has received the worst treatment in comparison to other google services (Google Reader, Google Talk, iGoogle etc). There are some needs which are obvious(like the need right now for integration of blogs within orkut) But the system catches up long after an alternate route has been discovered. And we are quickly discovering a more fun, vibrant and dynamic platform - Facebook.

There are some fundamental needs from social networking sites. Lets see how Orkut and Facebook compare in these:

1. We want others to hear our opinion about ourselves

Orkut - An About me text box.
Facebook - Countless different Apps allowing interaction and sharing

Now which one sounds better ? I can't even categorize the options available on facebook. I can use Apps to talk about myself (Left Brained, Self Interview, Rate Me). I can use Apps to help others talk about me. I can use them to rapidly update my moods for others to see(like Emote-Icons).

An About Me text box is barely visible, bound to that user's profile page. Activity centres around something only if it gains visibility.

2. We want others to hear our opinion on Stuff

Yes Stuff is an extremely vague word. But I intend that exact usage. Stuff varies from interests like music, books to food to youtube videos.

Orkut: Text boxes on Movies, Likes Dislikes; A page to stuff Youtube videos
Facebook: Apps to allow interaction on the same

You may argue that Orkut has always had space to talk about our choices. But the Likes-Dislikes and Movie boxes have never been spaces for activity. They just acted as spillover for the About Me section. As a contrast in Facebook for instance, fans of RDB can play the 'Which Rang De Basanti character are you' quiz. I guess you can understand the trend now. Static text is stale and unwanted.

3. We want others to know about our lives

Orkut: Initially Photo Albums, now a few Apps have entered this space

Some common Apps between Orkut and Facebook for these are iRead, MusicAlbums, TravelMap etc. These act as excellent triggers for conversation. Which is why its important to have them visible for comments or discussion. On orkut, our activity was largely restricted to updating About Me's. A huge possiblity lies in mimicking services like Twitter within Orkut. I'll discuss this later.

4. Attention from the opposite sex is appreciated (selective for females, any kind for males)

No explanation needed for this!

Orkut - Initially it had no great options. We could tick an extra box called 'Dating Women' for purpose, but that looked plain silly. After around 2 years, it launched a HotList, a CrushesList and an out of place IgnoreList. But for some reason, these remained hidden in the left panel, not a part of conversations. Guess what happened!! Simple rule - If it isn't visible and active, it'll die.
Facebook - It has an explosive set of quizzes and games for you to flirt online! Its really fun!

5. We want our opinion on others to be heard

Orkut: Testimonials

On Facebook, using the same Apps which others use to talk about themselves, we provide our opinions. And this works quite well too.

6. We want to interact with others in 'Fun' ways

Well it was only scrapbook for quite a long time. But Orkut has evolved rapidly in the last 2 months. This is the zone in which most of the Apps have arrived on orkut - popular ones currently being CricExchange, Slapster, Typeracer (Well that was pretty obvious - we Indians are good at discussing cricket, at having heated arguments and at typing really fast in IT jobs!).

This is the only section where Orkut has quickly matched up with Facebook.

7. We want to appear better that others on the network

Orkut: At first it was just about the number of scraps, fans and friends. But that got boring. But what's the point of competition if I can't compete openly!Then Orkut started giving statistics about profile visits about two years back. The numbers looked cool initially. Ooh! 32....45...120! Then we grew bored of that too. I mean, how do I know whether its a nice number? More importantly, am I getting more views, less views than my peers ? (An explicit example of this is the Typeracer App. Who types the fastest! By the way, my score is 64!)

I believe a few core innovations are necessary to sustain our faith and activity on Orkut. I'll cover these soon in the next post.