Gauging Satyamev Jayate's impact

BY sevanti ninan| IN Opinion | 02/08/2012
So as Satyamev Jayate bowed out basking in the glow of media approbation, how much did it do, and for whom?
On the face of it, it seems a pretty straightforward list, says SEVANTI NINAN
   Reprinted from Mint, August 2, 2012
Sevanti Ninan 
Satyamev Jayate: The difference Aamir Khan made’. ‘Satyamev Jayate: The game changer’. ‘Satyamev Jayate ends with aplomb’. Three headlines from just one newspaper (DNA) sum up what has been the show’s biggest asset through its 13-week run on several channels of the Star India stable and Doordarshan. A willing-to-be-charmed news media.
Why just the media? Parliamentarians, chief ministers, and bureaucrats responded with alacrity. The Indian system is geared to responding to pressure from the top, and the latter includes activist Bollywood biggies. Never before has a TV talk show chosen to claim credit for a Bill getting passed in  Parliament. Chief ministers and judges obliged with promises when Aamir Khan came calling, some state governments set the ball rolling on generic medicine availability, or on tightening sonography procedures to make misuse more difficult. Will the media be around to track if these initiatives endure? 
So as Satyamev Jayate bowed out basking in the glow of  media approbation, how much did it do, and for whom? On the face of it, it seems a pretty straightforward list.
The show got Rupert Murdoch’s flagship channel a lot of goodwill at a time when News Corp. is getting a rotten press elsewhere in the world. That is a PR triumph of no mean  measure. And never have so many hacks lapped up so many metrics dished out by a social media measurement firm to tout impact.
It made Star Plus a fair amount of money. This paper (Mint) has reported an ad rate of Rs 10 lakh per 10 seconds for this show. In addition, the sponsors coughed up generous sums to compensate for the  Rs 3.5 crore plus per episode the channel reportedly spent on the show.
Ditto for Aamir Khan. He didn’t do badly at Rs 3.5 crore an episode as his production company’s fee, plus an undisclosed personal appearance fee.
And, more than the money, it was a terrific  TV debut for an intelligent and socially conscious star. Will it end up having done more for him long-term than for the fight to eliminate foeticide or caste discrimination or the diktats of khap panchayats? That’s a no-brainer. He could run for Prime Minister tomorrow in Mumbai and Delhi, Bhagalpur and Chikmagalur. And for the time being, it is a no-contest with the other big Khans in Bollywood. They were not on air every Sunday cajoling people to pull India up by its bootstraps.
But that apart, not enough has been said about how it rediscovered for all of us what public service television can do. It overturned current assumptions about what people will watch, and what will sell. You could argue that Satyamev Jayate was public service television at its best. Unfortunately, it is about as replicable as Khan himself. Not because of what it cost to produce but because of the systems support an ambitious programme needs. A hard-headed actor with his own production house and an even more hard-headed commercial channel will invest what it takes to provide the support, including the warm bodies to do the research, and make sure they recover their cost and more. And they will do it in small doses. Thirteen episodes of a single show.
Courtesy Aamir Khan, the show ran on Doordarshan for free and made money for it as well. The channel found its advertising inventory for that slot effortlessly booked. But can Doordarshan pick up the ball from there, given that it spends a few thousand crores each year, attempting to serve the public? No. Because its system is just not geared to deliver compelling programming and market it with advertisers and the press.
During the period that it was running on Star and Doordarshan, a simple tracking that one did of DD National’s total programming for four weeks showed that this channel actually spends more than 50% of its 24-hour airtime showing entertainment anyway—most of it just regular commercial entertainment.
The most useful impact of Satyamev Jayate, then, would be if people in the government were to wake up and ask why the `3,000 crore plus that they spend a year on their own public service network does not deliver more evidence of increased public awareness.
Did the show make money for the non-governmental organizations it featured, and invited people to contribute to? So far a total of Rs 3.8 crore for the good souls working on all the 12 issues that the show probed. And that includes the Reliance Foundation’s matching contribution. Not bad, but not transformative generosity either. So, do we measure the impact of Satyamev Jayate by its television rating points, its social media buzz or by how much it moved Indians to underwrite the change that they want to see?