Abhishek Raghunath/ Forbes India
An abusive reality show from India becomes the most social show in the world
Think of the biggest a****l* you can; a cocky, testosterone-fuelled bully who enjoys humiliating people in the most vicious, rabid way possible. Imagine he does that on national television. Now, imagine that person winning an award for being the friendliest person in the world.
Insane right? But that’s exactly what happened on January 14, 2012, when MTV Roadies won the ‘Most Social Show in the World Award’ at the 2011 Mashable Awards beating shows like WWE Raw, Attack of the Show, The Glee Project, Supernatural, Pretty Little Liars and Bones. The Mashable Awards are the equivalent of the Oscars in the digital social media landscape. (MTV is part of Viacom18, which is a JV between Viacom and Network18. Network18 publishes Forbes India.)
For those who don’t know, MTV Roadies is India’s favourite reality TV show that’s into its ninth season now. For an hour every week, over two million viewers tune in to watch Ranvijay Singh, Raghu Ram and Rajiv Laxman (host, judges and producers of Roadies) make people squirm and cry as they are put through a series of gruelling tasks. Raghu and Rajiv, twins with shaved heads, play the evil bullies to perfection while Ranvijay is the kid who wants to be just like the ‘cool’ twins, but can’t because his on-air character has a conscience that still works. They are also the three guys that 3.5 million (and growing) Indian youngsters want to talk to. All the time.
Why anyone would want to talk to three guys who humiliate people for a living is a mystery. Maybe they are masochists, maybe they like watching others get humiliated, maybe they are just bored. But the fact is that Roadies holds sway over the largest demographic in India, on a medium that few brands have been able to figure out.
Roadies managed to target its audience by going to where they spent most of their time: Online. “We are a brand that provides content to young people,” says Aditya Swamy, channel head. “We had to automatically move to places where the content is being consumed.” That meant Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Roadies consistently ranks among the most engaging pages in the world on Facebook. It has been among the top 30 pages on Facebook for the last 32 weeks. At its peak, Roadies, in September 2011, hit a high of number six when it ranked above entertainer Lady Gaga and TV shows like Entourage, Friends, The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. All the other shows have fan bases starting at around 7 million and going on to 25 million. Roadies had a mere 3.2 million fans at the time. But it makes up for the low numbers with a high interaction quotient.
While branding and marketing experts agree that social media is the way to go, there is very little clarity on how to conquer that frontier. Pepsi tried and failed. The company came out with a Change the Game campaign before the Cricket World Cup in 2011. “The contest went something like this. You had to upload a video of yourself talking on how India should change the game,” says an ex-employee of the agency that handled the campaign for Pepsi. “The prize was that 11 fans would get the chance to tour with the Indian cricket team. It’s every fan’s dream right? But we got less than a hundred video entries. It just didn’t work,” he says.
That is why the Roadies success story is remarkable.
While Roadies is a big hit on Facebook, its journey began on another social networking site that was very popular in India in 2008: Orkut. The first season of Roadies Battleground (RBG) debuted on Orkut in 2008. RBG was started to retain connect with Roadies fans when the show was off air. It enabled the show to choose its first contestants for the next season. The contestants were given tasks online. They had to shoot themselves performing them and upload the video online. The platform for season one of RBG was Orkut. By the second season, RBG had its own micro Web site on MTV. The third season of RBG in 2010 had 250 videos that were uploaded. Only one of them was uploaded by a girl. The Roadies team decided that had to change.
They changed the RBG format. They split RBG into a team event with three members, out of which one had to be a girl. The response was fantastic. Three thousand videos were uploaded for season four. The final episode was telecast on TV.