Indian men get soap opera fix

Change in programming draws in new audience

MUMBAI -- When 42-year-old business executive Sam Joy gets home from a hard day's work, he turns to television for some relaxation.

But it's not a sports channel or reality TV show that finds his favor. Instead, he watches "Uttaran," a popular prime-time soap opera about two women in love with the same man.

Joy is just one of many Indian men hooked to soap operas, breaking a stereotype that these were reserved for women and forcing entertainment channels to tweak programming for the menfolk.

"When reality TV became a part of the programming, we managed to pull in a lot of male viewers from news channels," says Ashvini Yardi, head of Programming for the Colors channel, which airs "Uttaran."

"But they stayed back for the daily soaps because the content of the daily soaps has undergone a change in the last couple of years."

In recent years, Indian television has moved on from family dramas revolving around wicked mothers-in-law to social themes like female infanticide, child marriage and poverty.

These topics appeal as much to the male viewer as they do to women, with the average Indian spending around 150 minutes huddled around the television each day.

Television ratings indicate that nearly 43% of the audience for general entertainment channels over the last two years is male.

At an industry conference in March, the CEO of Star India said the amount of time men spent on entertainment channels had gone up by 25% in the last couple of years.

"We have to innovate and create new programming to appeal to the changing general entertainment channel audience," Uday Shankar told the conference.

That innovation is coming in the form of more and more reality TV shows, moving away from the safe haven of singing competitions and venturing into realms like past-life therapy and television weddings.

"We find that men like strong women characters and there is a high recall value for them, so that is something else we keep in mind when we design our programming," says Yardi.

As for Joy, he prefers his daily dose of soaps but would watch more news if he had more control over the remote.

"But I would also check to see what's happening in Uttaran. So far, I like it. I hope they don't turn it into the regular soap story."