‘Idol’ hands Sony auds in India

About 48 million viewers flock to show

NEW DELHI — In the end the result was predictable, but for weeks it looked like the first “Indian Idol” would buck the international trend and vote in a gawkish boy with large spectacles and big nose as its winner.

However, when the final round was held March 5, 21-year-old Amit Sana was beaten by good-looking singer Abhijeet Sawant, 23.

Equally predictably, the format scored big for satcaster channel Sony Entertainment Television.

While Nielsen figures show the fourth edish of “American Idol” is pulling in auds of 26 million to 27 million for Fox, making it one of the top three shows Stateside, “Indian Idol” notched 48 million viewers in its later stages.

Not bad for a country with a population of 1.3 billion.

However, that’s still behind India’s version of the Celador-owned format “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (Kaun banega crorepati) hosted by Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan. It launched in 2000, and made News Corp.-owned Star Plus one of the highest-rated Hindi-language channels in India.

Sony business head Tarun Katial is happy with the result. “The show definitely marks the advent of the reality genre in India,” he says.

According to TAM People Meter ratings, “Indian Idol” opened at a rating of 5.8, and hovered between 5.5 and 6.8, leaping to 9.6 the weekend of the final shows. By comparison, soaps on mighty pubcaster Doordeshan score ratings of 9 to 11.

But the program lured in new viewers to SET, including more audiences in the 15-24 age group and improved the percentage of male viewers watching the channel.

According to Sony, more than 30 million mobile text messages were sent in for the final vote alone, bringing with them an alternate revenue stream.

Sony also has signed up the talents of its “Idol” winner: Sawant walked away with a 10 million rupee ($220,000) singing contract with Sony BMG, a luxury car and a week’s holiday with his family in Switzerland.

Sawant, who supplements his family’s income by singing in a Mumbai orchestra, and Sana, son of a steelworker in the central Indian town of Bhilai, were chosen from more than 21,000 aspirants in a talent hunt that began in October in 10 Indian cities.

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