India Today -SRK steps into KBC .. & turns in a -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 50:50 Well begun is half done. Shah Rukh Khan steps into KBC after a blaze of publicity and turns in a polished first two weeks, staving off Star Plus's competitor, Zee TV. By Kaveree Bamzai Ladies and gentleman. Boys and girls. We've watched him blowing kisses at old ladies, massaging middle-aged necks, and accepting a marriage proposal from a gushing fan. He's laughed at himself, mangled perfectly comprehensible names, even given away his Tag Heuer watches. Like a diligent schoolchild, he has learnt all the lines required of a host who is a dost. So was he kuchha kuchha or pukka pukka? Well, now that two weeks of tam (Television Audience Measurement) ratings of Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) are out, call it 50:50. On the opening day: 12.33. On day 2: 10.4. On day 4: 9.24. On day 6: 8.97, and on day 8, 9.99. Only on one of these days, day 3 at 7.36, did the show not top the programme ratings, which media analysts say was entirely due to the India-West Indies one day cricket match. On all days, Shah Rukh Khan's KBC nearly doubled Star Plus' previous shows in the same time band; the channel share in the crucial 9-10 p.m. time zone went up 2.4 times that of Zee; and the popular Kasamh Se and Saath Phere were left lagging behind-it was after all the sudden success of these two shows almost a year ago that gave enough sleepless nights to the Star establishment to make them part ways with the winning team of Group CEO Peter Mukherjea and CEO of Star Entertainment, Sameer Nair. But the comparisons with you know who (okay, we can say it, previous host Amitabh Bachchan) were not so clearcut. While the ratings of KBC were on an upward swing, both KBC 2 and KBC 3 showed a decline towards the end of the first two weeks. In the seven years since KBC began, an entirely new generation has walked in to the show. It's an expanded television universe (KBC 1 was launched when there were 41 million cable and satellite homes, KBC 2 was launched when there were 61 million cable and satellite homes, while KBC 3 began with a potential audience of 68 million homes). While KBC began when Star Plus was a distant third in the general entertainment category, KBC 2 began with Star Plus already the leader, which explains why skeptics turned up their noses at its opening day rating as well-this was a show that in its peak in the first season had hit a high of 27.13. The launch of KBC 3 happened in a time band where Star Plus was not the leader, so in that objective of wanting to give a fillip to the channel, especially with the World Cup coming up, Nair has been successful. "My headline is, we busted Zee TV," says Nair, chortling happily. At the same time, the audience has also been limited-according to tam by 20 per cent-because of the implementation of the Conditional Access System in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. So even though the tam measurement panel has expanded since 2005, it may not have had an impact. Where the show appears to have made a visible difference, enough to gladden Nair's heart, is in the important 10-24 segment, considered Khan's core constituency (from a cumulative viewership of 5.06 million at the end of the first eight episodes in 2000, it went up to 13.1 in 2005, and 18.1 million in 2007). For associate sponsor Airtel, for which Shah Rukh Khan is the brand ambassador, this new breed of consumers is as important as reaching more of the same audience. But as is with everything related to KBC, nothing is without controversy. Initial media reports that KBC 3 had failed to take off, sent the entire Star TV machinery into overdrive, calling up editors and doubling the rate of issue of press releases. Comparisons with Bachchan were made and Khan was supposed to have floundered. But having shaken off the initial nervousness, Khan has settled in quite comfortably into the host's hot seat, more even if the Valentine's Day episode smacked too much of self-promotion. So ab sawal hai what next for Khan and Star Plus? The star's charisma is clearly working onscreen, if not in spades, at least in large spoonfuls, and because the effort he is making shows, the audience is ready to give him a chance. For Khan, the television audience is a bonus in a film career that is going well, points out tam chairman L.V. Krishnan. "Even his highest rated film, Devdas, when shown on TV did not get a TRP of more than 9," he says. Star Plus looks less comfortably off. Nair, whose out-of-the-box thinking has seen Star Plus become hero from zero, will be departing in March-end, just as the first season of 52 episodes winds down. The show will quickly be replaced by two soaps, one from the Balaji stable and the other from Fox Studios (now headed by former key programming executive of Star Plus Deepak Segal), which Nair hopes will gain from the KBC loyalty rub-off. Mukherjea has left already, after 14 years at Star, with plans to start a channel firmly in place. The show is off and running on its steam-now all it needs is for the murmurs of Bachchan doing a "big show" for rival Zee TV for competition to hot up.