“Kaun Banega Crorepati” (KBC), India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is watched by between 15 and 20 million Indians. In parts it is great entertainment. But a part of it is pretty darned close to a lottery.
This season we added a box for satellite TV to the many boxes in our entertainment center. It’s come to the stage where I can no longer make out what the scores of wires behind my entertainment center connect. If something comes loose we’ll just have to move houses.
Anyway, we added satellite TV so my wife could watch KBC. However, it is great family entertainment and the kids and I also join in. Like most Indians, I get the first few questions right, but once they go into the lakhs of rupees per question range, my GK starts crumbling. In all these questions of varying difficulty, the questions the easiest are always the “Har Seat Hot Seat” questions.
As many of you might know, the HSHS question is not meant for the contestants in the studio. It is supposed to be a question for the viewing audience. If Jai Public thinks he knows the answer, he can call in and punch a few keys to register his phone number and his answer. SMS also works. The rules are here. (mute the speakers, there is a very irritating video player whose controls don’t work)
The HSHS questions are generally dead simple. One of the tougher ones that I remember was:
Mussoorie can be best described as a
a) something inane
b) hill station
c) something inane
d) something inane
If you think about it, it is quite probable that nearly everyone who is watching the show knows the answer to this one. Which is precisely what Star TV wants. Because you see the easier the question, the more money they make. The rates that BSNL/MTNL and Airtel charge for these calls and SMSs are premium rates. Regardless of the number of correct answers, there is only one award of Rs. 1 lakh that is awarded through random selection. I am pretty sure this scheme is nicely profitable for all parties concerned – the telcos and Star TV.
Except that this isn’t just any scheme. It’s a game of chance – a lottery. Let’s say that you paid Rs. 2.40 a ticket that would entitle you to be part of a random draw for a single prize of Rs. 1 lakh. That would be a lottery, right? Well, how different is HSHS from a lottery?
HSHS is basically a game of chance, with a thin veneer of a game of skill. Ironically, the thinner the veneer, the more people dial in and the more money they make.
Star TV will claim that HSHS is a “Contest” and not a lottery. Consumer product companies in India have run Contests since the beginning of time. In its simplest form a Consumer Contest requires you to buy the company’s product and answer a ridiculously simple question to win a prize (of course selected randomly). Which is of course a sham and a loss of revenue for the government (they should be taxing it like they would gambling). But perfectly legal.
KBC must like the results they are getting from HSHS because they have now extended audience participation to every question and morphed it into Khelo India Sath Sath (KISS). I am not surprised. Gambling is a universal vice.
In a different vein, I would love to lay my hands on the results data from HSHS or KISS (which I probably won’t especially after this blog post!). Here are some of the interesting questions/hypotheses that come to mind:
1. Let’s first assume that the difficulty of a question (D) is measured by the % of responses that go to the right answer. In other words, if the answer is b) the higher the % of total responses that are b), the easier the answer.
2. What is the curve between total number of responses (T) and D. Does it have a local maxima somewhere? That is, is there a value of D below which people will realize that the question is so easy that their chances of winning in a random draw are tiny and they don’t respond, bringing T down. I doubt it. Just because people don’t think that much. But still, an interesting plausibility.
3. What is the regional dispersion of the responses? My wife, who is Tamil, thinks that KBC is biased towards North Indians. I tend to agree. The “Fastest Finger” question in one round was to arrange “Bambe, Akkad, Bo, Bakkad” in the right order. That is hard core Hindi heartland. Difficult for anybody for whom Hindi is a second language.
4. What is the distribution of responses across fixed line and wireless? Across Pop Strata?
A really interesting exercise in human psychology would be to compare the response results for a show like American Idol with KBC. American Idol (Isn’t there an Indian Idol too?) also involves calling in with your vote. But you don’t vote to get a prize. You vote to get your favourite to go into the next round. My hypothesis would be that voting is heavier of course in the later rounds but also when the distribution of votes across contestants is more even. Basically, I-vote-when-my-vote-counts-the-most kind of a thing. In KBC, that would make D high, which would actually mean a lower response rate.