The wild success and popularity of Shark Tank India has spawned a number of ‘clones’ including a new show on JioCinema and an upcoming show on Amazon Prime Video
Critics argue that reality TV shows or platforms do not always help founders or startups as they tend to create unrealistic expectations and the quality of deals is low
Rival streaming platforms are looking to put their unique spin on the format, but Shark Tank India is the north star for the many clones that have emerged in the market
There’s a new wave of reality TV in India and it’s all about startups. The wild success and popularity of Shark Tank India has spawned a number of ‘clones’.
Shark Tank India is clearly SonyLIV’s crown jewel, and the premier reality show for startup pitching. But it’s been joined in recent times by Indian Angels, JioCinema’s latest big bet. Besides this Mission StartAb, an upcoming Amazon Prime Video show, is expected to also cast a spotlight on the journey of being an entrepreneur.
Despite being just two seasons old, Shark Tank India has gripped the attention of programming heads at major OTT platforms. Since its launch in December 2021, the show’s popularity has grown like wildfire. Not only has the Indian version of “Shark Tank” become one of the topics of discussion at the Indian dinner table, but it has also made startups a household name.
It’s no surprise then that so many new shows are now vying for the viewer’s attention, and looking to replicate the Shark Tank magic.
While one cannot debate that such reality shows have turned the spotlight on the startup ecosystem and the entrepreneurial mindset among Indians, we also have to wonder whether these shows or platforms are actually helping founders or creating unrealistic expectations around how arduous the actual process of raising funds is.
And as we have covered in the past, Shark Tank India has become as much a platform for the investors or sharks as it is for the founders and startups pitching. The celebrity ‘shark’ culture has been criticised by many observers especially because many of the investors on the show do not run profitable businesses themselves.
With the launch of new shows along the same lines, is there a risk of these concerns getting amplified and snowballing into bigger problems?
Shark Tank Clones: Old Wine In New Bottles
Rival streaming platforms are looking to put their unique spin on the format, but Shark Tank’s format of an eye-catching pitch and a jury of investors or sharks remains the most popular.
Produced by Digikore Studios and streamed on Jio Cinema, Indian Angels is billed as the world’s first angel investment show on an OTT or streaming platform.
Indian Angels follows the same format as Shark Tank, with entrepreneurs and angel investors such as Ajinkya Firodia, MD of Kinetic Group; Ankit Agrawal, founder & CEO of InsuranceDekho; Aparna Thyagarajan, cofounder of fashion brand Shobitam; Kunal Kishore, founder of PR firm Value 360; Rikant Pittie, cofounder of listed travel platform EaseMyTrip and Shreedha Singh, CEO & cofounder of The Ayurveda Co.
So far two episodes of the show have aired, and the response has been tepid and unlike Shark Tank, no viral memes have come out of Indian Angels so far.
One of the judges/investors on the show told Inc42 that there’s only so many ways that shows can experiment on the main concept popularised by Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank globally. Instead the differentiation for Indian Angels comes from the fact that the investors on the show have been working to build businesses out of the typical spotlight.
“We [Indian Angels] have the likes of Rikant [Pittie] and Ankit [Agrawal] who have built huge businesses. EaseMyTrip is a listed company already and growing in value, so in my opinion, these investors are different from what we saw on Shark Tank when it launched,” one of the six investors on Indian Angels told Inc42.
Season 3 of Shark Tank India was launched with great fanfare and a litany of high-profile investors. This year, six new guest ‘Sharks’ have been added to the show including Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal and OYO CEO Ritesh Agarwal. Besides this, the controversies surrounding Ashneer Grover and BharatPe in the first year also gave Shark Tank a big boost.
So far Indian Angels has remained relatively muted in its promotions, but it will be interesting to see whether it prefers to remain the more reserved version of Shark Tank India for too long. But JioCinema does have a wider reach than SonyLIV with 221 Mn monthly active users as of June 2023, according to reports. This could be a big advantage for Indian Angels as a platform.
Setting Unreal Expectations
Unlike Indian Angels, which follows the Shark Tank Way, Amazon Prime Video’s Mission Start Ab is taking a different route.
The show which has roped in Alia Bhatt as an ambassador hopes to follow the journeys of different entrepreneurs as they build their startups. Amazon has partnered with the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) of the Indian government to create the show, which is billed as a series “that will showcase India’s grassroots innovators as they turbo-charge their business growth”.
It will focus on the scaling-up journey of made-for-India innovations and offer entrepreneurs a series of challenges before giving them an opportunity to raise funding.
Mission Start Ab claims ambitiously that the show is a search for India’s next unicorn, even though such a thing usually takes many years and is certainly not something that happens just because a startup is being promoted on a streaming platform.
Indeed, we have seen many such shows come and go in the past, as seen in our graphic below.
According to a second Indian Angels investor, the short lifespans for reality TV shows that came before Shark Tank India is because they did not have the branding power to stay for long.
Keen observers might recall The Vault, which had a short stint on TV in 2016 or MTV Dropout which aired for a single season in 2017. Neither could sustain despite having the same model and a similar format.
The longevity of the Shark Tank brand and the localisation of Shark Tank for different geographies has garnered the show a cult following. This is something flash-in-the-pan efforts cannot hope to match, said the second Indian Angels judge we spoke to.
Who’s to say whether Indian Angels or Mission Start Ab will stay the course and compete for many years with Shark Tank India? “Ultimately, this is reality TV and here content will win. It’s not about the quality of investments or startups,” said the first Indian Angels judge.
Investors In The Spotlight
Of course, unlike Shark Tank in the US, where judges earned fame for being on TV, in India sharks were already popular in the mainstream to some degree.
The meteoric rise in Shark Tank’s popularity brought a lot of spotlight for the businesses that the judges have built. For instance, Aman Gupta, cofounder of boAt, has claimed that his appearance on the show has helped the company cut marketing costs significantly.
But at the same time, being on the show means investors run the risk of making a hasty decision that they might not otherwise make in the real world.
The camera and the editing of the pitch do seem to add some drama and pressure to the dealmaking, which might bring sentiments or emotions into the equation. Investors usually tend to take a cold hard look at businesses in the real world, as opposed to on the small screen.
“Being on the show means making a decision in an hour versus the many months it takes in real angel investing. There’s definitely some pressure and a good pitch can sway you as well. I had to force myself to not invest in some startups on Indian Angels that made a great pitch, and then we went back to these founders to discuss a potential deal again,” said the first investor we spoke to.
Of course, not all founders are happy with the way these shows cut short their pitches or edit their narratives for dramatisation, a critical part of reality TV. Other founders have bemoaned the lack of response or delay in dealmaking by ‘Sharks’, something we have covered in detail here.
Many have called Shark Tank India the TV version of funding festivals where founders are often taken for a ride or where investors disappear after making commitments. That may be a bit too harsh given that we have seen sham events like the ‘World Startup Convention’, but the commoditisation of Shark Tank can potentially bring the same risk factors to reality TV.
“Because of Shark Tank India, a lot many Indians now know what a startup is. But the show is only successful because it has done things in one way for a number of years. This consistency will be key for any show looking to become the new Shark Tank,” said a Delhi NCR-based founder who pitched on the show in season one in early 2022.
Another aspect of Shark Tank India that cannot be overlooked is the outcome beyond TRPs and viewership data. What we cannot deny is that the show has made startups a bigger part of the public consciousness and its audience gets to see one side of the entrepreneurial journey up close.
But building a startup is more than just a pitch, and that’s something that no reality TV show has so far managed to capture well.
Shark Tank India is definitely the north star for any show looking to replicate the magic. Now the question is can any other show assert its own brand identity and not just remain a Shark Tank clone.