TVs new storytellers

Written by Pritha Mitra Dasgupta | Updated: Feb 23 2010, 23:24pm hrs
Next time you are watching your favourite television programme on one of the Hindi general entertainment channels (GEC) watch out for the credit rolls. Chances are that you will see the name of a new production house flashing on the screen. In the last couple of years, the market has opened up for newbie television production companies.

Some of them may have been around for a while but are only now making waves with their big-ticket shows. For instance, production house Sphere Origins which made TV soaps such as Des Mein Nikla Hoga Chand and Saat Phere, but never hogged the limelight in the past, has now grabbed the headlines for its show Balika Vadhu on Viacom 18s GEC channel Colors.

Then again, there are some who have made the leap from non-fiction to fiction or are for the first time trying their hands at a reality show. Siddhartha Basu-headed Big Synergy, formed after Synergy Communications tied up with Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Groups (R-ADAG) Adlabs Films, and known for non-fiction shows such as Aap Ki Kacheri and Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain on Star Plus, and Dus Ka Dum on Sony is now trying to make its mark in the fiction genre.

Then there are others. Sol Production came to the fore with its non-fiction unique reality show Rakhi Ka Swayambar on NDTV Imagine and is now making Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayega for the same broadcaster. Shakuntalam Telefilms that made Banu Mein Teri Dulhan for Zee TV has now caught viewers fancy with Na Aana Is Des Laado on Colors and has just launched Devi on NDTV Imagine. Dheeraj Kumars Creative Eye is on a high with its show Yeh Pyaar Na Hoga Kam for Colors. Also, Reshmi Sharma Telefilms that produced Raja Ki Ayegi Barat for Star Plus is now making a successful fiction show called Palkon Ki Chaon Mein for NDTV Imagine. And finally theres Fox Television Studios India that has launched an Indian format of the international game show National Bingo Night.

The credit for the expansion of the TV production space perhaps goes to Colors which allowed not-so well-known names to showcase their talent on prime-time television for the first time.

Its successful debut in 2008 with Balika Vadhu ended the reign of expensive content companies such as Balaji Telefilms, Sagar Productions, Cinevista and BAG Films that ruled prime-time programming earlier. Soon, other GEC channels followed, ready to take on board a whole tribe of relatively untested, young producers.

Says Abdul Kareem, senior supervising producer, Sphere Origins, We have always wanted to work on issue based stories but there were no takers. It was difficult to convince broadcasters. However, going forward with the success of Balika Vadhu we will be exploring issue based stories.

The production house also has Jyoti airing on NDTV Imagine where it is the forerunner. While the company has never tried its hands in the non-fiction genre, Kareem says, In 2010, we will be producing one non-fiction show. The company also believes, with new players coming in, the quality of shows will only go up.

Agrees a senior official from a broadcasting company who did not want to be named said, The surge in number of production house has increased our options that we can provide to audiences. Earlier, when there were just one or two companies we had no choice but to telecast their shows even if the production quality was low or ratings were not coming in. But now because of increase in competition that monopolistic attitude of production companies is gone and they are more serious about delivering good quality content. We can simply replace a show overnight if they fail to deliver ratings.

Today, Star Plus has Bidaai and Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai produced by newcomer Rajan Sahi's content house Director's Kut while Aagle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo on Zee TV is from Swastik Pictures. Again, Sunshine Productions made 12/24 Karol Bagh for Zee TV not in the production hub of Mumbai but in the outskirts of Delhi. Playtime Creations, promoted by actor Hemal Thakkar along with Bollywood star Paresh Raval and Anand Mundra in 1999, which had earlier made Jeevan Saathi for Colors now has its second serial Laagi Tujse Lagan on air.

But it isnt just small time producers that are enjoying the arclights. The television programming business has become so lucrative now that recently veteran Bollywood filmmaker and owner of Yashraj Films, Yash Chopra started a TV production company Yash Raj Films Television. Spearheaded by his son Aditya Chopra, the subsidiary launched five off its flagship properties, Powder, Mahi Way,, Lift Kara De and Seven on Multi Screen Media (MSM) owned Hindi general entertainment channel Sony.

IndusInd Media and Communications, Hinduja Ventures' media subsidiary company, has recently transferred its content business into a separate entity. With the demerger, cable movie channel CVO, cable shopping network Shop24Seven and movie licensing through Cablemaster will be housed inside IN Entertainment. Engaged in content development, financing and production, IN Entertainment plans to invest Rs 2.5 billion over the next three years. There also have been reports that the Aditya Birla Group may soon venture into the television production business.

Over the years our well-wishers have empowered us to try different things. And this has encouraged us to launch YRF TV, which seemed like a natural progression in our growth," says Yash Chopra. "There is always demand for good content and we are confident that our programming will be able to explore this space."

Another company that is making history in the television production space is Fox Television Studios India. Fox Television Studios is the TV production unit of News Corps Fox Entertainment Group, and is a leading producer of TV shows globally, alongside companies such as Mediaset-controlled Endemol and Bertelsmann AGs Fremantle Media. Endemol has had a good run in India, with shows such as Bigg Boss and Fear FactorKhatron Ki Khiladi, while Fremantle recently announced that it plans to foray into India. Fox TV was initially a joint venture between Fox Studios and Star Entertainment and the JV was christened as Fox Star Studio. However, the JV did not work out and Fox TV is now an independent venture.

The company has recently launched its first reality showNational Bingo Night on Colors. Also, it is the first time that the show has got a celebrity as its host and consequently Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan made his television debut with this show. And the show has hit a jackpot.

According to television ratings agency TAM, the show opened with a rating of 5.1, which is the highest ever for any celebrity driven reality show. For example, Bigg Boss 3 on Colors which had Amitabh Bachchan as its host opened with a TV rating of 4.6. Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain on Star Plus which was hosted by Shah Rukh Khan had opened with a TV rating of 4.6. And Khatron Ke Khiladi 2 on Colors hosted by Akshay Kumar had opened with 4.4 television rating.

We are trying to get all our international creative wisdom to India. At some stage we would like to bring all our international formats to India, although I dont think we have enough slots to get everything in, says Nachiket Pantvaidya, managing director, Fox TV. But what is more important is to develop an approach to localize the show. And we want to work very closely with the channels, in this case Colors, to ensure that National Bingo Night suits their needs.

So, whats triggering this desire to test the waters in the Indian television production business According to the 2009 KPMG-Ficci report, television accounts for the largest chunk of the Indian media and entertainment industry and is expected to grow to $9.45 billion in 2013 from $4.81 billion in 2008. The report also predicts that till 2013 the sector will witness a compounded annual growth rate of minimum 12%. The average cost of producing per episode of a fiction show could be anywhere between Rs 6-10 lakh and is sold at a 10% mark-up. Similarly, for non-fiction shows the production cost per episode could be anywhere between Rs 40-50 lakh and is sold at a 10% mark-up.

The official from the broadcast company, who did not want to be named, predicted that the next wave of growth would be coming from small towns and cities where a number of small production companies have come up. They produce good quality content and because they operate out of smaller regions their production cost is also much lesser. Therefore, for us buying their content can be cost effective.

Interestingly, while YRF TV started with five shows and Fox TV started with one, both the companies believe in working with one broadcaster at a time. A format earlier adopted by Star Plus and television production company Balaji Telefilms but which has now been discarded.

Says the YRF TV spokesperson, For this venture into television, MSM has shown great confidence in backing us in what we believed in, even with what we consider is non-conformist and entirely different content.

Pantvaidya says, We want to concentrate on one show at a time. Maybe after a year we will have the bandwidth to do multiple shows with multiple partners. As a strategic focus we are looking at creating shows which will suit Indian taste buds, include a lot of interactivity and creating shows which are simple. These are the three main points in terms of show format that we are currently working on. On the fiction show front we have to do a lot more reworking on the international formats. And sometimes we will also originate our own concepts.

But Ekta Kapoor, joint managing director, Balaji Telefims, which had started this trend, says, I am not looking at that model and I dont think Balaji will ever get into exclusive content sharing deal with broadcaster anymore. Because it just restricts you from growth and ties you down. Working with multiple broadcasters is safer and helps you maintain a healthy relationship.

Concurs Deepak Dhar, managing director, Endemol India. We have always believed in working with multiple broadcasters and that where the opportunities lies. Be it regressive or progressive shows, daily soaps, drama, reality, creating original content, etc., is what keeps you going.

The veterans are now looking at recreating themselves. Endemol is eyeing its next growth phase from regional content. Says Dhar, 2008 was a year for news channels, 2009 was for general entertainment channels and my estimation is 2010 will be a year for regional channels.

Endemol has already forayed into the regional space with its show Deal Ya No Deal for the southern markets and is eyeing the fiction space. While non-fiction is a 100-metre sprint, fiction is the marathon. So we need to be a specialist in both," says Dhar.

But Kapoor of Balaji that has never produced any non-fiction show, says that non-fiction does not have the kind of market it had earlier. There is a marginal diminishing hunger for reality shows. Broadcasters will never increase the number of programming hours for non-fiction because fiction will always remain the staple diet.

One of the oldest television production companies, Miditech, however, is ready to experiment. Niret Alva, chairman, Miditech says, Miditech is spending more time in development, and growing each of the verticals more aggressively. No other production house simultaneously straddles reality, fiction, documentaries, kids, animation, regional and line production. No other production house is the first port of call for formats never done before, shows that involve tough logistics, outside the studio, unpredictability and massive scale.

But does the Indian market have enough bandwidth for so many players Says Dhar, "There will be healthy competition. But, while on one hand this is a lucrative business one needs to be a specialist in this. And only those will survive till the end.

Kapoor, who has seen the market move from a monopolistic one to that of many producers, has the last word on this, Audience tastes have changed and more than that TV has become more rural with the growth of cable and satellite in these areas. If you are popular making a certain kind of content it does not mean you cannot make any other type of show. Its about catering to a new taste and giving ourselves a new challenge.

Balaji itself has confronted these challenges and has come up with shows such as Pavitra Rishta and Bairi Piya to cater to changing sensibilities. The only way we can create a different identity for ourselves is by giving out the best. It will only prove that you have been able to break away from your old mould and create a new mould, says Kapoor.