We want to make India and rest of Asia as a content hub’ #DeepakDhar (#TelevisionPost)


We want to make India and rest of Asia as a content hub’ After transforming Endemol India as a 360-degree content creation company, media veteranDeepak Dhar has embarked on a new journey. However, his new stint will be different from the previous ones as Dhar has entered into an equity partnership with Banijay Group. Under the partnership, Dhar will help the company expand into India and South East Asia as the Banijay Asia founder and CEO. The content company will produce scripted and non-scripted content across multiple genres including digital and films. In his first interview after taking over as the Banijay Asia founder and CEO, Dhar spoke to TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto about the company’s game plan for India and South East Asia and the opportunities that exist in these markets. Excerpts: How did the idea of forming a JV with the Banijay Group come about? These are exciting times to be in the content business considering what is happening in the broadcast, OTT, and the film space. That is where the discussion started to set up something that was a 50:50 JV between me and the Banijay Group to set up a production studio which will cater to content for broadcast, OTT platforms, film for India and the Asian region as well. The idea was to set up a content studio for the region. What is the opportunity that you see in India? The opportunity in the past has been really on the broadcast side. But now given that the OTT side has really woken up to a lot of exciting content I thought that this was the best time to set up a creative studio. The opportunity is that from five clients a year and a half ago there are now 10 clients between broadcast and OTT. It has doubled up as an opportunity. What is important to note as well is that there are all kinds of content. There is premium big budget content that is being created. There is mid-level content also being created and also the entry level content. The good thing is that one is seeing a good amount of traction in all the three areas. There is enough work to be done in all these areas. It is all about telling the right stories with the right people for the right partners. Isn’t the Indian market overcrowded with too many production houses? The statement that India has a lot of production houses is right but we are a creative studio, a creative kitchen where we have the right chefs, tools, ingredients to create the right IPs, shows, and storylines with the right talent. Our differentiation is that. The aim is to be the right partner for clients. What is the investment being made in this venture and what goals have been set for the JV? The investments are in proportion to what the market demands in India and Asia. I can’t put out a specific number to it but we have a very strong and aggressive development strategy which is really bringing in big formats from the Banijay Group into the country and also create local formats, IPs, stories which would be of great value to our partners in the broadcast and OTT space and also internationally. Our short-term objective is to be a creative all-round studio and the long-term objective is to really scale and make India and the region as an epicentre across the globe for a lot of content solutions, getting the right people, partners. We want to make India and the rest of the Asian region as a content hub. What are some of the formats from the Banijay Group that you feel would resonate here? Well, there is ‘Survivor’, ‘Temptation Island’, ‘Occupied’. There is ‘Date Night’ a dating reality format. The format library is extremely rich and has not been explored or exploited too much in this country. The idea was to pick the catalogue and Indianise it for our partners. Have you set-up the operations in India? Yes! We are already a team of 15 creative producers who are genre specialists who have come on-board. We have already got a whole lot of commissions that we are getting into productions with. Besides India which are the other markets that you are looking at? We are looking at Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vietnam. Southeast Asia will be the first immediate priority. Some of the markets like Vietnam, Indonesia are similar because some of our biggest soaps, reality shows have travelled there. Indian content resonates very well there. Also, a lot of English language content is being produced out of Singapore. So the idea is to start moving in those directions. When you look at the formats business in India what trends are we seeing? Being a young country with half the population below the age of 25-27 years there is a lot of traction for reality content. There is traction for disruptive, differentiated content. Any storyline, format that has the potential to disrupt always attracts attention in our ecosystem. I have been associated with some of the most disruptive formats as a creative and an executive producer since my early days like ‘Popstars’, ‘Laughter Challenge’, ‘Bigg Boss’, and ‘Khatron Ki Khiladi’. I have been the executive and creative producer of all the seasons of all these shows. Bringing in any show that has the potential to disrupt always finds some good takers and traction. Will the JV give equal importance to the three screens of film, TV and digital? Absolutely! That is the plan. We are not going to be slotted as a producer for only one medium. For us, it is about finding the right story, talent and then finding the right screen. What is needed for a new show to stand out? For a new show to stand out, the format and the man behind the format is the key. These are two very strong things that I look for before embarking on creating any franchise in the country. Behind ‘Big Brother’ and the other shows there was an executive and creative producer. At the time of ‘Popstars’, the music reality shows were not getting traction but we made it work. It is about the format and the man behind the format who can take the format to the next level. What role do celebrities play in making a show popular? They do a play a role but it is not always necessary. It has to lend itself to the right story or to the right format. It is not that you can just get a big star or a big celebrity and automatically everything is sorted. We have seen lots of examples of how shows worked or did not. For me, the two important things are the format and who the executive producer is. Will you retain IP for the projects that you will undertake? Those are discussions that we will have shortly with partners. The business model is of a certain kind and we have to respect that. But as and when we get into discussions we will evaluate it. What is the strategy to create local IPs? We are working on a couple of projects where we know that the appeal for the story or format is far more global. The idea is to push those into the international development pipeline. Are scripted shows going to be a focus area? Absolutely! The first few things in the pipeline are scripted shows for broadcast and OTT. Content is being created for all screens. The mobile phone is the closest screen that you can create content for. We are creating good, original, scripted shows for the OTT players as well. Will you look at creating content for kids? There is a good opportunity in that area but our kids already watch a lot of foreign content. They are addicted to that. They are used to that size, scale and those kinds of storylines. When we create content for kids it has to be similar in terms of size, scale, and compelling storylines. I, however, recognise that kids content is an opportunity that is a little underserved. Isn’t scalability a major issue for production houses? I have demonstrated in my previous tenure that scalability is not an issue. If you limit yourself to one genre then scalability is an issue. But I have served as an executive and creative producer for a lot of different genres. We have a team that is catered to scale in the next few years. What is game plan as far as film production is concerned? We are looking at compelling stories and storylines with great creative talent housed under a great commercial structure. It is a combination of good idea, great creative talent and the right commercial price point. You have to tick these three boxes. We are in the process of greenlighting two films. Are we going to see a narrowing of windows between theatrical, OTT and broadcast? With more players entering, the lines are shrinking. I see a lot of disruption happening and it is good for content creators. What is the opportunity that you see in the regional language space? India is and has been a sub-continent of different cultures, states like Europe. I identified that years ago and created content in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bangla, and Marathi. This is a big opportunity and I see maximum traction with big formats going into those markets, better storylines and bigger talent coming down to the channels to tell the stories. This is one area that we are focussing heavily on. Is there more flexibility in creating digital content when it comes to budgeting? It is not just about the budget but the fact that the vocabulary itself has changed. Instead of 300 episodes, you can tell a story in 10 episodes. Shows do not have to be of a certain grammar where it needs to be 47 or 48 minutes. The episode can be of any length 24 or 30 minutes. It all stems from the writing and the script. That is very heartening to see.

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