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Hot Seat

‘We see India as one of our top five to six markets’

Keshet International (KI) CEO Alon Shtruzman, who joined the organisation in 2012, is kicked-up about the company’s prospects in Asia, in general, and in India, in particular.

Under Shtruzman, KI has entered new markets and established international offices in Mumbai, London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Mumbai, and Munich. The content distribution company has also expanded its business portfolio by entering new segments with Keshet International Gaming, Keshet Digital Studios, and Keshet Films.

In April 2017, Keshet Asia, the Hong Kong-based subsidiary of KI, expanded its footprint in the Indian market with two hires and an office opening in Mumbai.

Arpit Agarwal leads the Indian operation on the ground as director, India, and SAARC reporting to head of Asia Gary Pudney. Mihir Karlekar joined as senior sales manager, India, and SAARC. Pudney meanwhile had joined KI a year ago to drive the Asian operations.

While the company has been successfully selling formats in the country it has set itself the goal of becoming a production major in 2018 and beyond. The company is also considering producing films and licensing content to the over the top (OTT) platforms in the country.

Televisionpost.com’s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Shtruzman, who was recently on an India visit, to find out about the company’s plans, the importance of adapting to different markets, recognising local sensibilities and how he sees technological advancements shaping things in the media industry in the future.

Excerpts:

Keshet International took only a few years to rapidly scale up. How was this achieved?

In five years we have definitely managed to scale up and have a global footprint. I don’t think that there is any other TV production and distribution company that became so big so quickly. For us the driver the secret sauce has been the quality of the content.

We invest millions and millions of dollars every year in developing content. We are very proud of the quality of our IP. It is all about the quality. We have a big catalogue of shows. We have a network in Israel. So we can commission some of those shows. We invest money and resources in creating great shows and great stories. Luckily the market recognises that.

Definitely, in scripted there is no other company with such a global footprint. Shows like ‘The A Word’, ‘Homeland’ have been produced in multiple languages. The Keshet logo was on-air last year in more than 200 countries. Between ‘The A Word’, ‘Homeland’, ‘Boom!’ and ‘Rising Star’ we have huge exposure. That is because of the quality of the content. ‘Homeland’ is one of the longest-running shows in America. Shows like this ‘The A Word’ have been sold in many countries which creates a big footprint. This gives us access to broadcasters. It is about investing money in talent, resources to create great shows, ideas formats and when you have something good it sells.

What have been the key learnings for you?

When it comes to TV creation everything is local. We may speak about globalism but the content is a very local play. Even though American shows sell everywhere still in terms of viewership and ratings the local shows always outperform the foreign shows. For us, the key to creating a successful show is finding local talent that can localise the show and almost re-imagine it for the local market.

We don’t just translate the shows. We re-imagine the shows. A show like ‘Homeland’ will be different in India, America, Israel. We can create great formats but in order for them to work, you need to find great local talent and give them the freedom. We are lucky to work people like Howard Gordon who made ‘Homeland’ in America. Peter Bowker one of the most prolific British writers made ‘The A Word’. The key learning is that you need great local talent to localise a show.

Is it tough to adapt quickly to different market requirements?

Nothing is quick. It is very challenging but that is our job. So it is tough. Telling a story that will resonate with different cultures while keeping the DNA of the show, the franchise intact is tough. It is also expensive and challenging but we love it.


‘India for us is a major market. It is a mature market with a great legacy of film and television. Bollywood is an amazing industry. We see India as one of our top five to six markets

What is your USP vis-à-vis bigger companies like Fremantle and Endemol?

Creativity and innovation! Everything we do is out of the box and unique. When ‘Homeland’ came it changed American television. ‘Homeland’ was the first show that engaged cinema with television. It was the first American show with a big movie star Claire Danes. It felt so cinematic and high quality. ‘Rising Star’ was the first primetime show with live voting. ‘The A Word’ is about autism. We always think out of the box and always try to be ahead of the curve.

We create shows but we also think about the future of television. We are getting into Virtual Reality (VR), interactivity, second screen. We are always trying to be ahead of the curve and be innovative. Obviously, most of our counterparts have size. Endemol is a massive, massive organisation. It is pretty hard to compete with that size. But we like to think of ourselves as David in the David and Goliath equation. We win not because of size but because of quality, creativity, and innovation.

What are Keshet International’s plans to grow the India business?

India for us is a major market. It is a mature market with a great legacy of film and television. Bollywood is an amazing industry. We see India as one of our top five to six markets. KI has a 4% global market share of formats. I don’t see a reason why in India with such a big market, OTT platforms, and great talent we can’t become a very dominant player.

We started only a year ago and have had a big success with ‘Rising Star’, ‘Prisoners Of War’ on Star Plus which recently won another award. Star Plus ramped up the quality of production with that show. We are hoping to do other shows on that level and quality. The first step was to establish Keshet International in India. We have done a good job. Our formats that have been adapted into shows from abroad like ‘Homeland’ air here. CBS’ ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ airs in India. We made a show for NBC called ‘The Brave’ which we are about to sell in India. So you already have the Keshet logo everywhere.

The next step is to focus on doing productions and not just license formats and shows. That is why we have Arpit with us. He has experience in television productions. The mandate is to do productions in a year. Doing productions can be done independently or through a co-production. In many countries, we work with local producers.

Are you open to partnerships with Indian production houses?

Obviously, we are talking to them. It is the next milestone. We are talking to all the production companies and are looking at opportunities. 2018 is going to be the year of production for us in India. If you look at other markets that was pretty much the same roadmap in America, UK, Germany, and Mexico. The first stage was selling shows. Then we got into production.

Will you consider acquiring a local production house in India like what you did in Germany?

Absolutely! M&A is an opportunity. Arpit needs to decide the best way to grow the company. The target is to become dominant producers in India. How we do it if it is organically, through JVs remains to be seen. But the aim is to become fully fledged producers.

What would you look at before deciding to work with a production house?

We would look at local talent. Some companies might look at IP. We would look mainly for talent. It would have to be someone who can localise our formats. We operate in scripted and unscripted.

After ‘Rising Star’ and ‘Prisoners of War’ which are the upcoming shows that will be launched in the Indian market?

It’s fair to say that KI has significantly evolved both the high end scripted and talent show genres; we’ve pushed the envelope for creativity and viewer experience. ‘Rising Star’ has developed the talent show market in India, people tuned in to be part of the first-ever live voting show which was a complete evolution for the genre. It attracted and sustained an audience which may not have been part of the channel’s viewership.

Similarly ‘Prisoners of War’ has raised the bar in drama – it has modern themes and storylines which are outside of the content that viewers are used to tuning in to.

These two landmark shows have naturally opened up a lot of opportunities for us. We have upwards of 10 deals under discussion for our non-scripted and scripted formats as well as finished tape. We expect to close the first of those in the coming weeks.

Absolutely! M&A is an opportunity. The target is to become dominant producers in India. How we do it if it is organically, through JVs remains to be seen. But the aim is to become fully fledged producers’

How about entering the OTT platform in India? Are you in talks with anybody for the same?

Yes, we’re talking to all platforms and broadcasters about all of our titles. Some of the deals in the discussion are with OTT platforms, primarily for our scripted titles.

What are broadcasters looking for when you talk to them?

Everything! India just like any other market looks for anything. You have to have something for everyone. The Indian market is looking for great content. It is diverse. There are so many networks, OTT platforms. Some markets are more niche but I don’t think that India is niche. China is more restrictive. India also has some restrictions but tastes are broad. India has many platforms serving different needs. Luckily we have a very prolific portfolio. We have something for everyone.

When we go and pitch we design the pitch based on the channel. We understand a channel’s branding, positioning, and content. We look at their audience. Is it male or female or youth? We don’t come with everything. One channel might want a game show while another might want a scripted show.

Are you looking to make movies in India?

Absolutely! We don’t draw lines between the types of product. For us, it is about creating good content and telling great stories. Again whether it is a movie, TV series short form the foundation is the same. It has to be creative, interesting, funny, and emotional.

What is the challenge going to be in India?

India is a mature market with a strong legacy. I find that the Indian buyers are sophisticated and smart. They know what they want. The challenge is to establish ourselves as a local company. We have to take an Israeli company and make it Indian. India has challenges but there are other markets with more challenges and restrictions. The challenge is become local and the key is to work with local talent.

We really enjoy pitching in India because the buyers know what they want and they know how to produce. ‘Prisoners Of War’ in India was an amazing production. It is a great market with endless opportunities. Our great catalogue is a great fit for multiple outlets. India has relatively more to offer us because of talent, a lot of outlets, openness.

Everybody speaks English which makes everything easier. That is not the case in China where people speak Mandarin. The same is the case with Latin America. You need a translator when doing pitches. This makes it harder to engage, tell jokes and be personal. It becomes impersonal. But since India speaks English it is easier for us to engage with buyers and partners, go out, have a drink. It is an accessible market.

What excites you about the Indian market, unlike other Asian countries?

India is really opening up for us in a big way – as power supply reaches more and more of the country, some homes are getting TVs for the first time which means it is an incredible point to be in the market. Every form of viewership is increasing, Pay TV, Free to air, OTT, so it’s a revolution all fronts and one we want to take full advantage of as a content house full of.

What are your top markets globally?

I would say the US, UK, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, China, and India.

Asia

  • For growth, Asia is our key region
  • We are the fourth biggest exporter to Asia (according to the Content Asia formats outlook)
  • We operate across the entire Asian region, markets big and small – from the most mature to the least untapped – China to Vietnam to Mongolia – and leaving no stone unturned.

In the US

  • KI is one of the top international exporters to the US now
  • Keshet Studios’ incredible success in its first full pilot season has roused Hollywood’s attention as an “overachiever” – some reports refer to it as a “mini-major” in terms of its ability to compete with much larger Hollywood players.
  • During the 2016/17 season, Keshet Studios received one straight to series order and three pilot orders, of which two were given full-season orders.

Geographically and in diversification:

We have offices in Hong Kong and Mumbai (Keshet Asia), Mexico City (Keshet MX), Munich (Tresor Produktions), London (Keshet UK) and Los Angeles (Keshet Studios). Each of which is both developing and producing, or soon to develop and produce, content suited to the tastes of their local markets.

Is there a lot of difference in terms of audience tastes?

People speak different languages. There will be a difference in tastes. There are different sensibilities. For us India is more similar to America in a way. Both are developed markets. There are Hollywood and Bollywood. Both have a great creative industry. Our content catalogue flows smoothly. Creators love and respond to our shows.

The aim is to plug the Indian market into the global network.


‘India is a mature market with a strong legacy. I find that the Indian buyers are sophisticated and smart. They know what they want. The challenge is to establish ourselves as a local company

Are all the territories that you operate in interlinked so that sharing of resources happens?

Yes! Consolidation and integration is definitely a part of our policy. It is a two-way street. We don’t only sell shows into a market. We also sell shows from the market. The Keshet catalogue today is pretty much international. We have shows from everywhere.

I expect the Indian team to not just sell shows but to also source and develop shows. We want to bring Indian shows to the global marketplace. I am hopeful that we can find
great IP and talent in India and take them to other countries.

We want to plug the Indian market into our global network, which includes Keshet Studios in LA. This way we can offer our Indian partners closer links to Hollywood and the rest of the worldwide TV industry, the expertise and know-how of international production companies and the ability to package international projects.

You mentioned the US is a key market. Could you talk about the progress that has been made there in a market that is highly competitive and where shows are sometimes cancelled after a few episodes?

It is tough but in the last few years KI was the biggest non-American scripted seller to the US. Among the international players, nobody sold as many scripted shows as us. America is very competitive but also has so many platforms now thanks to Amazon, Netflix. The appetite for content is so big that someone with a catalogue of KI finds many opportunities. Last year America produced more than 400 new shows. For a company like KI with a very big catalogue and great IP America is a very good market.

How do you manage production costs and balancing the budgets?

You try to be efficient. Production is obviously challenging but we try to be efficient. Sometimes we lose money because we want to create a better-looking show. However, we recuperate with sales. In many cases, we have to deficit productions because it is scripted like ‘The A Word’, ‘Loaded’.

The broadcaster often gives 70% licensing fee. But you know that you can recuperate the money through sales. The ecosystem is also driven by distribution. We try to be efficient while maintaining optimum quality. In many cases, we lose money but recuperate it in sales.

Could you talk about the turnaround time for delivering TV shows?

The shows nowadays are more expensive, complicated. Producing a show is like producing a movie. The budgets for TV shows are going up and up. Amazon as an example makes shows for tens of millions of dollars an episode. It is like movie budgets.

The development process which is the first step in making a show takes time. It can take a year or three. ‘The A Word’ was in the making for three years. ‘The Brave’ took six months. So it really varies. In America, everything is very quick. You can sell shows and have it on-air in the same year. In Asia, it depends on the production. There is no standard.

Could you shed light on KI’s diversification plans?

We have recently diversified to include new verticals such as Film, Digital, and Kids divisions as well as KI Gaming which is a publisher to one of the world’s most successful new VR games, Racket Nx. It has paved the way for KI’s global ambition to develop VR game shows. KI also has a JV with Dick Clark Productions for an investment fund, KDC, which identifies and offers finance to promising Israeli start-ups.

Are you looking to acquire tech start-ups?

Absolutely! We have a fund in Israel. It is a partnership between Keshet and Dick Clark Productions in America. The fund is called KDC. We invest money in media start-ups. So far we have made four investments and one of them is a VR company. We are investing in media technology. We are looking at India as well as it is a start-up nation. There is so much technology coming out of India.