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International non-fiction formats and India business

MUMBAI: In the history of Indian television, the majority of reality or non-fiction content is in the form of international formats, adopted and ‘localised’ by the Hindi general entertainment channels, and in recent cases, by regional broadcasters.

Be it dance (‘Jhhalak Dikhhla Jaa’, ‘Nach Baliye’), music (‘Indian Idol’, ‘The Voice’, ‘X-Factor’), talent hunt (‘India’s Got Talent’), quiz (‘KBC’, ’10 Ka Dum’), or other genres (‘Bigg Boss’, ‘Fear Factor – Khataron Ke Khiladi’), when it comes to non-fiction, most of the channels have relied on international formats.

As it is, these shows require enormous investments, whether in terms of production, marketing, or scouting for talent/judges. Hence, these shows are more under pressure to deliver good ratings than the average TV programme.

So clearly, acquiring international formats becomes an easy bet for broadcasters as it comes with its own legacy such as learning from different markets, track record, and knowhow.

Anupama Mandloi“All these shows have the benefit of an existing successful blueprint across the globe and that makes it easier to play up the relevant cultural aspects for best results. The fact that these formats have worked globally across different markets is a clear indicator that they can be successfully adapted,” says FremantleMedia India MD Anupama Mandloi.

The production houses that own these formats are privileged to unbundle and sell the rights separately, or demand share in revenue from digital and international versions.

“Format owners typically separate their broadcast rights from their digital and ancillary rights. In some instances, the broadcast partner wants the rights, while in some they don’t,” informs BBC Worldwide senior VP and GM for India Myleeta Aga.

Creating a format, on the other hand, has its own set of challenges. But it also gives the broadcaster intellectual property (IP) rights.

Myleeta AgaOn the deals with broadcasters, Aga explains, “Usually, there is an option for two to three seasons for the format, which allows the format owner as well as the broadcaster to have a long-term view on making the format successful.”

So while the debate on home-grown versus international formats is a long one, TVP tried to analyse how the business of these international formats has evolved in India with the proliferation of channels.

What are the challenges and opportunities for producers and broadcasters? Is there scope to expand into regional and niche spaces?

First, take a look at the big four production houses that produce the majority of format shows in India.

The big four

bigg bossWhen it comes to production of international format shows, four big names—Endemol Shine India (‘Bigg Boss’, ‘Fear Factor – Khataron Ke Khiladi’, ‘The Voice’), FremantleMedia India (‘India’s Got Talent’, ‘Indian Idol’), BBC Worldwide Productions (‘Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa’, ‘Har Ghar Kuchh Kahta Hai’), and Big Synergy (‘KBC’, ‘India Poochhega – Sabse Shaana Kaun’)—ring the bells.

The first three are Indian outfits of international production houses, which sniffed opportunity in the Indian market and set up their shop here, while Siddhartha Basu-promoted Big Synergy is the only indigenous player, a leader in all kinds of quiz-based reality shows in India.

Colosceum produces ‘MasterChef India’ for Star Plus, while earlier Zodiak-owned SOL Productions had produced shows like ‘The Bachelorette India – Mere Khayalon Ki Mallika’ and ‘Nach Baliye’ (1 and 2), and Miditech produced ‘Indian Idol’, ‘Deal or No Deal’ (now Endemol), and ‘Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao’.

New GEC launches and expansion of international formats in India

indian-idolThe business of international formats has always been healthy in India. Many of the formats have made their presence felt and even if some have failed to work, most of the big ones have paid off rich dividends.

Earlier Hindi GECs used reality formats to jack up their viewership, increase sampling, and build appointment viewing. Today, non-fiction or reality content is an unavoidable part of a GEC offering.

“Broadcasters are increasing investment in these brands as they are clearly buzz creators and allow for premium advertisers to allocate spends. There is high visibility and if the season works, then it delivers bang for buck. Most of the super formats have been adapted successfully for our market place,” Mandloi avers.

kaun_banega_crorepati08Historically, Star Plus first brought ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ to India, which pushed the channel to the No. 1 spot then. Later, Sony Entertainment Television, which has tilted towards male viewership, introduced newer formats like ‘Bigg Boss’, ‘Fear Factor’ and ’10 Ka Dum’.

Cut to 2008, Viacom18 launched its Hindi GEC Colors with a disruptive scheduling strategy, where it started with ‘Fear Factor – Khataron Ke Khiladi’ and then launched ‘Bigg Boss 2’, both on weekdays. The non-fiction or reality shows, except for ‘KBC’, were earlier confined to the weekends.

While Zee TV always remained fixated on tried and tested home-grown formats, Colors and SET continued to build on international format shows.

Star Plus, meanwhile, kept experimenting with both. It created some formats like ‘Just Dance’ while also adopting ‘Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain’, ‘MasterChef India’ and ‘Survivor India’.

Dare2DanceStar India’s second GEC Life OK followed suit and brought ‘The Bachelorette’ while also creating formats like ‘Dare To Dance’ and ‘Comedy Classes’.

Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s recent launch &TV took the route followed by Colors. &TV launched with ‘Sabse Shaana Kaun’ and ‘Killer Karaoke’.

In fact, the broadcasters are ready to spend more on reality shows to tap top advertising dollars. “Advertisers always look for scale as with larger scale come more sampling and higher noise frequency and visibility,” a media buyer said.

Moreover, viewers also want extravaganza, aspirational look, feel and celebrity judges who influence and inspire.

Formats move to regional markets as well

Shahrukh Khan &TVThe non-fiction formats are universally GEC oriented and are too expensive for a niche channel. However, these are finding a new playground in the regional markets.

“We have just produced a smaller format show for Star Jalsa called ‘Bhabhyachaka’ (Celebrity Distraction) and it has done extremely well,” Mandloi adds. “The concern is largely commercial so it requires a judicious understanding of how best to creatively [in concept and production] adapt to smaller budgets.”

Incidentally, a show like ‘KBC’ has been produced already in Bangla, Marathi, Bhojpuri, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada.

Similarly, ‘Bigg Boss’ has seen versions in Bangla and Kannada.

However, as Mandloi puts in, some shows are very difficult to make for regional channels. “Shows like ‘Got Talent’ and ‘Idol’ need certain scale and grandeur, which could make the show unviable for the channel. The success of one show will open doors for more business, so we are not in a hurry. We pride ourselves in our brands and will wait for the right time.”

Way forward

If the format owners keep themselves confined to the Hindi GECs, there will be stagnation and achieving scale will be difficult. These production houses are producing the shows on an 8–10 per cent margin.

So what could be the way forward? Regional is not the only answer as a show like ‘Bigg Boss’ did not see a second season in Bengal. Similarly, Colors Kannada (then ETV Kannada), despite huge success, did not find the format viable for the Kannada market. Though the show was picked up by Suvarna TV, it raised the question of viability on regional channels.

“Some markets are not big enough for big shows. One way could be that a big network take the format across three or four markets and amortise the cost,” a senior production executive said.

Another big area is moving into the digital space. FremantleMedia India developed a format called ‘India’s Digital Superstar’ and is in talks with three more countries for syndication.

Moreover, with OTT players like Hotstar, Sony Liv and Ditto TV looking for original content and Netflix planning India entry, it is not a distant future when production houses might look at digital as a lucrative business proposition.