‘Banijay Asia’s aim is to build franchises and not just produce shows’
Deepak Dhar’s Banijay Asia has made significant progress ever since it launched in India about 1.5 years ago. Banijay Asia executed 20 shows in 2018 and currently has six shows on-air. The content studio is gung-ho about both TV and over the top (OTT) business. Tomorrow it will launch a reality show for Myntra featuring Sonakshi Sinha.
TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Banijay Asia founder and CEO Deepak Dhar to talk about the company’s journey so far and the plans going ahead.
What progress has Banijay Asia made since launching last year?
Currently, we have six shows on-air. We have done 20 shows so far in the past year including ‘Kapil Sharma Show’ for Sony, ‘Roar Of The Lion’ for Hotstar, ‘Hostages’ for Applause Entertainment and Hotstar. On ZEE5, we produced a Ruskin Bond series. We are producing ‘Nach Baliye’ for Star Plus right now. For YouTube, we did a show with A.R. Rahman called ‘ARRived’. Down south, we have produced bunch of shows for Star Maa and Star Vijay. The aim is to build franchises and not just produce shows.
What is the plan to scale up?
The plan right now is very diversified both from a linear, broadcast point of view and from the OTT side of the game. Our portfolio is very diverse and balanced. We are in phase one of scaling up where we have built a production studio that can deliver to both platforms.
Which are the genres where you see a whitespace?
Opportunities exist in crime and investigation which will be over consumed. I see a lot of those kinds of stories being told. That is one place where a lot of stories will be told. But I also see opportunities in horror, relationships and drama. These genres are opening up as well.
When you talk to broadcasters what are they looking for?
Everybody is looking at the next big idea and a different idea. They are all in the middle of the fact that the content landscape is evolving. In broadcast a great amount of growth is still available. On the OTT side rapid changes are happening. The phone is the closest device to a viewer and so much content is being consumed. You can chose your content and watch it at once or in bits and pieces. This represents a great opportunity to create more content going forward.
Disruption is important for you. What qualities must a show possess to be disruptive?
If it is in the OTT space the quality that it needs to have is whether the storyline has the legs to be consumed by the viewer in one or two or three nights. You need to be able to go from the first to third episode rapidly and from six to 10 really quickly in one night. Does the show offer that possibility for viewers to really consume content in that manner? Are the characters sticky enough? Are the storylines disruptive enough?
The size and scale of the production needs to be captive enough to immerse viewers into the narrative or the story universe. So it is important to see that most of these factors are available and it is also important to see who the story narrator, storyteller is. The writer, director needs to be someone who has command of that genre.
How does your new fashion show with Sonakshi Sinha disrupt?
It disrupts because nothing has really happened in the fashion reality space in India. Most shows have happened in the singing, dancing and comedy spaces. This is a first of its kind show and we wanted a destination that is known for its fashion. Myntra gave us the opportunity to work on this concept along with Wavemaker. We wanted Sonakshi to become the face of this because with her appeal she takes this across not just the niche but the mass audiences as well.
Did you look at formats like ‘Next Top Model’ for inspiration?
No! We did not look at formats. It is a new idea. Fashion influencer in itself is a concept that has not been explored and we wanted to be the first ones to explore it. I personally believe that we must break new ground in content. That is what we have done. This is what we did with ‘Roar of the Lion’ which was a docu drama in the sports space. We did the same thing with A.R. Rahman for a show called ‘ARRived’ on YouTube. We constantly look for that one idea that can push the envelope and be the first one to do so.
How does the fashion show work?
It is a fashion reality show looking at fashion influencers. It is a format that our team built here in conjunction with Myntra and Wavemaker who are partners in the project.
You have a deal with Dhoni Entertainment. What potential do you see for sports content beyond live sports?
In and around live sports there is a requirement for a lot of sports programming. ‘Roar of the Lion’ was a classic example of using a mega sports superstar like Dhoni and create content with him. In and around sports tournaments people look for sports content. The lines are really blurring between sports and entertainment thanks to the IPL and other leagues.
What can we expect going forward from Banijay Asia in the sports genre?
You will hear from us soon. Around next year’s IPL, there will be new ideas and formats. We will focus on big superstars. We are also looking at non-cricket as well. The genres will be varied from documentaries, a reality show and maybe even a scripted series. Sports based storylines are very popular and it happens on film every now and then.
From a P&L perspective, what is the challenge?
I do not look at it as a challenge. I look at it as an opportunity. The economic slowdown has not yet impacted us and I see a lot of people consuming content.
Typically how long does it take to put a show on-air?
The cycle could be anywhere from nine to 12 months in the OTT space and maybe four to six months in the broadcast space. The maximum time and attention goes to the script, character development and narrative. I think that a lot of people respect that. They understand the time it takes to set things up.
Are platforms more flexible in terms of budgets?
Everybody is aware of the fact that if an idea needs to be mounted at a certain size and scale then people have to be given the right resources. That is how you achieve the right size and scale. On OTT and television people are now used to a certain size and scale.
Does digital give you more opportunities to innovate?
Not really! Both sides of the business are equally exciting and you can still innovate a lot on broadcast television. OTT is opening the door to different genres. But having said that relationship, drama and reality shows on television keep giving you the opportunity to push the envelope.
How has the deal with Talpa Media allowed you to broaden your format portfolio?
We have the Banijay Asia and Talpa catalogue. We look forward to building a relationship with both these format owners. We have got ‘The Voice’, and ‘Divided’ from Talpa for Star. We produced ‘Dating in the Dark’ for MTV. Shows come in from different catalogues.
How has the experience been working with A.R Rahman?
Fantastic! He is a legend. It is great to bring him onto some of the content that we are developing.
How important is it to have a striking personality when it comes to non-fiction content?
More than a striking personality it needs to be about a storyline. It needs to have one sharp story of a few people guiding the narrative be it a singing or a hardcore reality show. I would look for two to three little things that would drive the narrative when doing a reality show. It could be characters, emotions, humour, and drama. What are those few things that will propel the narrative forward? Of course, a big personality is always a good push that is needed but finally you need lots of different legs in a show.
With ‘Myntra Fashion Superstar’ it will be about the characters, where these people come from, who they are and what is a fashion influencer as a concept and phenomenon. Of course Sonakshi will drive it in terms of the narrative, appeal and make it wide as well.
In a market where there a lot of singing and dance based reality shows what makes the Armoza format ‘The Four’ standout?
It stands out because it is not just a music competition show. It is more about getting an established talent and the fact that a lot of people get to challenge those four. It is not about finding a new singer. It is about challenging the four. I see ‘The Four’ being more a challenger music reality format as opposed to a talent reality format. The grain of the show is a little different from ‘The Voice’.
What role does technology play in content?
The lines are blurring between content and technology constantly. Newer technologies are being embraced by content creators and producers. Now either the content needs to be interactive or there needs to be some amount of play along where viewer generated controls are needed in the content.
Could you talk about the opportunity in the regional space?
In my previous innings (at Endemol) I used to produce a lot of content and at the time people would wonder why there was the need to travel down South to create content. But I saw the opportunity slightly ahead where we could build a lot of franchises. There is a big opportunity there on television and also for regionalized, local storylines on OTT. People now want to look at Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali content on OTT. These pieces are really waking and this is a great opportunity for content creators.
We have produced shows like ‘Divided’ for Star Vijay. We have produced one show for Star Telugu. We are bringing in formats both fiction and nonfiction that are going down to these markets. We constantly look at innovating the game there. It is possible to sit with like-minded partners and bring in some big ideas to the discussions.
How has content consumption preferences evolved over the past three years?
They have evolved in a bunch of ways. One is the fact that the youth watch a lot of content on devices. Also the fact is that the mass audiences are not only consuming content on television but also consume a lot of content on OTT. It is a very balanced approach still.
What is the approach to content when it comes to your GroupM partnership?
We create content for television stations and for big OTT platforms. We wanted to create content directly for brands as well. That is where the genesis of the idea and the partnership lies where we are creating both scripted and unscripted show directly for the brand. ‘Myntra Fashion Superstar’ is a one of its kind idea and we will push a lot of these ideas going forward. You dabble with ideas that you are used to and not used to. For me it needs to have right characters and the right set of emotions. The aim is to create content that the brand believes in. I am not just putting in a brand’s message in a show. The brands are my partners. It is not a normal integration.
Myntra has a happy marriage with Fashion Superstar. Myntra is the destination for all fashion trends. This show is the first of its kind in the content business. This becomes a very organic match. I see two more shows coming out very soon. I see this developing into a very busy pipeline going forward.
Will this become a complement to traditional advertising?
I see this already happening. This is not something that will happen in the future. Traditional advertising is about how much visibility a brands has. What we are doing is creating IPs for brands where content solutions are created. This is not having one’s ad being seen a certain amount of times. This is about creating an IP driven business for brands.
Is the deal with Salman Khan about collaboration?
Absolutely! Again it is about creating IP solutions with personalities, brands. We produced the ‘Kapil Sharma Show’, and ‘Nach Baliye’. Scripted shows will come from here as well.
Is retaining IP important?
These are discussions that we have with our partners and we pick and choose. It depends on the project. IPs like ‘Myntra Fashion Superstar’ is with the partner. IP is important but we are not fussy about IP ownership.
When you look at scripted is the aim to be more new age and move away from some of the things that have been done in the past?
For me it is about the character and his/her emotions. That could be in the realm of the usual or not so usual. We get excited about great characters and different storylines.
There is a lot of talk about whether India will be an ‘and’ or an ‘or’ market when it comes to TV and OTT. What is your take?
I think that it will remain an and market for a long, long time. There are markets where there are no TVs. TV penetration can go deeper and deeper. Some areas do not have electricity. Those areas will get electricity and then TV sets. Then content needs to be created for them. There is a lot more growth left for the broadcast side of the business.
Would you look at having your own OTT platform or are you happy to just be a content provider?
When everybody goes to war the best thing is to be an ammunition supplier. Why jump into the war?