‘Scripted is one of the biggest focus areas for us’

CA Media-backed non-scripted format giant Endemol Shine India is hungry for growth. The company, which has so far produced around 6000 hours of programming with over 170 shows in 8 languages, is gearing up for the next phase of its expansion.

The production house over the years has carved a niche for itself in the non-fiction format with some of the popular shows like Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi, and MasterChef among others.

Having built a solid platform on the back of non-scripted formats, Endemol Shine India is planning to develop its scripted format for TV and digital. The company sees a scripted format business as a key whitespace in the market. It is also planning to re-enter the film business and has plans to launch 2-3 movies in 2019.

Endemol Shine India CEO Abhishek Rege spoke to TelevisionPost.com’s Swagata Panjari to talk about the company’s upcoming plans, the competition in the market, and the opportunity for production houses due to the emergence of OTT platforms.


What is Endemol Shine India’s plan for 2018-19?

The scripted format is a big opportunity in the India market. We have done scripted shows in the past but our basic problem is that we have been known for our non-scripted format. That image still exists among our clientele. We are excited about the scripted format and plan to put in a lot more focus on it.

‘Test Case’ is something we did last year with Nagesh Kukunoor and Vinay Waikul for ALTBalaji. The show has been extremely successful in terms of reviews and appreciation. We are looking at the second season of ‘Test Case’. We are looking at a couple of more developments for them as well. And the obvious client hope list is Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. That is something under development as well. Scripted, of course, is one of the biggest focus areas for us. We would also love to go back to the films by the end of the year or early next year. We are also bringing ‘Wheel of Fortune’ to the Indian market. We have acquired the format rights for the show to adapt it in Hindi as well as regional languages.

Our pitch is that we want to create a show not just for the studio audience but something that will allow overall interactivity. Our focus is to get interactive on the ground level. It is very interactive hence we thought it will work well in India.

What is your content slate for the year?

We have done a lot of MTV stuff, ‘Fear Factor’ and ‘Bigg Boss’ for that matter. We finished ‘India’s Next Superstar’, we are working on a web series. ‘Test Case’ second season is under development. By 2019, we will see our web series converting on-ground releasing through 2019. We are hoping to get in a movie or two by next year. My guess is that we will have at least two or three scripted shows on air through 2019. In addition to the regular non-scripted, our attempt is to create more interactivity with our non-scripted. The idea is that if we do our MasterChef series again then how can we merchandising of the MasterChef brand.

How can we also get more interactivity out of it in a sense that if I am on the show how will I sell the things that are available on the show to audiences who want to be part of it. The other thing we are targeting for 2019 is bringing back ‘The Biggest Loser’ which we had done for Sahara One. There is the new version that had come out in the US called Teen version. There is a demand now because there is a lot of awareness now in terms of what you eat and how you exercise. The opportunity there is that it is very sales driven so if we tie-up with a e-commerce it will be great to have the things visually and sell it off as they go on-air.

Why did Endemol Shine scale back the film production business?

We produced five films and the one reason we stopped producing films was because those films didn’t see much Box Office success and all five had been remakes. The idea is also to come up with original ideas and not just do remakes. We want to create new IPs.

Also, with the change that happened last year (Deepak Dhar’s exit), we were ensuring that everything is stepped up, everything is smooth sailing and continue as is. Therefore, we took a conscious call to take a step back from films which take a lot of time. We will hire someone to take up my older role as COO of film production business. Once things settle down, then again the focus on movie will start.

Films also require a lot of Capex?

Capex is not so much of a problem, the problem is that it has to be a financial success because what you make on TV after putting all those years of hard work can be wiped out with two movies. So you don’t want to be in that spot which is why you have to give a lot of time and effort to make it right and we would much rather be associated with the products that add value to the brand again as much as the brand pushes the product and therefore we are taking it slow and will pick up the right projects.

Internationally, Endemol Shine has a lot of scripted fiction formats? Why isn’t enough scripted formats coming out of India?

Internationally, we do have a lot of hot scripted formats like ‘Black Mirror’, ‘Hot In Cleveland’, and ‘Peaky Blinders’. The comparison to international markets also stops where they do a lot of good storytelling. Whereas, we always had to do what is required of the mass media and back to the soaps. For a broadcaster also, it is not that they don’t want to change scripts. They know what’s working and they don’t want to change that and take a risk.

As far as soap stories are concerned, when a broadcaster would want to have the same person or persons throughout the lifespan of that show. As a corporate, we or BBC or Fremantle can’t guarantee an employee forever. So the key man thing can’t happen versus a promoter-driven company where no matter what happens the promoter is responsible forever in life for that show.

So that has been the major drawbacks for all the corporates. And, Balaji for that matter has been Ekta and it stops with her. Similarly with Shashi-Sumeet, Rashmi Sharma, Sunjoy Wadhwa of Sphere Origins or Rajan Shahi for that matter. So these are all names associated with the brand and the show and they continued that way and that is what has always stopped short for us.

So we have done certain partnerships and they have been successful. We have done ‘Miley Jab Hum Tum’, ‘Geet’ in the past. We did ‘Sabki Ladli Bebo’ with Anjana Sood. So a lot of the shows have been successful and a lot of them weren’t as successful as well. So we had a mixed bag of successful and non-successful scripted experience on the soap side which people are not easily aware of.

On the finite side, we have done lots of episodes for Savdhan India, a lot of stuff for Sony’s ‘Encounter’. Our first attempt at premium scripted Yudh featuring Amitabh Bachchan didn’t work out but Test Case did. So that is something we are happy about. The fraternity is excited about ‘Sacred Games’ because everyone wanted the bigger ones to succeed irrespective of who is making it because that is when the market will open up for them.

We are also covering up on book rights. We have taken up rights of proper fiction bestsellers as well.

Endemol has built the India business on the back of non-scripted shows, why is that so?

The reason for it was simple. With non-scripted, it allows you to have entry faster, the barriers are less. Whereas in scripted you need to have a proven track record by having worked in something else. In non-scripted, you just need to have the idea if it works we make it happen. The turnaround time is shorter and the focus is better and the results are better. So the group started off with that and then it slowly started diversifying into scripted. We got into scripted globally as well South America telenovelas. Somewhere down the line, as the group started growing we started focusing on the UK scripted which has given us the large number of big ones like ‘Peaky Blinders’, ‘Black Mirror’, and ‘Hospital Right’. That was the focus on the group level as well. Similarly, in India, we didn’t want to start off with scripted immediately because we were new in the country.

When Rajesh Kamath started Endemol it was about breaking the clutter. Till that point of time, Fremantle had shut shop twice and BBC thrice, so they had come back and BBC had kept something for syndication but it was more of a liasoning office. So no one had succeeded in the market. The idea for us was to take small steps, get the foundation right and make sure that we stay in the game for the long-run. Luckily, that policy saw us through.

What kind of stories are looking at as far as scripted format is concerned?

Our belief is that primarily unless very big ideas come on the format side we would like to work on the original ideas. There are a couple of ideas which we have like The Bridge or Dutch drama series Penoza which was redone as Red Widow in the US. These are very strong stories that can be told in India again. Having said that, our focus will be to create original ideas and interpersonal drama because the screen that we are catering to is not something that is only about action.

What has worked for ‘Test Case’ is that. If you see the series it is not about army, drills or war. There is a background to it but the story is not focussed on that. The story focuses on the issue of first women going into combat role and the people around her – some trying to support her while some trying to make it worse for her. So that is the interpersonal drama and that works because as you go ahead the screens are also reducing in size. So while it’s great viewing it is also about what you can consume out of it.

Why haven’t we seen homegrown non-fiction formats emerge out of India?

I think we have seen a lot of homegrown formats but they haven’t travelled outside India. So we did a comedy reality show ‘Chhote Miyan’. The thing is, a lot of stuff that we create is only for the Indian mass audience. These shows will not be consumed by the global audience and that is where it stops short. Does that mean we should make something for the international audience, yes, but that is where the OTT platforms are going to help us because they got global reach and global audience. One thing we have to realise is that the broadcasters are mass, it is a broadcast and in that sense of the term, you are catering to SEC-B and SEC-C kind of an audience. So whenever you create programming for them it is justified that you create programming in the sense which would appeal to that audience. When you want to take a programme global, then you will automatically only try to appeal to only SEC-A. So Zee Café and Star World couldn’t make strong fiction programming because the audience is limited and you can’t spend that much money. The web platforms allow us the opportunity to create the programme, subtitle it and actually dub it and make it available in several countries.

Is the production landscape getting more competitive with the entry of new players?

So I think it is very competitive as slots are limited. Those with formats and catalogues like us Fremantle and BBC are people who have some comfort. We have Bigg Boss, Fear Factor going into the long term then there is an option of MasterChef, now these are something that will continue. Fremantle has Indian Idol, India’s Got Talent whereas BBC has Jhalak Dhikla Jaa, it has taken a break but it will come back soon enough. It will again have three to four years of longevity. Those slots are blocked and now we all are fighting for the open slots and that is how it is. Also, the competition from web platforms is hitting television broadcasters which is good news for us but there will be competition at our level again. Basically, people are gearing it up saying, ‘ok I am not talking of soap, I am saying give me a good story that will last for more than 100 episodes which are more than 20 weeks or more on air and we are good to go, lets do it and then once it is done I will get something else to replace it’. This way it is also giving fresh content to viewers ala telenovelas that were there in the South American markets over 52 one hours, this is broadly their plus minus few differences our programming has a lot of flashes and freeze faces. But this is opening up the window for more focus and finite programming which is better for viewership as well as there is a finite end.

With OTT platforms increasing their investments on original content, isn’t it the best time to be a content producer?

The opportunity is huge no doubt about it but realistically this is how three years back we all started shouting digital. I think the real time is yet to come. Even the web platforms have first chosen people with the film background to be part of the series. As the business grows, now the Netflix and all have a library but for us, platforms like ALTBalaji are the real business givers today because they have to build a library at the back end. They have to have enough programming so that when someone comes on the app it can’t be just the 12 shows that they are launching now, it has to be at least 100 shows. So, they have to build the library faster so the values would be lower or whatever but the volume will be big enough.

Why have production houses been unable to scale up their business beyond a point?

See scaling up for me is talent retention so unless you get the right talent and they are with you then it is tough to scale up. Scaling up is doing more projects, going up and doing more business but need talent that is with you to handle those. So we have been lucky that a lot of people have stayed back with us to this point which is huge because apart from Balaji no one has come closer to the mark that we have come up to. So, I think talent is most key for us to retain and scaling in different ways also mean tying up now with various talent not in a full term but on a project basis. That is something we are focusing on that single-handedly also decides your next project.

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