‘We see a lot of opportunities to create content in India with new business models’

2018 has been a busy year for the BBC in India. It merged BBC Studios and BBC Worldwide to form a single commercial organisation called BBC Studios. The aim is to maximise resources. In India, there are several focus areas including producing shows and selling homegrown British content to broadcasters like Zee.

TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto caught up with BBC Studios senior VP, GM South, South East Asia Myleeta Aga to find out more about the company’s strategy for the Indian market.

Excerpts:

This year BBC Worldwide merged with BBC Studios to create one entity. What prompted that move?

The merger of BBC Worldwide and BBC Studios was announced to bring content creation and distribution together and ensure the creative and commercial success in the long run. BBC Studios builds on the unique heritage and global success of both organisations, with British creativity and outstanding content at the heart of the company. The new BBC Studios sees content through the full cycle of development, commissioning, production and co-production, sales and distribution and underpins the creative of new BBC-owned IP.

What impact did this move have on the India operations?

The merger has strengthened the India operations. The merged BBC Studios brings together UK’s most awarded production business, a world-class content sales business, our unique portfolio of brands, and a network of premium indie partners to create and export quality British programmes in this age of content.

In terms of being a priority market and the volume of business growth being seen, is India a top three in the Asia Pacific?

India is absolutely a key market for us. Asia has huge growth potential for us. We are in a good position here because we have got channels, branded services, production and licensing, all of which are growing year on year. China is already a very big market for us. We have multiple content partnerships there. We also have successful branded services in Southeast Asia.

We see a huge opportunity in India’s large population that is increasingly becoming more affluent and are hungry for international content. The traction our content and brands is achieving in India is very encouraging and exciting. We have only just begun to explore the fandom and potential for BBC brands and franchises in India and South-East Asia.

In 2019 what are the focus areas going to be to grow the business in the country?

We will be strengthening our production line-up for OTT platforms. We have also started local, regional and global productions for both digital and linear television. We see a lot of opportunities to create content in India with new business models. These models bring brands, content creators and platforms together in order to address the changing audience needs. We also see a lot of growth in kids content and will be exploring partnerships for our preschool brand, CBeebies.

In an increasingly competitive media landscape, what is going to be the biggest challenge?

Content has been and will always be the king. The industry is changing dramatically, with people consuming content on all kinds of devices. We needed to understand the consumer much better than we did before. If the content is underwhelming, and content that does not connect, it’s a battle you have lost. We need to create quality content which is relatable to them and deliver the premium content in ways that they are consuming it.

This year how many shows did BBC Studios produce and next year what is the target?

Among the highlights, we have produced Indian versions of BBC formats, ‘Criminal Justice’ and ‘The Office’ for Applause Entertainment. This will be a digital series. We’ve also produced ‘Elevator Pitch’ for MTV, ‘Zindagi U-turn’ for Zing, branded content ‘Castrol Garage Guru – The Super Mechanic Show’ for Zee Anmol, a Nepali version of BBC format, ‘Dancing With The Stars’ for Nepal Television and ‘Shriman Shrimati’ for Sony Sab. This year also marks BBC Studios India’s first international production of ‘Stupid Man Smart Phone’ for a terrestrial channel in Singapore and ‘Got Science’ for the pay TV channel, BBC Earth in Asia.

We are looking at creating more local and regional content for OTT platforms as well as linear TV in 2019. We are working on some scripts but it’s too early to talk about it.

This year BBC Studios partnered with Applause Entertainment to adapt ‘Criminal Justice’ and ‘The Office’. How much work goes into seeing that adaptations fit the cultural sensitivity of the country?

Stories are universal, and they resonate equally well when adapted to the culture of a different country through the lenses of a local writer with a local actor, a local director, and producer. We maintain the DNA of the shows and localise for it to resonate with the Indian audiences. We have worked quite a bit on giving the writers more time and opportunity to hone the story and the characters for the actors to work together.

How will you leverage regional in 2019?

Producing regional content is one of our key focus areas in 2019. We are looking at building some partnerships, however, it’s too early talk about it. For us, regional includes South Asian countries with an increasing appetite for global and Indian content.

Is creating IP in India which can be exported to other markets a focus area?

The integration of BBC productions with our content distribution business has enabled us to join up much more closely with our counterparts and colleagues making shows across the world, particularly in the UK. No doubt as a production house with access to skills and compatibility in so many countries, we will be able to produce content that travels – from a creative, production scale and audience POV.

In terms of selling British content what growth was seen this year in terms of the number of hours sold and a number of partnerships?

We’ve had some successful partnerships this year. Our JV channel, Sony BBC Earth has, in less than 12 months of its launch, is consistently the top general entertainment channel in six metros here. It was also recently recognised with four awards at PROMAXBDA Asia 2018.

Our BBC First programme block on Zee Café also received a positive response from the viewers and are currently looking at exploring more opportunities with premium British drama with them. And we are currently exploring partnerships for our preschool brand, CBeebies. We are pleased with 2018 and are looking forward to 2019.

Will you be fine-tuning your content distribution strategy next year?

BBC Studios is a content company, not just a channel, a distribution or a production business. This allows us to have a number of different routes to market. Our strategy has always been to bring high-quality content from the UK or create high-quality content in local markets and license it out to audiences regardless of channels or digital platforms.

We will continue to leverage the capabilities of our production house as creator and adaptor of quality content to take our business to the next level. We are looking at creating more local and regional content for OTT platforms as well as linear TV in 2019. We are working on some scripts but it’s too early to talk about them.

The English movie and entertainment genre is going through a challenging phase due to competition from OTT? What do you think is the future of the two genres on TV?

All mediums evolve and new ones are cropping up all the time. I don’t believe that any medium is going to become irrelevant. For instance, when television came in, everyone thought radio would die. That didn’t happen; instead, it adapted and found new audiences and content.

So, I certainly don’t think broadcast will become redundant – even from a revenue perspective. What we are seeing is the creation of new formats and innovative content and delivery ecosystems in which there are new platforms, which in turn are reinvigorating the older ones. One example of this is Netflix releasing digital films in theatres in the US and another, Comcast set to broadcast Amazon Prime on its cable channels. Ultimately, audiences are seeking quality content on the platforms they are on, as and when it’s convenient for them.

When you talk with Indian broadcasters for doing deals what do they look for? Is content exclusivity the biggest draw when it comes to content acquisition?

The definition of content exclusivity has changed with the onset of OTT platforms. Rights requirements are complex, windowing strategies have changed and so each deal is different, depending on the audience, content and monetisation model of the broadcasters.

How does India’s liking of British content compare with other Asian markets like Singapore, Malaysia?

People want well-told stories, relatable characters, and surprises. You can do it with a one-hour drama or a two-hour TV event, even a two-second digital piece. If you have the ability to tell a good story, you will find an audience wherever you go. That is our experience in SEA and the rest of Asia as well. Malaysia and Singapore have a greater affinity with the BBC brand. But that is just the starting point. Content, be it BBC Earth, CBeebies or BBC First has to resonate, regardless of whether it’s British or not.

While it is a smaller part of your business, what is the future for branded content?

Advertiser funded programmes (AFPs) are a very interesting way for brands to connect with their audiences, but that is just the start up point. It allows the viewer to skip advertising, record their content and skip the advertisements. Therefore, brands have to relook how they deliver their brand to their audiences, and how they communicate their brand to them. I think producers like us are at an excellent position to do that.

Firstly, as a big brand, we understand brand requirements and we know how to take a story and put it together with the brand so that it becomes more seamless. We did three seasons of ‘Har Ghar Kucch Kehta Hai’, which really worked for the brand (Asian Paints) without putting a single can of paint in a single frame across seasons. We’ve also done shows like ‘Stupid Man Smart Phone’ (presented by Vodafone and powered by Motorola) and ‘I Can You Can’ in partnership with Nicotex and most recently Castrol Garage Guru which were huge successes.