Television

"Five months back, we had two programmes in the top 50, today we have 14"

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Kahin Naa Kahin Koi Hai may have served up a lemon, but has not dampened the spirits of production house UTV, which is steathily climbing the ratings charts with its shows across channels.

TV content COO Manish Popat believes that the ratings game is merely a cyclical process and that all that goes up must some day come down. In response to indiantelevision.com's queries, Popat outlined where UTV is at today and where it's headed in the days to come.

More of UTV's shows are currently in the top 50 in the TRPs. Do you believe UTV is on a comeback curve and can seriously challenge Balaji Telefilms? 

Firstly, the figures speak for themselves. Five months back, we had two programmes in the top 50, today we have 14. Five months back, Balaji had 38 programmes in the top 50, today they have 25. I wouldn't like to comment on the number 1 and number 2 status in the industry. As we all know, this is a cyclical process. It is true that Balaji has a good lead and a large market share, based on their four daily programmes on the number 1 channel i.e. Star. This itself gives them a formidable lead even if it is emanating out of only four shows on a single channel.

As the TV division of UTV, we continue to remain highly competitive and have got enough programmes in development, as well as negotiations with multiple channels, to see that our present list of 14 programmes in the top 50 goes past the half way mark very soon.

'Avinash IPS' was taken over by UTV in order to bring in more action, and consequently better ratings. It does not, however, seem to have taken the TRPs by storm. What may the reason be, and is there any plan to improvise? 

Avinash is now an action packed serial. The plot lines moved very fast. Soon after we took over, the ratings crossed the 4 TRP mark. It is, at the end of the day, a 11 pm programme. We have many exciting stories in the pipeline and do believe that we will keep the TRPs at a high level as per the benchmark set by Star.

What sets Shaka Laka Boom Boom... apart from the children's serials currently on air? What is the response it has got thus far? 

We need to all first understand that they aren't that many 'children's serials' on air. They are sporadic. By and large, children's viewership has been composed of horror shows and other such dramas. We believe that Shaka Laka Boom Boom appeals to a wide range of audience. 

With a fair amount of research that we have done on this programme, we premiered it on Vijay TV in the south, and it was an instant hit. As you can see from the ratings, in the first three weeks itself, it's been climbing, week on week and as ratings go, is higher than any or all prime time programmes on Zee and Sony plus higher than many of the 8 pm and 9 pm slots on Star itself.

While UTV shows on Star ('Kehta Hai Dill', 'Shagun') have done well, those on other channels ('Sarhadein', 'Choti maa…', 'K3H') seem to be suffering from lack of viewer interest. Is there any reason for this? 

Kehta Hai Dil, Shagun and Bhabhi have done extremely well. We need to keep in mind, that Shagun and Bhabhi are both non prime time programmes and in the afternoon band, that makes it an even more challenging task, to establish itself as a hit. 

We are extremely proud of Choti Maa… and Sarhadein on Zee. They were both very different genre programmes, and did receive a lot of acclaim. As programmes go, they will be an excellent library for Zee, even when they run them again and I am sure, with the right buoyancy on the channel, these will display high TRPs as they would have. 

K3H was a new concept. We do believe that some aspects of the concept were before its time. Viewer reaction also indicates that we needed to go a lot more "behind the scenes" and less in the glamour part.

This was also launched at a time when Sony was re-positioning itself. It would be interesting to note, that from the very first episode itself, the ratings did not stick. I guess, therefore, it is a combination of the concept as well as the overall desire for audiences to try new programming genres at this stage.

"The future of Indian television is and will be a constantly changing landscape. Nothing is written in stone and nothing is carved in gold"

'K3H' was UTV's big ticket show. With it crashing, has there been a rethink on the kind of shows to be done henceforth? Will UTV stay away from celebrity based shows ? 

At UTV, we have always pioneered new genres and concepts whether it has been the first ever daily soap opera in India with Shanti, and then with a high seas drama in Sea Hawks or in the early 1990s with the first medical hospital series - Lifeline (Jeevan Rekha).

As mentioned, we believe that K3H faced many challenges and it has been a learning experience. We do not ever shy away from the concept of constantly innovating and pioneering new genres and learning from our mistakes and what research and viewer feedback tell us.

Apart from the mainstream channels, is UTV venturing into shows for other channels like Sahara? 

The TV division of UTV is engaged in making programmes for multiple channels and yes, we have many concepts in development with Sahara also as well as other channels. We also develop multiple programmes for overseas channels in Singapore, Malaysia and just completed a 26 part series The Asian Cuisine Show for PBS in Canada. 

UTV was doing a big show on the army helicopter division. How far has it progressed? 

Sea Hawks was a path breaking concept in 1995-96 and did very well for UTV. In line with that, we think the time has come for new path breaking and big budget dramas. Presently, we are developing two concepts :

One, on the armed forces and another, a spy series set against the backdrop of various cities all over the world.

So, does the future in Indian television belong to daily soaps or weekly shows? 

The future of Indian television is and will be a constantly changing landscape. Nothing is written in stone and nothing is carved in gold.

"We think the time has come for new path breaking and big budget dramas"

Which other genres are you looking at now? As a long term perspective and also in the short term? 

We pursue multiple genres in the fiction and entertainment category on an ongoing basis. Other than soaps and dramas, we have many concepts under development in the children's programme category, in the high budget action series category, game shows, sitcoms (one of the most difficult categories to develop), as well as in the categories of horror, supernatural and real life drama.

What is your current relationship with Doordarshan? Are there any new shows in the pipeline for the public broadcaster? 

We have had a decade long relationship with Doordarshan. Our relationship with them has always been on-going, cordial and productive. Presently, we have three concepts under development for slotting with Doordarshan in early 2003. Furthermore, we have made very detailed proposals for them for packaging a one hour band of the best of Indian television of the last three to five years. This will give a huge boost to the public broadcaster and we are hopeful that we can move in that direction.

How do you view the current impasse in the clearance of the conditional access system in the country? Is it a boon or a bane for the short term? 

For over a decade, television broadcasting grew without many regulations, and that was a great boon. However, one of the victims of lack of regulation was the unregulated way in which the cable industry grew. We do believe that regulation and legislation is clearly required. If a clear cut, well defined and legitimate pay revenue does not emerge in the very near future, it will set back the entire growth of the broadcasting and content industry for another five years. 

Therefore, any form of regulation, presently in the form of CAS, will be beneficial both in the short and long term. The challenges obviously are the criterion of who will select which channels will be free and which channels will be paid for, and the entire revenue aggregation resulting from that.

Of course, there will be mixed agendas for everybody. But overall it's required, it's urgent to implement and will be beneficial in the short and long term.

What about Tamil language programming? How many shows are you currently making? Is the proportion to Hindi shows increasing? 

We are active in the Tamil language space. We also have an active JV in Vijay TV in content programming and others. Presently, we have one daily soap on air on Vijay which will increase to three dailies by December/ February. With this rise in our Tamil language output, our ratios between Hindi and Tamil will be 80:20. This excludes all our English language programmes for the global market which in itself constitutes 20 per cent of our overall TV content share.

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