"We believe that watching AXN has to be an experience" : Assistant VP Marketing Rohit Bhandari


Fresh off the success of last years desi adaptation of Who Dares Wins AXN is all set to unveil its first local adaptation of the year AXN Hot N Wild Contest. A hunt down for the country's 'hottest' girl and guy, the contest is modelled along the lines of the latest reality TV sensation 'Are You Hot currently on Wednesdays, 11 pm in the Hot N Wild Time Zone on AXN.

The 'hottest' male and female winners will go on to become television stars in one of AXN's upcoming local productions. Indiantelevision.com correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with SET's Assistant VP Marketing Rohit Bhandari who is in charge of AXN. He dwelt on the nature of the search, the marketing push that would be given, other shows that could be looked at for adaptation.


Star's plans for a desi version of 'Temptation Island' proved to be a non-starter. How confident are you that the hot'n'wild search will work?

Actually if you look at it, Temptation Island and Are you Hot are two completely different properties. Temptation Island actually asks people to break their moral conscience and make them do something they are not likely to do.

Yes men and women do cheat on one another but we do not ask them to do it on purpose. Are you Hot? is a very simple show. It is about how good you look. The vanity in everybody makes them feel that yes I am good looking. I can only look better.

It is just playing with very basic human vanity that everyone has which is to look good. On television I am asking people who think they look good to come out and appear on the show.


How is the Hot'n'Wild search being modified for the Indian audience?

We have taken the basic framework of the show keeping Indian sensibilities in mind. There will be an audition, a panel. However, the Indian panel will not be as rude or base as the American panel. They will definitely tone down their behaviour to an extent. In addition we are not going to have a swimwear round. We are looking for someone with a great personality, who looks good on camera, and who is very fluent in Hindi and English.

When I ask someone to appear for an audition I want them to appear in what they think they look hottest in, whether it is a sari, a mini skirt or a pair of jeans. Whatever the situation may be I am not going to say no.

At the end of the day I am trying to match a perception. It is what they feel looks hot versus the judges' perception of what we feel looks hot. The idea is that the person is going to appear on a show that AXN would do in the future. The person may not be the best looking guy in the room but he must match up well in front of a camera. I am looking for a person who is fluent with the audience and can involve them.

In terms of age limit the person should be at least 18. The maximum cap is 25. However we are not very fixed on this and it could go up to 30. Given how crazy India is about the movies, acting and being a part of the arts I believe that everybody out there harbours ambitions of becoming a movie or a television star at some level or the other.

For people in college who have been working for two or three years this would an excellent opportunity for them to cash in.


What leverage is AXN hoping to get from the endeavour?

In terms of leverage there is one question we have always been asked, "how will you localise?" We have adventure shows, animation, series etc. We look at AXN as a lifestyle brand. We believe that watching AXN has to be an experience. You experience something when you are physically a part of it. We realised that we could make the audience feel the experience through Who Dares Wins. You get to be a part of the show at the end of the day. It is fun and adventurous. Through the search people will get to know that Are You Hot is a kind of brand image, lifestyle we are trying to create. With the Are You hot search people will be able to relate better with the efforts that I do on-air and on-ground.

To give you an example Who Dares Wins has been shown by us since we launched in 1998. Today however when I put you on camera and say that you are on the show you feel very different. That is the experience we are trying to create for the viewer. For us there is both an intended as well as an actual experience. The former is what you go through when you view the channel. The actual one is what you face on the ground.

"Adventure sports in India will always be a value based addition. "


What are the attributes that participants should possess that would give them an edge over the competition?

Firstly I would say that no contest wouldn't have any bias. There are a lot of people who want to be television stars. Someone might be trained while another person may not. A person who is naturally good looking may have a desire to be part of the entertainment industry someday. The person who looks good and knows how to modulate his/her voice on camera would naturally hold the edge.

The auditions will happen in Bombay, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore from 1 August. We require 10-15 days to shortlist entries. The auditions will last seven to eight days. We are looking at short-listing 100 people who would comprise 50 males 50 females. At the end of the day we will come up with one guy and one girl in that market. Totally there will be eight people. They will compete in the final which is the best of the best.

Have any sponsors been roped in? Can you give me an idea of the production cost?

Barcardi Breezer has come on board. The drink has less alcohol content than beer. It has the taste of lemon. The advertising has a very fun element and touch to it. Our search is an experiential fun event.

Livon Silky portion, which actually manufactures and markets hair serum, is also on board. They saw a great brand fit. We are also talking to two three sponsors right now. The production cost would be very low much less than a Who Dares Wins.

A scene from Are You Hot?
" When I ask someone to appear for an audition I want them to appear in what they think they look hottest in whether it is a sari, a mini skirt or a pair of jeans"

Could you elaborate on the promotional and marketing campaign that is being used? Have any new elements been brought in?

We realised that if the endeavour is to meet with success then we need to be present in those areas where 18-25 year olds hang out. This would be discotheques, music shops, coffee shops. Of course the fourth option is the Internet which everybody surfs. Of all these avenues we said to ourselves that entering a discotheque or a pub is not the easiest way to go about conducting a promotion.

You are restricting yourself to a 9-12 pm late night slot. People visit a pub for reasons different from wanting to be a part of something. The way to do it would be to catch them when they are sane when they visit a coffee shop. That is how the idea of tying up with Café Coffee Day came up. That along with Coffee Day Xpress have around 152 outlets across the country in 18 cities. Each city has around 20-25 places. This gives us good coverage and an on ground presence. At Café Coffee Day you can actually pick up a form, fill it. At Planet M there are posters and available forms. On the Internet you can log on to indiatimes or axnindia.com. It is very simple. We are not using theatres. We are using FM Radio in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Pune. We have a huge radio splash.

Who are some of the judges that you'll have roped in?

This is a process we are working on. For the city level auditions there will be on AXN representative who in all probability will be Gregory Ho. There will be one person from Elle magazine.

Elle is our partner because we believe that they have core competency in beauty and style. They would be in an excellent position to judge a contest of this nature. We are speaking to local celebrities in each market. They could either be in the fields of television, modelling, film. The logic is that we are looking to bring in a local flavour. In addition the celebrities understand the local nuances better than we do. The panel for the final will be completely different. We are looking at really big names in the fields of fashion, modelling, photography. AXN will also have a representative who may not be Gregory.

"With shows like 24, CSI, The Shield we are graduating our audience into a slightly different space."

Will 'Wild On' be visiting the country as well at a later date?

No. Wild On is a travelogue which visits unique places. A lot of people visit them for fashion, partying, holidaying. I don't think that India is on their schedule right now.

What other shows is AXN looking at for adapting to the Indian market? Would the Bachelor, Fear Factor be possibilities?

We realised that if we need to adapt a show currently within our basket the best thing would be to do a reality show. It is the best way to localise. People can get involved. If I was to make a series in India in English no offence meant to anyone it will fall flat on its face. If you look at the production quality of our shows whether it is 24 or Jerry Bruckheimer producing The Amazing Race I cannot get someone to match that production quality. Therefore it does not make sense.

For whatever little I know about The Bachelor it would be very brave for someone to attempt making it in India. It is like you are bidding a guy and he will decide on whom he wants to marry. That breaks many Indian myths. Arranged marriages are still a huge part of our society. The show is just a contest and the guy marries whom he feels like. That is not how the grain runs in the country. Everybody has a voyeur hidden inside but to go to this extent I am not sure.

In addition The Bachelor has no element of action, adventure. It is voyeuristic to a certain extent. It does not auger well for us to do this on ground. However Fear Factor is something we would definitely look at. If we can go to the same extent as what was done in the US I would put my hands and feet up in front of the AXN management and tell them guys we need to do this because this is going to be big and people are going to have fun on the show. Of course those levels of safety might be slightly difficult to achieve. Even if three feasibility flags go up I will get on it. That is how we as an organisation function. We always have five to six ideas on the table.


What lessons were learnt from doing 'Who Dares Wins' in India last year?

The success of Who Dares Wins will allow us to replicate it this year. It will be done in a completely different system. It is going to be something that Indians have never experienced before. This is something I will talk about later.

As far as last year is concerned I wish that we had been on ground for a longer period of time. This might be from a selfish perspective but we touched so many people. I couldn't accommodate all 500 people who wanted to be on the show and so the format will definitely expand this time around. We believe in the principle of the more the merrier. When more people get involved and experience the fun it will add to our brand equity to that extent. This is because we were the channel that allowed that to happen. We gave them the opportunity.

We are working on making a Real Dare a possibility in India. The challenge for us is to get that level of supervision. The main dares done in Australia are not only complex but also supervised by some of the best stunt co-ordinators in Hollywood. They happen to be Australian as they are said to be daring in nature. Therefore to shoot this series in Australia is easy.

We are looking at the safety requirements that could be got into India, which would make a main dare a possibility. I would say that if a main dare is possible in India then there is no reason why we cannot do Fear Factor here.


The Snake episode of Fear Factor has given rise to controversy in the US on account of trauma being caused to the snakes and some viewers. Your comments.

We get the show in its original form from the US. At our end we watch it and edit it to make sure that it conforms to our decency levels. If any objectionable content is present we delete it. The level of what is shown will depend on how a particular market operates. If it doesn't work in market don't watch the show.

We understand this country well. We have to be moral policemen ourselves and not allow anyone else to do the job. If we internally maintain a standard of censorship and quality then people will feel far more confident about the channel. This is because we are making sure that viewer sensibilities at any point in time are not offended.

I feel that a show like The Wedding Race in China where couples compete against each other in physically demanding sports will not work in India. We tend to be physically inert. Do you agree?

I agree with this. See in India if one has to be a part of an adventure sport it will come at a considerable cost at a considerable distance. If you want to do rock climbing, mountaineering you have to travel all the way to Himachal. There is an investment in terms of time taken to travel. The institute out there will charge you money. If adventure sport is easily accessible I believe that more people would try it.

Mumbai has a space constraint. One does adventure sport because it allows you to push the envelope a bit. If I am not naturally going to do anything adventurous that will allow me to push the envelope a bit then why would I bother? A lot of people have done bungee jumping but there is no bungee jumping post anywhere. By their nature adventure sports will always appeal to a sub section of the audience and they cannot go beyond a certain point because of space constraints. Therefore adventure sports in India will always be a value based addition.


Are you going to promote upcoming blockbusters like Charlies Angels Full Throttle?

We are already doing that. We are part of the same family at the end of the day. Since we are in the business of content both in terms of acquisition and marketing we work closely with all studios. We are also promoting The Hulk. Of course if it is a home production it definitely gets better airtime than the products of other studios.


What about tying with FMCG's for products like what MTV is doing with perfumes?

If you look at Who Dares Wins last year our tie ups have been purely in terms of show integration. We want to build the AXN brand further to a level where it is reasonably strong to tie up with a conglomerate. We have the idea of forging tie-ups and partnerships but that is still a while away.

As a brand we are on an upward curve. If you look at what AXN was like a couple of years ago and what it is today and what it will be next year there has been a great deal of difference. With shows like 24, CSI, The Shield we are graduating our audience into a slightly different space. For example if you were used to watching something of quality A I am getting you into the habit of watching shows that are of quality A++. I have seen tapes of a couple of shows for next year and they are awesome.


What kind of response have you received from '24'?

24 was a slow starter. Now things are looking good and we are averaging a 20-22 per cent channel share week in week out. 24 is a show that if you miss an episode then you lose the thread. Therefore I am surprised that after six episodes it started picking up.

What has helped us is the fact that 24 is very hot on the DVD circuit. I have friends who watched the first three episodes on AXN and then bought the DVDs for the rest of the show. Although this is a very small section of the market the fact that there is awareness of 24 thanks to the DVD is heartening.


How do you view Reality TV and Action TV as competition?

I have just heard of Action TV. I have never seen it and I do not even know what their schedule looks like. I have been given to understand that it consists predominantly of movies. Reality TV I caught once in a hotel. While both of them have their core competencies what works is a mix of everything and not of one particular genre. I cannot continuously show cop chases 24*7.

Variety is the key to hook viewers. We have Guinness World Records. At the other end you have Who Dares Wins which is an out and out fun show. Then we have the red hot US programming in the form of The Amazing Race which airs less than 24-hours after its US premiere. Worse Case Scenarios tells you how you can avoid inflicting too much damage on yourself if you are going to be involved in an accident like a car crash.

If you cannot stop yourself from falling of a cliff then what is the right way to fall. If however I was to keep Ripley's on 24*7, people would get bugged pretty quickly. While I am sure that Action TV and reality TV have some programming tweaks here and there whether it adds enough variety is debatable. I do not know this as I do not receive them at home.


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