Television

'Fiction will help us scale up': Endemol India managing director Deepak Dhar

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 For Endemol India, it has been a roller coaster ride. The international content creator has established itself as a leader in the reality TV genre and has expanded into other strands of content. Now the gameplan is to speed up on the fiction front.

Endemol, which produced 1400 hours of content in 2010, is planning to scale up in several verticals including regional language, sports and food and lifestyle programming. The company recently formed a JV with Rhiti Sports, the company which manages Indian skipper MS Dhoni, for sports formats.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, Endemol India managing director Deepak Dhar talks about the company's growth plans.

Excerpts:

What progress did Endemol make in India last year?

The progress has been 360 degrees. Initially, we were known for reality. Now it is not the only thing; we are known for other strands of non fiction also.

We have an array of fiction shows. We have moved into regional as well with Bengali and Southern language content. We have also gained from being in the Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) space.

How does India compare to other Asian markets?

It is growing. The entire world is looking at us. Our parent is looking at what India can do. We did over 1400 hours of production last year. We have done well if you look at the state of our productions or business development. We have had double digit growth.

Could you shed light on how you are scaling up the fiction business?

We are seeing ideas that can be exploited in the Hindi GEC space. They can also go into the regional space, south, Bengali, Marathi. We are looking at slots that need newer storytellung. We are meeting with our broadcast partners to see what the synergies are.

We do a lot of non fiction and format work. In terms of scaling up, growth will come from fiction.





We will be making two to three announcements in the next few weeks.

What kind of shows are you looking at?

We are not focussing only comedy or only drama or only thriller. We are known for 360 degree entertainment solutions. Anything that fits the household will be our focus.

Are you looking at forming JVs with local production houses?

We are constantly analysing it. Now we are largely focussing on organic growth. We will look at inorganic growth, but at this point of time there is nothing serious.

'Now we are largely focussing on organic growth. We will look at inorganic growth, but at this point of time there is nothing serious'

In terms of margins, how are you faring?

Margins are always tough in this country, espcially in the broadcast and production sector. In our formats and even our fiction business, we have kept a healthy balance in our margins due to product efficiencies. In a year, we do around nine non fiction shows.

But in the fiction space aren't margins squeezed?

They are squeezed but again for us the emphasis is great storytelling. We want to be happy with the stories being told and we will manage the margins. Comedy has its own space. In drama, emotions are integral to the Indian psyche. That will never go out of fashion.

How do you manage costs?

It is a challenge. Broadcasters are always looking to push costs down without the quality falling. Broadcasters, though, understand that to have a quality product the margins must be healthy. The production house must be given some breathing space.

Non fiction shows have a larger budget. You get a bang for 13-26 weeks and that is it. With fiction it is like running a marathon. You need to have the stamina to push the idea and engage the audience.

Balaji to some extent has lost dominance which has created a gap. How are ou tapping this?

We have already tapped into this. We are doing three fiction shows at this point of time. We will be adding two more within a month or so. We have stepped into this opportunity. We also look at the competition and what is on the horizon.

Fiction is where the horizon is. The margins can improve in this genre. People will look at us as an Indian producer and not just as a format producer. We will focus largely on fiction.





Indian production houses are known for doing one kind of show. We are not like that. We do things from 'songs and dancing' to reality and action-based shows.

How were you able to broadbase youreself into fiction?

This has to do with the team. We have Gadgi and Kartik as the creative and business heads. They lend credibility and experience to Endemol's fiction slate. We believe that if you have the right talent on board, then the right discussions start flowing out.

Geet has worked. Mili Ye at one point really worked. But the story ran its cycle. These stories have been channel drivers for Star One and Star Plus; they will help us consolidate our next line of fiction.

In the non fiction area, you entered the food genre with two shows. What scope do you see in the lifestyle space?

Lifestyle is a niche space. However, we do not want to leave any space untapped. The opportunity might seem small. But an opportunity needs to be seen.

Documentary and speciality channels are growing in popularity in the West. You will see the same trend happening here. A new spate of speciality channels from science and technology to crime and thriller to food are bound to come in. This is a new space we will be busy with this year.

Is the approach here different from how you look at other areas like formats?

Yes! In lifestyle you will have to create original ideas; it is not about replicating an idea from the US. We don't want to simply pick up a format. it has to fit into an opportunity.

The local version of Wipeout launches tomorrow. Has the format been changed in any way?
Not really. You will see the same thing. It will be extremely engaging, funny and competitive. It is the new next breed of reality shows that we will roll out on Indian television. We want to push trends and get trends into the country.

What trends are we seeing abroad in the format space?

A lot of game shows are doing well at this point. 1vs 100, Million Pound drop Aare two big game shows. We are bringing them to India.

Deal Or No Deal has done well. We produced 300 episodes of this on the Sun Network. We did five seasons back to back for them.

You will see us pushing a lot of gameshows going forward. Howwever, reality will always be the flavour of the season. People like to watch others in pressure cooker scenarios. This is the spectrum of ideas you will see.

We are also looking to bring in State of Panic to India. Circus Of The Celebrities is another one. It is an engaging, high end primetime experience. The common thread is people being pushed into pressure cooker situations; in others pure true human emotions are glorified on primetime television. As long as the emotions are true, it will help some of these format shows stand.

We are also doing things in the ad funded space. Rin Mera Star Superstar, Fair And Lovely Choo Lo Aasman have done well for us. This is what I mean by having a 360 degree approach. We are pushing ideas in this space. We need top keep a balance between the needs of a broadcaster and an advertiser. You do not want an advertiser funded show to look like one. You have to do something that has been well thought through and engages.

What is the gameplan to tackle the South market?

We will take our big ticket gameshows there. We are also taking reality shows there.

Currently the South is a growing part of our business. This year we will add a few more fundamental blocks to make it stand on its own.

We are concentrating on the Tamil and Telugu markets. We producing a lot in the Malayalam space as well.

What balance are you looking at between fiction and non fiction content?
 
 
We want it to be 50:50. We are on track to achieve this. We have been the market leader in the non fiction space. The challenge is to see how we can fast track our business and sales. We are adding new pieces like sports into our business. This will bring in new challenges as every business has its own dynamic. We have a good tab on the competition.

How did the tie up with Rhiti Sports come about?

We have been exploring this in terms of doing things in the sports space. We want formats like The Match, Next Great Champ. We are looking at basketball, football, boxing, cricket. Rhiti Sports with their credibility will help us monetise the formats across sports broadcasting and GECs as well.

The sports genre is not tapped in terms of formats. Sports formats are consumed a lot by the youth, kids and women. We have a rich library of content in the sports format space.

You used to do a Call TV initiative with ETV. How did that fare?
It was a good experience. In the interactive TV space, we do a lot internationally. There was a need to create a low cost game show. We produced Break The Bank. The market size, though, is small. The telecom industry versus the content industry faces its own set of challenges. So we did not push it too hard.
 
Are you looking at new media?
 


Yes! We do a lot of content for the mobile internationally. With 3G coming in, we are keen to tap this space. We have formats tailored for the mobile like small comedy interstitials. The youth love to sample something really fast. They are restless. They don't only want content on the television. A lot of discussions are going on globally regarding how to cater to the mobile audience.
 
Where do you see Endemol five years from now?
 


When we came in four years ago, the idea was to Indianise the Endemol brand. Now we want to localise and regionalise the Endemol brand. We want to adapt our content to a lot of regional markets.

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