Interview with UTV TV Content COO Manish Popat
will continue to be the staple diet of viewers"
on 29 June 2002
Ronnie Screwvala promoted UTV has been in the media business
for over 20 years, pioneering cable TV in 1981. The content
business is just one part of a very diverse portfolio the
company offers but it sheen seems to have been taken off
the company's programming what with many new players entering
the field and Balaji Telefilms in particular hogging the
Manish Popat chief operating officer, TV Content, UTV, speaks
at length to indiantelevision.com about where the channel
is headed and expresses confidence that it will soon be
back at the top.
Shagun, the afternoon soap on Star Plus,
is currently your number 1 show. Was Bhabhi an effort
to consolidate further on the afternoon band?
UTV has been first to explore the afternoon time slot. We
have always believed in the slot. We were the first to launch
the afternoon daily soap concept in India with Shanti on
DD 1. Shagun has reemphasised our belief in the afternoon
time slot and is today the No 1 afternoon show and in fact
beats most of the prime time shows across channels.
When Zee TV did its big bang re-launch last year with
a whole crop of new shows, you had all of three programmes
- Sarhadein, Hip Hip Hurray II and Choti Maa,
all belonging to very different genres. Especially Choti
Maa,which was a remake of the Tamil superhit soap Chitti,
was expected to do well but all three fell woefully short
of expectations. What do you think went wrong here?
I don't think these shows failed and I am certain even the
channel will agree to this. The same shows with the channel's
buoyancy back will do very well when they will be re-run.
Take Sarhadein - The first time a bold Indo/Pak love
story was tried. It was a different daily, not shot in the
four walls of a studio, like most dailies today but shot
on locations like Malaysia and Mauritius. In fact, I will
not hesitate to state that it was the best programme launched
amongst the whole crop of Zee's new shows.
Choti Maa was again a very different genre, with
beautiful locales, never before seen on any dailies on air
today or in the past. A different subject. A bold try. It
is still running. Doing well for itself. The word of mouth
for this programme has been tremendous. We did learn some
lessons in terms of migrating shows from the south.
Hip Hip Hurray - A 7.30 programme. The first programme
to be produced as a sequel. In its target audience did quite
well but did not deliver in the overall audience.
While critics complain that there is a sameness to programming
on the main entertainment channels, doesn't the pressure
of ratings lead to a situation where everyone loses because
producers and broadcasters have to perforce roll out only
This one is definitely a critic's question. However,
the fact remains that it is the viewers who decide what
they want to see and they will continue to do so. As regards
sameness to programming we do not subscribe to that theory
at all. Look around, you will find more game shows now than
Continuing on that track, take the case of the two new medical
series Sanjivani on Star Plus and Dhadkan on
Sony Entertainment. Being the producer the celebrated Lifeline,
do you really believe that the same show could have done
as well today? Accepting that a show on Star Plus has an
immediate advantage as it is the numero uno channel so there
is that initial momentum. How do you explain why a Sanjivani,
which appears to be more an M&B kind of romance series has
a 6 rating, while the more gritty and realistic Dhadkan
has a 0.6 rating?
Lifeline was produced then with realism and at
a certain pace suiting the audiences then. However, if we
were to produce Lifeline in today's time we would
do it with the same sense of realism but of course with
a different pace and work more on characterisations.
don't think these shows failed and I am certain even
the channel (Zee) will agree to this"
Your new show Kehta Hai Dil, a weekly set to replace
Asoka the Series on Star Plus, will address different
issues like dowry, teenage infatuation and bigamy at a social
and emotional level. Could you elaborate on what went into
this show and how it came about?
Kehta Hai Dil is a story where each character tries
to reach out to you and has something to share with you.
It deals with the social and emotional issues which will
set your mind thinking. It has a nice outdoor feel to it
which most metropolitan audiences miss and small town audiences
relate to. It's a refreshing change from the usual rut of
daily soaps being doled out at primetime of every channel.
After what seems like an eternity of soaps, there suddenly
seems to be a revival of interest in big ticket weeklies.
Especially those with patriotic themes. UTV is doing a big
show on the army helicopter division, Miditech is doing
one on the air force Sara Akash and Contileo is doing
something around Kashmir and the terrorism issue. Why the
sudden interest in such fare. ?
This is a coincidence. But as far as UTV, goes as mentioned
earlier, we always believed in giving our audiences different
genres and this is part of that. However, the current mood
of the country will only add to the interests for subjects
there are the big budget action serials. There are reports
that Nitin Keni may be doing a big show loosely modeled
on Miami Blues while UTV is said to be doing a weekly
that will be shot in Bangkok? Does it not seem a bit risky
considering that the soap continues to hold such sway over
have to keep trying newer stuff. Nothing ventured nothing
gained. No one would have expected a film (Lagaan),
in today's day and age, where the main hero is clad in a
dhoti to be such a rage and even get nominated to the Oscars.
for the risk, this is a given. As soon as a certain plateau
of production is reached, audiences will demand for the
next level and we will have to deliver. However, it will
be important to point out here that our base of production
level is very low even today compared to the levels across
all mature markets. Television programming will see a double,
triple digit growth.
common factor among most of these new big budget shows is
that they will have 13 or 26-week runs. Do you think this
brings in the possibility of seasonality coming into Indian
TV programming. For instance, if a particular series does
well, the option is there to bring it back after a break,
if not then the show still completes its run?
Yes, I guess so. This is a very interesting concept. Internationally
it is followed by all. For the Indian audiences, this is
new but they will settle with it.
All your new offerings (starting from Bhabhi and
continuing thereon) appear to be on Star Plus? Is this by
accident or design?
We have always maintained a right balance/mix of programmes
across channels. We had three programmes on Zee. Unfortunately,
Shubh Vivaah on Sony has got delayed.
Which among the current crop of UTV shows (on air or
just about ready to release) are you most excited about?
Kehta Hai Dil, since it is just being launched and
is on the prime time band. However, Shagun as it
is No 1 afternoon show and does better than most of the
prime time shows across channels, Choti Maa - a daily
with a difference. A different face and look on Indian Television.
Bhabhi - competes internally with Shagun and
we consider this very healthy. Agni Satchi - This
is amongst the two programmes that has the visibility on
would like to wait and see for some more time before
jumping in again (in Doordarshan)"
Are you looking at other genres? What are they as a long
term perspective and in the short term?
I have answered this before. We will always look for new
genres. In the long term and in the short term We constantly
develop and create multi-genre shows in every category -
game shows, children, soaps, thrillers, action, etc.
Around the middle of last year UTV director Zarina Mehta
was quoted as saying UTV is reviewing its relationship with
national broadcaster Doordarshan. "The National Network
is becoming a difficult channel to work with given its high
rate card for the afternoon band. We are reviewing what
to do with the show (afternoon serial Shenai for which it
was paying Rs 300,000 per episode). We are reducing our
dependence on the national network," is what she was
quoted as saying. Are you still of the same opinion or is
there some sort of a rethink now that DD has reduced rates?
Frankly, yes. We would like to wait and see for some more
time before jumping in again.
Could you explain your production set-up? How does the
allocation of different programmes among the creative heads
and executive producers take place?
Well. each Creative Directors (we have six of them) have
a team of executive producers and production managers working
with them on projects. A single creative director would
handle a good mix of daily and weekly and will have different
EP's and PM's working on them.
percentage of UTV's revenues comes from programming today?
Content is about 30 to 35 per cent of UTVs revenues
was the breakup earlier, different or the same? Any reasons
do Tamil programming as well. How many shows are currently
on air and on which channels?
we have Agni Satchi, a daily on Vijay TV. Also, some
of our earlier programmes are also running - Gee Bhoom
Bha, a children's daily, Jenmum X , a horror
bi-weekly, VOTR - a weekly.
you elaborate on UTV s plans as far as Tamil programming
the Corporate front we own 49 per cent of the Tamil Channel
Vijay TV and this states our seriousness about the Tamil
is a very important market for us and will continue to remain
so. We have a full fledged set up in Chennai and we would
be doing many more shows in the near future on the Tamil
you looking at other regional languages?
just completed a Gujarati daily on ETV. The answer therefore
is yes. We are constantly on the look out for opportunities
to create, channels, language not withstanding.
also do programming in Mandarin, and Bahasa (Malaysian).
Looking at the foreign languages, what are the hours of
programming that you do in Mandarin and Bahasa respectively?
1500 hours of programming a year between Mandarin and Bahasa
Which countries screen these shows and do you have any hit
shows are telecast across South East Asia. Last year our
programme SPIN in Singapore was the No 2 show. IDAMAN
our daily is the longest running in Malaysia.
What is the production arrangement for shows in these two
structure is similar to that in India. We create and produce
for broadcasters in these countries.
UTV launched the first daily soap in India - Shanti and
had many aces up its sleeve in the form of successful TV
serials. The late eighties and early nineties when UTV held
sway and was synonymous with quality programming seems rather
distant now. Where did it falter then to a position where
other producers surged ahead and what is UTV doing to get
back on top?
there seems to be a perception that we slipped somewhere.
I think that this has to be viewed not in context with:
The fact that we have a diversified base of content from
movies to animation also, where we have made our presence
Of the over 20 players eight years ago, only two or three
have really survived.
The last one-and-a-half years has seen an average with one
single producer occupying disproportionate shelf space on
have also maintained a high level of quality. I do believe
we are the "preferred choice" with the broadcasters. Having
said all of that, there is a huge creative focus within
the company for us to occupy the top spot in the near future.
What about the imminent introduction of conditional access
systems (CAS) in C&S television. Do you not think it will
be a boon for producers because it will be much easier to
identify niche audiences and therefore increase the scope
of diversity in programming?
If you were to do a bit of crystal ball gazing, what to
your mind will the picture be on Hindi entertainment television
one year down the line? Will the soap story continue to
rule roost or do you see changes coming in?
Well I have always maintained this. Soaps will continue
to remain the staple diet of viewers But alternate genres
will remain too. There will be a right mix.