Television

"University Challenge helped bring younger viewers to the channel"

BBC World's strategy is no longer just about dishing news. It is looking at content that while not branded entertainment is nonetheless entertaining. It recently launched the five part series Bollywood Bosses which looks at five directors of the Indian film industry.

It will also be launching the second edition of University Challenge on 12 August at 9:30 pm. Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with BBC World's commissioning editor Narendhra Morar who dwelt on how University Challenge has attracted youth towards the channel, the marketing strategy that will be employed as well as changed in the television news genre that one can expect.

As Commissioning Editor what does your role encompass?

My job is to look after programmes produced outside the BBC. I have to take sure that the quality is in line with BBC's editorial standards. I talk to producers and brainstorm ideas and fresh concepts.

Then I have to take the call as to whether or not to go ahead with the concept.

Right now though it would be difficult for me to say as to whether our programme budget for the year will go up. The extent to which we produce specials in certain regions depends on the outlay.

For the second season is the format of University Challenge going to be tweaked in any manner?

No. Siddhartha Basu will once again be at the helm. The show is straightforward. What I do expect however is that the show will be more tense.

Participants are answering questions against the clock. It should be more competitive this year with more colleges and universities trying to get in. There are any more teams trying to get in than there are on the show. They have to first take written tests.

Could you dwell on the role that University Challenge has played in attracting youth towards the channel?

BBC World reached approximately 38.5 lakh viewers in its first series which ran from August 2003 to March 2004. 43 per cent of the viewers were between 15 to 34 years and 20 per cent were between 15 to 24 years of age. Basically close to half the audience was below the age of 34.

University Challenge helped to bring younger viewers to the channel. Programmes like University Challenge, Wheels, Click Online are looked upon as being educational and informative and drive viewership among those with a thirst for knowledge.

Across studies we find that the BBC World attracts more students when compared to any other news channel. The recent TGI profiles BBC World's audience as being 18.3 per cent students, while NDTV 24x7 has 17.8 per cent, Aaj Tak has 15.2 per cent while CNBC is way behind at 10.8 per cent. Students constitute 15 per cent of the total TGI 2003 universe of SEC ABC 15 to 55 years C&S.

"While our shows are entertaining they are not entertainment shows. We have shows that while not specifically targeted at the youth nevertheless hold relevance"

Are there any other youth oriented shows in the pipeline?

A recently launched show Bollywood Bosses while not specifically targeted at the youth definitely entertains them as it will everybody else.

We have just started Business Bites where you have two CEOs from one industry engaging in discussion on issues. Now you might think that this would mainly be of interest to the corporate types. Keep in mind though that these CEOs are role models of today's youth. They want to become like those CEOs when they are older. Therefore the show would be aspirational in nature.

We are a niche channel not a mass one. While our shows are entertaining they are not entertainment shows. We have shows that while not specifically targeted at the youth nevertheless hold relevance. The above mentioned Business Bites is an example.

What marketing and promotional activities have been lined up to create awareness about the fact that University Challenge is returning?

A lot! We will be doing a 360 degree marketing spin that will involve print, FM Radio. This year we will

be doing outdoor activity through roadshows. From this weekend we will be visiting colleges in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore. We are having competitions wherein we pick the ten best teams pit their wits against last year's champions.

Siddhartha Basu is travelling. We will be doing quizzes in the colleges there. Tata Indigo sponsors Bollywood Bosses. Business Bites is being sponsored by Indian Airlines. We will be signing up with the sponsor for University Challenge very soon.

What are the logistical challenges faced in making the show?

Selecting the teams from the multitude that apply is the first difficulty. Getting teams from all parts of

the country and taking them to Delhi for the shoot. Getting the questions right in terms of the leel of

difficulty.

Also we have to make sure that we know the right answer from the wrong one. You don't want to give the wrong answers right and vice versa. We double check and triple check every question and answer. Accuracy is of paramount importance for us.

Could you talk about the amount of research that has gone into each episode of Bollywood Bosses?

A lot. To give you a backdrop Bollywood has been covered a lot in the past. Mostly it is clip based

shows or interview based with fun and masala. There is a glamorous gloss to it all.

Our aim was to go beyond the headlines and the gossip and the viewer an understanding of what elements make for a great filmmaker. We want to give more depth and more substance to the subject. That is why we focus on just one director in each show. We talk not just to him but also to people who have worked with him. We talk to stars, story writers, musicians, cameramen, studio heads to get an overall holistic view of how the industry perceives the man and their relationships with him.

What this means is that we have to research not just the director in focus but also some of the other

important people who have worked with him. This way we are able to better understand the reasons for the director working on certain themes. After this series gets over depending on the response we might look at focussing on stars, musicians, choreographers etc.

Anita Horam is making the show for us. She used to work with UTV. In fact she did a show Style for us

many years ago.

Which are the Indian production houses that you are talking with for content creation?

Karan Thapar's company Infotainment TV. Synergy makes University Challenge for us. Miditech does Wheels for us. TWI makes a sports show. We will be launching a four-part cricket show in September focussing on the greats once Bollywood Bosses comes to an end.

TWI will make this. Later on we will be coming out with a revamped version of Wheels. Question Time India will come back with a brand new look in October. The presenter will be different. The sets will have a new feel to them. The music, graphics, the title sequence will be different.

Could you talk about multicultural programming has evolved on BBC World?

India is the country from where BBC World does the most local specials. Having said that we do look at other regions also. Later this year we will be doing as series of specials on the US Presidential

Elections. This will be a series of debates. It is a question of circumstances and budget outlay.

Other regional shows we do include Asia Today which covers the entire Asian region. We have the Asia Business Report, the Middle East Business Report. Our coverage of a certain area partly has to do with the size of the market and how viable it is. It also has to do with logistics. It is also a question of capital as doing region specific shows entail extra costs.

Another multi cultural special for us is the Nobel Prize from Sweden. We also look at whether doing

something will give us the competitive edge.

What strategy has BBC World put in place to fulfill its goal of giving the viewer a broader view?

BBC World is about giving breaking and news information. News channels in general answer the what,

when and where. I like to think of BBC World as adding the how and why. We don't merely report events. We bring in expert analysis while making sure that the treatment is always fair and balanced.

Indian viewers tune in for our international coverage. They also tune in for our coverage of Indian stories. One is not mutually exclusive of the other.

"News channels in general answer the what,when and where. I like to think of BBC World as adding the how and why"

You had once mentioned that product cycles are much shorter. Why is that?

Technology is moving very fast along with individual lifestyles. Peoples lifestyles have become much faster. Look at how the Indian television industry has evolved. Last year several news channels launched.

Earlier it would have taken a couple of years for a new channel to come in. Now with digitalisation the

entry barrier costs have come down. Programming is responding to change. A couple of years ago the Saas Bahu phenomenon was hot. Today reality television shows are coming back into favour.

Changes in society and lifestyle result in programme changes and vice versa. Each one keeps having a rub off on the other. .





Very often people tune into news channels because they want to see a particular anchor. To what extent is BBC World also benefiting from this phenomena?

This is true until a point. At the end of the day the viewer wants content he/she can trust and not just an act. The content must be balanced and fair. That is our calling card. However people do look forward to seeing a particular anchor.

On our channel Nik Gowing a senior presenter is well known. Viewers also keenly watch the reports that John Simpson makes. Also Stephen Cole who hosts Click Online is a well-known face. There are major personalities that are channel icons. Having said that our thrust and positioning is always on content that is newsworthy and not just the personality of the presenter.

What changes do you see happening in the television news segment in India in the next couple of years?

There are lots of parties making noises about starting news channels. With competition getting fiercer news channels will have to distinguish themselves. Otherwise why would the viewer watch channel one

instead of channel 2? They will have to come up with new and original formats instead of just adapting what has already worked abroad.

One unique format that we do that other channels don't is current affairs documentaries. What you are seeing quite often today on news channels is clones being made out of successful shows. Also news channels will have to keep in mind the fact that viewers expect higher standards in terms of quality and depth of output. As the news people get more experience I expect more originality to come into the news genre. I don't see why India cannot have its own Kaun Banega Crorepati or its own University Challenge. I basically think that the news genre will be more mature in the timeframe you had mentioned in your question.

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