Television

"We have already conquered the music space, now we are aiming our guns at mass entertainment" : Amar K Deb - Channel [V] head honcho

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Channel [V]'s head honcho Amar Deb isn't really known for sugar coating his opinions.Although his hands are full with the current big reality hunt, [V] Super Singer, Deb seems the least bit hassled. 'We have already conquered the music space, now we are aiming our guns at the mass entertainment space,' he says.

Though busy flitting between cities, Deb managed to pack in some punch in a breezy interview that took place, interestingly, while stuck in Mumbai's nightmarish traffic. Read on for a t?te-?-t?te that transpired between Deb and indiantelevision.com's Trupti Ghag

How was [V] 'Super Singer' conceptualised? What are the new activities that you are looking at this time?

Contrary to the perception, Super Singer is an original concept. We came up with the idea after a series of brainstorming sessions.

And yes, third time around, the feeling is that of 'been there, done that'. So this time on, we will be using the latest voice measuring gizmo, which will help us identify the width of the voice, the scale at which the singer can sing, and the octaves he/she can reach.

Also, we are using Star's SMS platform 7827 in big way for the selection process. The audience can SMS their choice of contestant and help us pick the winner.

And unlike certain others, our heavyweight jury is going down to every single city to judge the talent. That, in addition to the local jury, which by the way, does not comprise spot boys and executive producers.

It looks like there has there been a steady decline in the promotion from Popstar 1 to Popstar 2 to now...

No! We are promoting it much like Popstars 2. Since we pioneered the entire reality format, now people don't really bother with the promotions.

Why aren't you keen on on-ground promotions?

We have Star Plus, the biggest media vehicle on our side. We really don't need anything else. For on-ground connect, we do a lot of college connects, presence in youth hangouts. Our biggest promotions vehicle is on air and will remain so.

Why don't you utilise much of print?

When your viewership is low, you require print ads. When you are doing phenomenally well you do not require print.

How has the response to the '[V] Super Singer' been?

We had close to 6,000 people outside the auditorium at Delhi. All of them just came there, mostly after hearing of it by word of mouth. They had seen what we had done with the Popstars. So, people just came in because they know, if you dream the big dream, Channel [V] can make it happen.

And the heavy turnout was despite the promotion blitz and the huge monies poured in by our dear competitors to plug their fare.

So the talent hunts really have been like a Cinderella story...

Completely! Take for instance Aasma; there is a girl called Neeti Mohan who lives somewhere in Delhi; today she is Neeti from Aasma. Then, there is a girl called Mahua Kamat who is from Pune; today she is Mahua from Viva.

Not only are we firmly grounded in the reality television space and music talent hunts. We have a great capability of making stars, which is why people come to us and flock in such big numbers.

Looking at the crowd that came in Delhi, you must be obviously expecting greater numbers from Mumbai. Is that the reason why you are not publicising the dates and venue for auditions...

Yes, we are expecting a huge turnout. But Mumbai auditions come in much later. Currently, the first leg is being held in Delhi, Chandigarh and Jaipur.

'Not only are we firmly grounded in the reality television space and music talent hunt; we have a great capability of making stars, which is why people come to us and flock in such big numbers'

Besides music talent hunts, [V] has built up its reality content with travelogues. How was that conceptualised?

Freedom Express 1 was a phenomenal experience, which is why Freedom Express 1 and 2 led to [V] on the Run. [V] on the Run helped us intensify brand [V] in India. It helped popularise brand [V] with audiences in places where we would otherwise have not had much contact other than on-air.

So 'Freedom Express' and '[V] on the Run' were brand building exercises. But what about 'Get Gorgeous'?

[V] on the Run was a well rated show. But Get Gorgeous got ratings of 2.12 for a pivotal episode and a channel share of 21 per cent. In fact, for that episode, it outshone every single channel.

Are you talking about the music channel niche?

No. I am talking about Sony.

But shouldn't music channels concentrate on catering to music demands rather then trying to experiment with varied genres?

We define our space as music, humour, and glamour. We work around our core - music - very strongly. So while we embed all our content in music, we do flank it with offerings like Get Gorgeous, Phone Bhootand great content like talent hunts.

Has the music universe grown? What is the market that you are looking at currently?

The music universe has definitely grown. But we are just not looking at the music universe. We are also looking at the youth space. We are Star's youth arm and everything to do with youth the Star group addresses through [V].

We hear that your 'Get Gorgeous' finds got to walk the ramp at the Rome Fashion week. Was it pre-conceptualised, or did you chance upon an opportunity?

We were to launch India's four supermodels and we were going to provide them with an elite management contract. Something that every upcoming model in the country dies for.

We made them walk the Rome Fashion Week. They modeled Suneet Varma's creations. They got to meet Valentino and it was all pre-conceptualised.

How did you manage to convince the Fashion week guys?

Channel [V] is very good at that... (laughs)

'The key to a great reality show is critically how sensitively you shoot it. Which is why reality on Channel [V] works and reality on other platforms doesn't or hasn't'

What according to you is the unique formulation for a successful reality show?

The key to a great reality show is critically how sensitively you shoot it with. And our crew led by Deepak Dhar is the best in terms of sensitivity because when they are shooting friendships form. In fact, many of the Popstars finalists and entrants are still in touch with us.

Aren't reality shows touted as cashing in on people's tears?

That is what other channels look at. We clearly look at building relations. Which is why reality on Channel [V] works and reality on other platforms doesn't - or hasn't.

Aren't you hassled by the slew of reality shows set to flood the market?

No! It is typical of the myopic way in which India looks at the content. There was Kaun Banega Crorepati, and then there were two other shows that were launched immediately. What happened to them? While KBC was a defining moment in TV history, the two shows were nothing but damp squibs.



Indian audiences are far more intelligent than people would like to believe.

But clearly, there is going to be a case of overkill. Aren't we already seeing the effects on your hunts?

No! We are completely confident and my confidence has been borne out of the number of people that have showed up in Delhi.

How does the [V] growth chart look?

We, in the last three years,we have grown by about 300 per cent. I think that itself is a hell of a lot.

But the phenomenal jump was in the first year itself, post the launch of Popstar 1?

Not completely true. [V] made a phenomenal jump with Aasma- Popstar 2 as well. It whipped the rest of the music television stations. In fact, it sort of actually decimated MTV.

Participation apart, how has the influx affected the advertising community's response to your latest talent hunt 'Super Singer'?

On the on-air programming front, [V] Super Singer is completely sold out. Plus, we have a great bunch of sponsors for the on ground activity.

The title sponsor Samsung is a perfect fit because it a technologically advanced company and it suits the technology that we are using in Super Singer.

But there doesn't seem to be great on ground promotions taking place. What about the promotional gigs and cut the queue passes that were so in vogue last time on?

Of course we are giving out the passes and have quite a few interesting tie-ups with Mc Donald's.

Interestingly, our 'cut the queue' pass idea is being imitated by our dear friends at Sony.

'In music television, when you are playing non-music content it better be small'

What are plans for [V] in the next six months?

In the next six months, we want to demonstrate how [V] is the chosen platform for music talent hunts. We want to show very clearly how we have the best credentials in the business for reality shows.

Lifestyle seems to be the next upcoming genre. What is it that you are looking at doing next in that arena?

Lifestyle has been a part of [V] way before it became cool. We had a show called Cool Stop, we got Get Gorgeous shots, [V] Style Junkie. We will continue coming up with some more brilliant concepts.

Are vignettes really considered as programming of the future?

In music television, it really helps. When you are playing non-music content it better be small. But if you have great programming, it would have to be in the half hour and one hour slot.

How are you looking at programming for Super Singer?

From an on-air perspective, I guess you will just have to wait and watch. But we promise, it is going to be the most stunning show.

What is next after 'Get Gorgeous'?

Our sponsors were extremely happy with the response for get Gorgeous 1, and Get Gorgeous 2 is on the cards.

Is it the same set of talent pool that you are looking at?

We are looking at a completely new show.

What about 'Get Handsome'?

No. That is not something that we plan for near future.

Has the star value of the music channel's VJs diminished?

I don't think so. Actually [V] VJ's are still considered hip and cool, even in terms of ads that they get. Take a look at the sheer number of ads they bag and films they do. The kind of products our VJ's endorse are never toilet bowls.

Why isn't [V] keen on a VJ Hunt?

You need to do that when you are desperate (scoffs).

(An afterthought) But I don't know, we just might do a VJ hunt.

Last heard, there was a show on technology in offing. When are you planning to do that?

There is something in offing which cannot be revealed at this stage. I can promise that its going to shake up television programming.

'The kind of products our VJ's endorse are never toilet bowls'

Everyone says Popstar 2 didn't do as well as Popstar 1.

Completely untrue. In fact Popstars 2 doubled the Popstars 1 ratings and brought in double the channel share of Popstars 1. And if ratings are anything to go by then, Popstars 2 was more successful than Popstars 1.

After you adopted the `Shudh Sakahari'(vegetarian music) stance, what has been the response from the industry?

Star actually has a very stringent S&P - Standards & Practices policy. The S&P cell looks at what goes on air. Plus our programming team sits and edits videos that come to us.

Some of the videos that have come to us with CBSE's 'U' certification have been unfit to put on air. And we have had to edit them.

But by and large, music industry now knows that [V]'s policy on music video is so strong that it will not allow any form of smoking, killing, violence, mayhem, and of course blatant sex. We are considered amongst the most painful people by the music companies.

What about the current breed of music being churned out?

There is some great music coming in. Indian music has been really coming into its own, because of which there is phenomenal music. Even Bollywood music is superb.

Interestingly, some of the remixes are musically brilliant; it is just the nature of the video that makes you cringe.

Has 'Lukes After Hours' expanded the late night viewer base?

Yeah, it has. In fact, Luke - we call him the messiah of music - has a huge fan following. The core channel [V] audience had done a huge 'Hurrah' when he came back.

Is there a prime time band for a music channel?

Yeah, there is, and amazingly it is in the morning 7-10 am. But not so for the late night, as at late night band you are actually competing with Star Plus and you really don't have a hope in hell!

[V] has really taken on animation in a big way...

[V] has been largest champion of animation, be it hand drawn or clay or any other kind of animation. We have a huge number of animators working with us in-house.

Simpoo is of course our resident celebrity. In addition, we have our very own celebrity VJ Lola Kutty.

How important are humour based programming? And who is Lola Kutty?

We do a lot of humour based programmes. The latest VJ - Lola Kutty is hugely popular. She is a very pretty lady and is a London trained actress and can do voices and accents in many languages.

Isn't action adventure working as a reality genre?

No, we have just given it a season break. Channel [V] has done a lot of out of the box thinking and before its time.

What about live programming?

We used to do live shows - former VJ Trey used to host one. But given the laws in the country, we can't any more. The government has some problem with live programming.a

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