'India is probably the toughest in terms of getting the deal and sustaining it' : Gavin Wood - Fremantle Media director of operations India

When you've been in the television production business for as long as Fremantle Media director of productions India Gavin Wood has, there is probably very little out there that can shock and awe. More so considering that the 43-year-old lost count of the number of shows he made once he crossed the 5,000 mark. Still, despite a total of 26 years doing television, Wood is mighty impressed by the sheer wealth of ideas on show in India.

Following the success of Pop Idol in the UK, Wood took the reality TV talent show across regions. Wood is for the interim based out of Mumbai, looking at setting up India as a production hub for Fremantle.

In an in-depth conversation with's Sonali Krishna, Wood details Fremantle's plans in India and its upcoming productions.


What is your role in India essentially? And the vision ahead for Fremantle?

My role in India is to establish a production base that enables us to service networks in India. And to ascertain ourselves in Sri Lanka and Pakistan as well. In doing that, we want to establish high quality formats that rate well here with the networks. At the moment, we are working closely with Sony and Star and there are other networks that we are in negotiations with as well.

How would you rate India as a market?

Out of all the markets I have worked in, India is probably the toughest in terms of getting the deal and sustaining the deal. India is a very young industry, probably about 12 years old. It's got a very small core of talent that seems to move between the companies, which makes it tough. Being a young industry, people are still learning.

India is also very competitive and, more importantly, a market that is being run by only a couple of channels with everybody wanting to be number one. So, everyone is in search of that one show that will give you ratings. The only reason that formats work here is because they are Indianised. They go through a process of localization that allows you to produce a local show without destroying the skeleton of the format.

But isn't that the case everywhere?

Yes. But India has more to localize than Taiwan for instance. There's far more depth to Indian culture than I see in a lot of other countries. And it is also depth that you want to put on screen. If you are in Japan, we all acknowledge their culture but we don't put it on screen. We present this very clean dream Japanese look. On the other hand, India will say we are honest to (read: about) who we are and how the country works and the viewers here like to see individuals winning in the face of adversity. There are so many elements that come into play in the Indian market.

This market is also difficult because of the number of producers who are bouncing off ideas to networks; it makes it that much tougher for us. And once you strike it, it is difficult to sustain it because everyone is changing and people pick up on your ideas. You will be making a show with some elements in it, and all of a sudden the same elements appear on another show on a rival network. So, you can't carry on just making the show but have to ensure some changes that still keep the format intact.

Are these challenges only peculiar to India?

Well, it happens in Thailand and China as well. But in most other regions one can tend to make a show and stick with it. India is constantly looking for change. And sometimes it does not make it better, just different. Some of the times when you are playing with a format, you can make a change in the short term which will have long term repercussions.

When I made Wheel of Fortune, for instance, we added an element to the game in the beginning. We played the game and tested it and it seemed fine. But, when we got to the end of the game, we realized that we did not see one aspect of it. So, there is a focus of getting as much quality here in every show and sometimes if not thought out properly, it could be a problem at the other end.

But then again, India is almost a vertical line if one looks at the quality of productions that happen here. When the budgets are good and comparable to what an overseas country will spend, the apple is the same. Set designs, the use of colour, the use of light, people and movement is fantastic.

The way Millionaire (KBC) was dealt with here was amazing. I think the world can take a leaf out of India's book and look at how it was done. Similarly, India's Child Genius, it's not just been shot, it's been crafted. (Both KBC and India's Child genius were produced by Siddharth Basu's Synergy Productions).

Is India the most significant market in Asia?

No, I don't think India is the most significant. There are other markets in Asia that are producing more money like Japan, China and Indonesia. But, here you have to keep in mind that, these are countries that have been making television for a lot longer, have more channels and production houses.

'India has probably already created a world class format. It's probably sitting in your backyard'

What course do you think reality in India will take, considering Fremantle has done significant work across regions?

In India, there is definitely a demand for reality, but like all genres in television, it will cycle. The cycle in most countries seems to be five years. The reality boom has just started in India, we'll see a lot of pure reality shows coming in but a lot of reality is being fed into the formats to make it more mass-based.

Do you find India is distinctly different as a market in terms of TV consumption or do you think that TV will evolve here in the same way as the west?

It is certainly following the trend as far as content goes and India is seeing the best of what is out there. The 24 series is happening overseas, it is also happening here. What is interesting here is that people want to see more western content with an Indian standpoint which is what makes it different.

I hope India retains its individuality and produces local television for local consumption and doesn't lose the essence of being Indian. Indonesia loves all things American in their television programmes. Singapore and China are the same, where if it's American, it must be good.

With India, due to the mass of people here, India will always be Indian. Sure, there's a lot of stuff coming from overseas, but just because it's international does not mean it's good.

In India, I see a transition happening at the moment into more reality and that's just the position that you are in the cycle. Indian television is a fast moving game, faster than other places in the world.

What are Fremantle's expansion plans in India? Also, I hear that you are on the lookout for a CEO?

My task here is to assist production in being set up. I am probably going to be here for the next five years and train somebody who will take over from me. Fremantle internationally has a policy that when we move into a country, we see ourselves as a local production company that has a parent in London. So, it will be local people making local television for local viewers. The CEO will be the face of the company.

We will be producing formats that we own, involved in co-productions with local companies. If small production houses have an idea but not the ability to execute it, we will assist them in the development process, produce the show locally with them and then we will represent it internationally. So, if you are a little production company in India, Fremantle can help you have a window on the world by producing a format and distributing it. There is already a Fremantle distribution here although it is based out of London which distributes our international format to Indian broadcasters as well as services them.

We are already in talks with four production companies, and one has two concepts that we are looking at. We are different stages of paper. We are here as a full fledged production house and we want to grow our presence here.

The third is local development for shows in India.

So, what does the structure in India look like?

The Asian head office is in Singapore. In India, on the ground we have me, then we have a project director Geetika Bhandari (ex-Wizkraft), a production manager, finance manager and our creative and production teams. I report into the director of operations Asia Patrick Schult. Once we have our CEO in place, we will also set up our marketing and sales teams.

Khul Ja Sim Sim was our first assignment here, which was followed by Bol Baby Bol. We shut shop for a little while in between from 1999 - 2002 during the Asia flu. What we are doing now is re-establishing ourselves here.

What's the vision five years from now?

Fremantle Productions India producing between seven and ten shows in a year, probably some strip formats five days a week, and have some of the biggest shows from us competing with each other on rival networks at the same slot on prime time, which is what happens around the world.

When do you think India will play a significant role in the format market? Considering it could be a huge revenue model for the production and the broadcast industry.

Why isn't it happening now? You probably already have it. It's probably sitting in your backyard and a show you made years ago that worked really well, and you have just moved on from it. It might need just a little tweak and you might have a worldwide hit. I think there is a wealth of ideas here.

'Idols has the potential to make more money than The Apprentice'

I believe that Fremantle is producing Indian Idol 2 on its own this time? Why the decision?

At the moment we are trying to make Indian Idol 2, a smoother operation. We all learned a lot of lessons from the last Indian Idol series in terms of what we can do and what we can't do in India as opposed to other countries. Also, it is always difficult to have four companies intensely involved in producing one product. What we would like this time is a smoother communication flow which will lead to a more timely and better quality product.

Fremantle, which is distributing Mark Burnett's The Apprentice worldwide, has sold the concept to Star. But will you also be involved in the production?

Yes, we are the international distributors and producers of The Apprentice. Eighty per cent of the quiz shows and game show formats are with us. Either we own them outright or we distribute and produce them worldwide.

What's the plan of action (POA), post Indian Idol 2? Have you signed up with any other broadcaster for any of your other formats?

We have started some pre-production work for The Apprentice, because the show requires an enormous amount of pre-production time.

How will you localise The Apprentice to the Indian market?

Well, it won't be a suit and tie affair. It's the same composition of people with a mix of people who are book smart and people who are street smart. The Apprentice is more niche internationally, but here the effort will be to make it have more mass appeal. With the Indian audience, it needs to be more mass.

In terms of revenue how does Idol fare vis-?-vis The Apprentice?

Idol has the potential to make more money than The Apprentice. Historically, around the world, the only place that I know of where Idol makes money on production is America. Normally, if you are lucky, one breaks even on the production costs. Usually one spends more than it's worth. But what pays the bills are the sponsors, the telephony, the merchandising and all the other ancillaries.

But Indian Idols didn't seem to have any merchandising?

No, it was too late. Also, I don't think anyone picked it up. And by the time, we realized, there wasn't enough time to conjure up so much content.

From your drama offering, besides Neighbours, there appears to be nothing really that would be of interest to Indian broadcasters. Would you agree with that?

There's Home & Away that would work very well here. There is an English series called Three's Company, if slightly tweaked would also pick up.

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