Television

'When I first came to push 'Idol' I heard things like India is not a solo singer market. It is a Bollywood market' : Indriena Basarah - FremantleMedia Asia GM

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It has been a busy time for FremantleMedia in India. The company earlier this year finished co-producing the first season of Indian Idol. It is now working with Sahara on Mission Ek Crore and with Star to finalise the details on The Apprentice.

It is also talking to various Indian companies for formats and drama series. Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with Fremantle Media Asia GM Indriena Basarah to find out about the company's plans.

Excerpts:

How has 2005 been so far for Fremantle Media?



It has been good. We completed the first season of Indian Idol which was successful. There were lots ups and downs but it was all worth it. Idol was a complicated project. It goes different directions on television, radio, internet. It is a multifaceted show that also involved a lot of activity on the ground.

I think that it was the first time that a show on that scale was done in India. There were a lot of learning curves for us.

In the rest of Asia we are in discussion with several parties in Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore for Idol. In some countries we are also holding talks for The Apprentice. Asia is not the biggest revenue generator for us in terms of dollars and euros but in terms of growth it is on a higher curve. In Japan we did a show Model Behaviour.

What are the factors that you see fuelling growth in Asia?



The liberalisation process in markets like India. There is an opening of markets. India is getting more open to experimenting with different kinds of television formats. Dramas have ruled for so long that it had limited the scope for other products to come in.

Fremantle is huge in reality, gameshows. Interests have changed. The quality of television production has gone up in India and Asia. When we bring in a local version of a show like The Apprentice the viewer expects it to look as good as it does in America. This possibility was not there earlier. The production expertise is there.

Another factor is that there is greater appreciation for international copyright laws in Asia. Earlier in Asia, whenever someone saw a show in America they went back home and copied it. Now I think that they realize that there is more to formats. There is also the brand value. They realise that if they use the expertise of companies like Fremantle then they can avoid the trial and error process.

We have managed to take a television format and expand it across revenue platforms like licensing, merchandising and telephony. This allows a brand to be larger than life. The Indian and Asian market are not restrictive. The properties that we deal with are not limited to just television.

Which five formats would you say are your top revenue earners globally?



We have around 1,500 titles. We not only develop formats but we also acquire them. The top five at the moment are Idol, The X Factor, Family Fued, The Price is Right and The Apprentice.

You co-produced the first season of Indian Idol. What were the key learnings from this?



What we took away was that if you create reality television by sticking to your boundaries or guidelines it will work. Earlier there was skepticism about Idol. We understood that Idol was a reality show and not a packaged drama. A format that has worked in 30 plus countries will also work in India with adaptation to suit the local tastes.

A boy or a girl wants to be a celebrity. When I first came to push Idol I heard things like India is not a solo singer market. It is a Bollywood market. A singer is not as valued as a Bollywood star. A singer is always in the background. The stars lipsynch. There was talk about a lip synch Idol to which we said no. Eventually the format worked really well. Abhijit Sawant is a superstar and he is so nice. Idol gives the power to the people to choose.

'In general even the number of local production houses have gone up. The world has become smaller. Production houses realise that they are compared not to the production house next door but to one in Australia'

What new deals did Fremantle Media recently sign with Indian and Asian broadcasters?



We are talking to Indian broadcasters about X Factor. But we cannot grow too fast or we may not pay enough attention to what we already have on our plate. Our main focus in Asia is rolling outIdol. This requires a lot of hand holding.

There are some game shows coming back in countries like The Price Is Right. In the UK we are doing a Game Show Marathon with ITV which is celebrating 50 years. In the West the reality genre is goind down and in Asia some reality shows have too high a budget.

They need an anchor steady show that delivers results at a reasonable cost. As far as pre-packaged shows we are distributing the IIFA Awards which have received a lot of interest.

Could you talk about the manner in which the production values of your shows has gone up over the past couple of years?



In general even the number of local production houses have gone up. The world has become smaller. Production houses realise that they are compared not to the production house next door but to one in Australia.

The difference in Asian countries like China, Thailand due to pressure from the broadcasters is that a lot of sponsors are in the background. In the West that area is very well regulated. In Asia though sometimes it looks a bit cluttered.

Have the details on Indian version of The Apprentice been finalised?



No. We have had a lot of discussions. Hopefully in the next three months we will find a CEO (who will host the show), which is not an easy task. We do have a few names.

What are the logistical challenges that Fremantle will face as far as producing this show is concerned?



One needs to look at weather conditions as a lot of it will be shot outside. The quality of equipment is important. The logistics of travelling across the country also need to be considered. India is a huge country and we want to represent as much of it as we can.

This becomes tight as you have time management issues. You need licenses, permissions. You don’t know how teams will react. The fore planning that you need to work on is more in terms of the broader structure. Then the production is let loose. It is challenging but not limiting.

We are lucky in that The Apprentice has rolled out in other territories so we can learn from what they have gone through. This is one of the best things about Fremantle. You are not left on your own. You can learn from Greece, Germany, Russia,America etc. You constantly assimilate from what has been done. Tasks are ideated for a local market.

There is a logic about why certain ideas are put across. All tasks are tested in advance. Teams are then given tasks in real time.

I would imagine though that The Apprentice is more niche than Idol since it is business based.



You are right. Idol appeals to the young and the old. The Apprentice is more urban. It has more business.

The Apprentice though, at the end of the day, is the drama inside a boardroom. It teaches people survival skills. Tension, conflicts in the show are something people can relate to. The CEO that we pick will be such a big name anyway that a lot of people will want to tune in to see what he looks for in people. Viewers will learn a lot about dos and don’ts and what is preferable.

In Asia though The Apprentice is only in Indonesia and India. It has not been big like Idol because not every Asian country is entrepreneurial. A lot of Asian countries have professional CEOs at the top. They are not very entrepreneurial. India and China are exceptions. In Japan there is interest on the show. However we cannot find an entrepreneurial CEO who wants to do the show.

'In Idol the age group is limited to 16-28. X Factor has no age limit. The juries are more involved. In Idol, the candidates are only told that they are no good. On X Factor each jury member fights to keep his/her favourite candidate on the air'

Apart from The Apprentice and Indian Idol, which are the other shows in your portfolio that you feel have potential to do well in India?



There are quite a few drama titles that we feel would work in India. Some finer details have to be worked through. One show is Forbidden Love. It is about twins separated at birth. The boys were brought up in a poor family and the girls in a rich one.

However I have been given to understand that there are similar shows already in India. Another show that has potential in India is A Place In The Sun. It is about a nurse who looks after a dying aristocrat. The aristocrat lives with a family. When he dies the will says that the house goes to the nanny who is an illegitimate child of this aristocrat. The story unravels between her and the rest of the family. In Italy it has been on air for ten years everyday.

You mentioned bringing the X Factor to India. Isn’t it similar to Idol?



There are differences. It is a singing show like Idol. But in Idol the age group is limited to 16-28. X Factor has no age limit. The juries are more involved. In Idol, the candidates are only told that they are no good. On X Factor each jury member fights to keep his/her favourite candidate on the air.

Often there are ugly fights about it. The jury acts as a mentor for his/her candidate. Each jury member will say that his/her candidate is better than another one. (X Factor hosts) Simon Cowell and Sharon fought constantly in the UK.

You are now working with Sahara on Mission Ek Crore. The unique thing about India is that the phenomenal success of Kaun Banega Crorepati has not been replicated by other game shows even though some offered more prize money. How confident are you about the reception this show will get?



We are fairly confident. At this stage we cannot give out too many details. However there is a reality element to it as well. It is also shot outside and not just in a studio.

It will be different from what people expect. It is a question of mixing the elements the best that you can and then the viewer decides. It should travel abroad. Of course if we knew the key to the success of formats we would all be billionaires.

Could you talk about what Fremantle did in terms of fine tuning the show?



This was a concept brought to us by Sahara. We sat down and brought a development person from the Fremantle London team into the picture. We worked out the structure and I can say on behalf of both Fremantle and Sahara that what has been developed is quite different from where we started.

I think that it is a much more television led but we have managed not to lose the core essence of the show. We kept in mind the broader umbrella of the concept. It will launch in the first quarter of next year.

'Mobile is not just about interactivity though. It is also an effective tool to create awareness. Its promotional value is high'

Which are the other Indian broadcasters that Fremantle Media is talking to broadcasters to develop the formats of their shows?



We are not developing formats for anyone else at the moment. Channels and production houses have approached us though.

How is the mobile platform helping bring your shows closer to the audience?



If you provide telephone voting to the viewers like what was done with Idol they become active and not passive. Downloadable clips see people getting more closer to the brand. Mobile is not just about interactivity though. It is also an effective tool to create awareness. Its promotional value is high.

Could you talk about innovations that Fremantle has done with advertisers?



Idol broke a lot of ground rules in this regard. In India there was a sponsored car. Before the gala round contestants were introduced in the car. The thing about Idol is that it is an event.

The on ground auditions are great venues for sponsors to get noticed. Several million people audition and sponsors have a great chance to reach that target group. The final on air show is a national event. In Australia it was shot at the Sydney Opera House. The Price is Right is another good example. (For example) The fridge can come from Samsung or LG.

On The Apprentice not all tasks are sponsored. We have to be careful. The tasks have to be different in each episode. In one episode if it is making an ad, the next episode cannot be the same thing. It is important that the sponsor understands the creative process.

Could you talk about the work that Fremantle does with Asian production companies as far as helping them bring their ideas to life is concerned?



If we see a format that is very good we would help distribute it. Unfortunately in India a lot of the IP belongs to the broadcaster and a lot of them anyway have an international arm. In Thailand we developed a format Stop The Clock. Now it is produced in the Middle East, Latin America. It is a game show that involves a race against time.

Could you give me an idea of the new formats that Fremantle has come out with?



At Mipcom we showed several new concepts that we have come out with. We have a show Fata Morgana. It is all about community building. A celebrity for instance comes in one day and goes to a small village and tells them that the village has to be the most romantic in the world.

Five people will be chosen and things have to be done in six days. It is a lot about giving back to the community. Then there is Dial A Mum. We are in discussions for this show with several parties in India. It is about a couple that is stuck in their relationship.

The woman may feel depressed as the marriage has become boring. She and her husband are not communicating as well as they could. She dials for a mum. Four mums come. They talk to everyone in the family. Each of the four mums looks at a different area. One mum will offer advice on personal styling. The mum might give advice on dressing differently to look more romantic. Another looks at careers. Another will offer household tips. It looks at everything – home, relationships, oneself, career. A holistic life makeover is given.

A lot of shows have only a style makeover or a house makeover. We also have the reality show Project Runaway. It is a design reality show. In the US it won an Emmy. It is about upcoming designers. A designer is taken to a supermarket. With $100 he/she has to buy materials and design a very good outfit. It is not just about designer bridal gowns. There is a lot creativity.

Do you see an opportunity for Fremantle as far as expanding the licensing business into India is concerned?



The piracy enforcement machinery is lacking across Asia. One day your brand is on television and the next day it is on the streets. The buying power of the people also needs to improve.

And while merchandising is huge in the US in terms of sales of T-shirts, mugs, in France merchandising is frowned upon. They prefer Louis Vuitton. It is a different mindset.

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