Think Miditech and flash comes the image of the two Alva brothers. While Nikhil started the company in 1992; brother Niret, who was a journalist, was persuaded by Nikhil to join the company. Today, the siblings are amongst the hottest television producers in the country.
Think reality television and Indian Idol and Fame Gurukul are top of the mind. While last year Miditech was co-producing the former with Optimystix; the responsibility of producing the second season solely falls on Miditech's shoulders.
Think local television programming for kids and M.A.D on Pogo stands apart from the rest. It is the first music, art and dance show for kids in India. And if that was not enough, Miditech is also producing the local version of Sesame Street for Turner.
Miditech, which until recently, was known for its documentaries; today produces a diverse range of programming in various genres. From National Geographic, Discovery and BBC to MTV, Disney, Zoom, Zee, Doordarshan and Sony Entertainment Television; Miditech has produced a wide range of fiction, entertainment, lifestyle, reality and documentary programs.
In the midst of the hullabaloo at the auditions of the second season of Indian Idol in Mumbai, Miditech president Niret Alva talks to Indiantelevision.com's Hetal Adesara about Indian Idol and Sesame Street; the company's golden relationship with the likes of Nat Geo and BBC World, not to mention the "tumultuous" relationship it shares with Star India.
In a nutshell what have been the high points for Miditech in the year gone by?
The high points for Miditech have been to be associated with and producing some of the hottest new stuff that has come out. Also, working across the board on a huge genre of programmes and being able to give them the unique Miditech touch.
Apart from that the fact that our shows have been very well received by the audience has been a humbling and exciting experience.
The second point that I would like to make is that overtime, we seem to have emerged as being seen as a production house that has been doing work for a wide variety of clients from National Geographic to MTV, Sony, Star, BBC World and the others. In fact there has been so much work across the board that sometimes, it's difficult to handle.
What are the shows you have on air and in production at this point in time and what are the new properties coming up?
I won't be able to talk about some of the shows that are currently in production. But we just got done with Fame Gurukul and Celebrity Fame Gurukul and now the spin off called 10 Ke 10 Le Gaye Dil, which is currently on air is also being produced by us. Immediately after that gets over, Indian Idol starts from 21 November and two days later on 23 November, Deal Ya No Deal goes on air. So that whole week will be big for us.
In addition to that, there is another reality show, which I can't talk about at this point in time. All I can say is that it is a brilliant format and will dramatically help alter people's lives (Extreme Makeover coming soon on Sony?)
Then we have four to five documentaries underway for National Geographic that are in various stages of production. We will be covering exciting topics like earthquakes and cyclones in these.
We are also developing another show for a mass channel, which I can't say much about. We have a business show for BBC World, which should go on air next month.
For Unicef, we are shooting some documentaries in Africa and a couple of other places. We have kept in touch with our development roots, which is where we started our television careers.
Our biggest new growth area will be the production of Sesame Street in India from next year on the Turner platform in collaboration with Sesame Workshop. We are about 50 of us working in Delhi office for this project, which includes script writers, puppeteers and educational experts who understand child development. The target group of Sesame Street is 2 - 8 year-olds. At present we are also producing M.A.D. for Pogo and it has been doing really well.
Kids' programming is one area that we are hugely concentrating on and plan to expand in because the market seems to be opening up dramatically. So that in a nutshell is what we have been upto.
Fiction shows seem to have dried up in Miditech's sea of programming. What's happening there?
So far we have done Saara Akaash, Hum 2 Hai Na, Kahani Jurrm Ki, Kabhi Biwi Kabhi Jasoos and Avinash IPS. But keeping in mind the way the reality space has grown and the shows we are doing at present; we are concentrating on reality and entertainment at the moment.
'Keeping in mind the way reality TV has grown we are concentrating on reality & entertainment at the moment'
So are you saying, fiction has taken a back seat?
Well, we do have some fiction shows that are in the development stages at the moment, which we hope to announce soon.
But overall, if you ask me, the market has changed a lot in the last one year and one needs to adapt to it accordingly. A lot of people do say that we have moved from one space to another dramatically. I would say that we have adapted to the market and produced a different market. At the same time, we have held on to our USP, which is somehow giving everything a unique spin.
Earlier Monisha Singh used to head your fiction division. Now that department seems to be inactive and actually appears to have been wound up...
I would not say that there is a stagnation. Television production is cyclical, there is a development phase and then there is a production phase. Then depending on how well the show is received, you do something else or else the show tapers off.
Hits and misses are a part of the game now and these have become more oriented towards how the audience is reacting. Fame Gurukul was the number one show on Sony, six months ago no one would have thought that.
Yes, Indian Idol was a huge success, much bigger than we had imagined, but one could have thought that it was a flash in the pan. The fact is that the trend of reality shows seems to be growing.
Would it be right to say that there was a conscious effort to move towards reality?
I genuinely don't believe that what Nikhil and I have been doing is ever something that is premeditated and thought of. We are basically ideas people who are backed up with the most incredible people in the industry and our team.
Ideas obviously come out of a context of how a market is moving and how it is changing. So we work accordingly. I would not say it is a conscious effort but there is a logical progression from one thing to the other.
Today reality is on a high in television production, tomorrow it may be fiction again. Now the buzz word is interactivity and delivery systems changing. So you have to keep adapting.
Miditech has three offices in India and one in Singapore. Can you outline the agenda of the different offices?
Our corporate office is based in Delhi. All the documentary work and the entire Sesame project is also being taken care of from there. Mumbai is where we originally started out with doing all our fiction work and grew to include entertainment and reality. Bangalore is a feeder office for all our shows and Singapore has a business development and production management office for the area.
In an earlier interview you had said that by end 2005, Miditech would have picked up a few projects in the regional markets. We are almost there now, what are the developments?
A lot of the new documentaries that have come our way have been mandated to our Singapore office and these are being shot around the world like America, Guam and China. There is some shooting in India but they are technically international projects.
As far as news channels are concerned, you have done a few shows for BBC World. Now with so many new news channels in India, are you doing any show for any of them?
I feed really exciting ideas to different news channels because I feel that in between the news stories there is a lot that can be done. But somehow it has remained at the ideas level.
How many hours of total programming do you have now?
It is difficult to give an exact number. Indian Idol alone is about 30 - 35 hours of programming. We don't look at the quantity of programming we do. We may have less number of hours, but all our work is of high-end quality.
'Today reality is on a high in TV production, tomorrow it may be fiction. The buzz word now is interactivity different delivery systems. You have to keep adapting'
The 'Seasme Street' project for Turner in India is probably as big as it gets in the kids' space. Tell me about the kind of investment, expertise, methodology, animation required.
After we bagged the project for Turner, we went to New York for a 10-day seminar where we understood how the whole thing works. That's when we understood that they had a huge research and education back up. It's not just crazy television people like us who make shows whether people watch or not. Everything is child centric and based on making learning a fun process via humour.
Before going to New York, we had a content and education seminar in Delhi. Then we created a curriculum document for the kids, which was done under the guidance of Dr Asha Singh, who is an educationalist. Our vision for the show was that we would create a workshop field within our Delhi office. We have in-house animators, puppeteers and scriptwriters for Sesame India.
The essence of Sesame Street's localised version is that it is set in the local cultural idiom, they use the mainstream language and then language spin offs is also a possibility. The characters will be local and the street is something that every kid in India can relate to. Our vision for Sesame Street in India is to build bridges - rural and urban. These will be portrayed via live action and animation, all of which have some educational goals. Apart from these there will be library content from Sesame Street's successful characters.
We work on weekly deadlines with Hong Kong (Turner) and New York (Sesame Workshop) in one cycle.
With all these kids channels coming in the country, there is a lot of scope for children's programming. We are really keen to work with kids channels as we have a lot of ideas in the space.
Kids' programming is a heavy responsibility especially if it is for pre-schoolers. What are the things you need to keep in mind while producing shows like 'M.A.D' and 'Playhouse Disney'?
The responsibility is something anybody who has kids is aware of. Secondly, the responsibility is immediately apparent with the kind of things going on in the world. Finally, as the present generation, all we can do is plant the seeds. That's what the shows seeks to do. We cannot bring any dramatic changes overnight, all we can do is plant the seeds of unity, friendship and the common things that bring all kids together.
Moving away from kids to 'Idol' talk... The second season of 'Indian Idol' is due to launch later this month. Last year it was Miditech and Optimystix producing the show. This year it is just Miditech, how has the solo journey been this time round?
Last year, we worked together with the Optimystix team and at the end of it, one doesn't want to do it again because this is really an emotionally involving show. You want everything to go smoothly and it is a draining activity.
This year, the response has been amazing. The kids have come with a lot of training and are more aggressive this time round. The smaller towns have been represented this time round in the craziest possible ways. There are parents who are pushing their kids.
This time round, the format of the show is much clearer to people and hence we can play around with it much more. From the point of view of the ingredients, it's all there for a crazy show. How well it does depends on the audience and their appetite for it.
Is there a second season of 'Fame Gurukul' being planned?
Well, that's a question which is best answered by the channel. It ought to come back because I feel that it did really well but obviously there needs to be a slight gap.
Speaking of reality shows, 'Dance Dance' didn't really make an impact, which goes to say that not all format shows work. What do you think went wrong there?Dance Dance had all the ingredients. Why it didn't work had a bit to do with the time slot and a lot with the talent. There are many reasons why a show works or doesn't. I think in terms of story telling, Dance Dance was spot on. Perhaps singing connects more with the audience than just dancing, unlike in Nach Baliye where the participants are celebrities and are real life pairs.
But if you talk about dance shows not working, 'Boogie Woogie' did phenomenally well with the audiences...
Yes, I agree. What I'm saying is you have to get the ingredients right. To my mind, it may have had something to do with the kind of talent that came on board and their inability to connect with the audiences.
Boogie Woogie was a straighter format whereas Dance Dance was more of a reality format.
'Our relationship with Star has always been a tumultuous one -- sometimes loving, sometimes distant, sometimes passionate, sometimes angry'
No shows on the Star Network from Miditech… your reason?
Our relationship with Star has always been a tumultuous one -- sometimes loving, sometimes distant, sometimes passionate, sometimes angry. At this point in time, we are not doing anything for them.
Miditech's documentaries have been in the limelight for the various awards won. What is the kind of research and processes that goes in to make a documentary? How are the topics chosen?
Firstly, you have to be studying what the channels are doing and what seems to be in vogue at that time. There are various phases. For example, if we look at what the world is going through at this moment - Cloud burst in Mumbai, Tsunami in the South East Asia, hurricanes in the US - there is a lot more scientific interest among people for these things now. Some of our ideas are based around that. Sometimes are ideas are based on current running series.
The real challenge in this space is to have a kind of trust in the channel and for the channel to have trust in us. At the end of the day, I must see what I have given them without any alterations.
So most of our projects - be it with National Geographic, BBC World or Sony - seems to be relationship and trust based.
What are the kinds of budget that are allotted for making a documentary?
Let me put it this way, the budgets that are allotted to us are slightly generous as compared to Indian standards but not as high as what a western company would have had they come to India to shoot.
I think that is really the challenge for Indian filmmakers to show that within this budget, we can make an international quality film that can be seen in Spain or Portugal or any other place in the world. The other challenge is to have a story that people can relate to across countries.
You have been contracted by Nat Geo to operate as their sales agents in the Indian subcontinent for programming. Have you sold any programming? Have any networks in the subcontinent picked up any of the programming other than Nat Geo itself?
The first sale has just happened to an multinational ad agency in India, which it is post-producing out of Malaysia.
The library of Nat Geo is mind blowing and has some amazing shots and footage that people sometimes spend eight - 10 years capturing. So I am looking forward to re-fashion and represent some of it for the Indian audience and put it out on a mass channel.
How does the revenue front look like? By how much have the revenues increased in the last year?
They are pretty decent, that much I can tell you. I don't want to get into the figures, but I can tell you that we are growing at just under 300 per cent per year.
Talk of Miditech going in for an IPO or at least getting in a funds infusion have doing the rounds for a long enough now. Is there any concrete development on that front?
We don't want to go in for an IPO just for the sake of it and we are in no hurry to do so. At present, we have ICICI Ventures, which owns 25 per cent of Miditech and we are happy with that. When we plan to go in for an IPO, it will be on the back of a mega-scale product, whatever it might be.