'Finally it is sticky content and not necessarily the genre that will work' : Peter Bazalgette - Endemol chief creative officer

India is increasingly becoming an attractive destination for foreign television firms wishing to do business. Some of them are looking to set up shop. The latest one to have done so is format creator and distributor Endemol. The company recently announced the formation of Endemol India headed by former Star India hand Rajesh Kamat.

The company is not only looking to sell formats in the country but also to work with Indian talent and create's Ashwin Pinto caught up with Endemol chief creative officer Peter Bazalgette for a lowdown on the company's plans and performance.

What is the game plan for India?

What you have to say about India is the sheer size and vitality of the Indian market. The opportunity for us is to set up a local production company that we think quite quickly will become a really valuable part of the Endemol network. That means not only importing formats from the rest of the world but also creating formats. These will feed into the Endemol network elsewhere. In this way we want to see a really vibrant company, which is productive in its own right.

That is why I am delighted with our deal on The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. That is an Indian idea, which we are getting the chance to produce the second series of. That is very significant for us as it shows what we intend.

How many formats does Endemol have in its library?

We have 900 shows. Every year we add 100 new ideas to the format library. At any given time 300 are active. These span across different genres and this is something we are looking to exploit in India. The business model for us is not only exploiting formats but also developing new formats.

In terms of revenue generators globally which are your top five formats?

Big Brother accounts for just under a fifth of our revenues. It is not as dominant as some people think it is. Deal Or No Deal is an important format. Extreme Makeover: Home edition is one of our top five formats simply by virtue of the fact that it is commissioned in America. The value of the licensee fees there is very high.

Operation Triunfo is big. Then we have what I call participation TV shows. We have them in 18 territories. People phone in and it is a game show. It allows more interaction and it started in Holland.

Which are the broadcasters that Endemol is talking with in India?

We have a production deal with Sony. We are already working with Star. We are looking to do Big Brother in India and are in talks with a broadcaster.

'In the mid 1990s television got stale. All the genres were invented by America in the 1940s. We needed to find new ways to make compelling television. We have come up with new genres, hybrids and reality is one of them'

Is there a cultural fit in India for the show?

The great thing about Big Brother is that it reflects the culture of the country it is in. There are some things though that are consistent across the world. One is that audiences love real life soap operas. Soap operas are huge in India. Big Brother is a real life soap opera. It is the story of the relationship between 10 or 12 people living together for three or four months. That is something that I think will absolutely chime with Indian tastes.

The thing about the show is that it is flexible. The content can travel on different platforms. You can get a half hour narrative documentary style format. You can have live streaming on the web. You can vote on phone and take SMS text alerts. One can also download 3G minutes. Online the Big Brother site has chat rooms and fanzines to encourage further audience interaction. People around the world love choosing how they will consume the show when they want to.

An industry expert recently said that now the reality show genre is showing signs of fatigue. Do you think that this genre is on the wane?

Let me tell you what it is about. Loosely reality shows see members of the public take part in shows that are not scripted. They are often a competition or a challenge. They had a tremendously energising effect on television. People love seeing their peers on television. Broadcasters love hit shows that often cost much less than fiction. I have news for you. It is here to stay.

There may be fewer in one year and more the next but reality is here to stay. Good product that appeals to the discerning viewer will work. Finally it is sticky content and not necessarily the genre that will work.

Are there plans to tap into the news genre?

No! We are not into supplying news channels with content. In the comedy genre though I think that comedy panel shows that use a lot of improvisation will become popular in India as time goes on. They allow you to combine the strengths of formatted television with the strengths of scripted television.

Comedy panel shows have a great future all around the world. They are getting a lease of life and why are thinking of new formats for them in the Endemol Group.

'In terms of intellectual property there is a certain amount of creativity that exists. At the same time if you draw and pull in expertise from other countries and learn from them how they went about doing the show then you would have the best of both worlds'

What are the plans in fiction arena?

Fiction was Endemol's best kept secret. There is more concentration in this area now but. We recently appointed Caroline Torrance whose job is to help fiction grow in the group.

In Italy, Holland and Spain this is an important area. We have just started up fiction divisions in the UK and in the US. We have a strong comedy unit in the UK. Endemol has not come to India saying that we are going to teach Indians about this genre where you are very strong in. That tradition is strong in India. If we can find a way to contribute to this in the medium term that would be good. That is one of Rajesh's goals. He will look at the fiction market and see what Endemol can bring to that.

Would you say that Endemol is flexible in terms of formats being tweaked?

Very much so! We are flexible in this regard. Some programme companies say 'this is the format. This is the set design, question order, music etc. Do it or you cannot have the show. We do not take that attitude.'

When we bring a show into India and it is adapted you will find that it is spiced up. The Indian spices have to go into it. In terms of intellectual property there is a certain amount of creativity that exists. At the same time if you draw and pull in expertise from other countries and learn from them how they went about doing the show then you would have the best of both worlds. The skill of selling a format into a country is that you should allow that territory to change it enough to make it work. However it should not have been changed so much that the original idea that drives the show's success has been destroyed.

To give you an idea of flexibility Deal Or No Deal has different versions. In Italy, France and the UK the daytime version is quite different from the primetime hit in Holland and the US. The person at the end of the telephone in Holland is a silhouette. In the US it is a person in a penthouse suite with a cigar. These are things that we not only allow but we expect our local companies to be creative with. This helps add lustre to shows.

The flip side to all this is that it is usually difficult for the owner of a reality show to protect the format from being picked up and then modified. Your comment?

Broadcasters are seeing the value of buying a format. When you buy a format you do not just get the idea. You get the know how in terms of why it works. You can get the production company to come in and help make it a hit through production. On the whole it is therefore more beneficial as opposed to merely ripping it off. Yes formats do sometimes get copied or infringed upon.

But the number of legal actions that Endemol has to take is very small compared to the number of deals done. You must also remember that all television programme hits are inspired by the hits that have come before them. It is only when something is identical that it is a rip off. I do not like to get bogged down with discussions on the legality of the format business because that is not what drives it.

Another issue is that the concept of IPR has not picked up in India. So for a producer who does not get anything after the first run it is frustrating. Your views?

Things have started to change slowly. Music is starting to get savvy towards it. The trend will come but it is not going to be easy. It is going to be a task to tell the broadcaster to leave the IPR with you. I would say that the main thing is how the income gets split. If that is fair then there should not be a problem.

In India production houses come in with a concept which gets worked upon with the broadcaster. It helps if the production house comes in with a production bible as well which then gets tweaked. When you come in with a format idea it is seen as something that the broadcaster and format owner are working on together.

International producers have come to India and have sold formats to the broadcasters. It is not however that they have sold off the format rights. We are always happy to be in a partnership with broadcasters for new formats that we will create in India.

Even on the scripted side if a piece of fiction is sold to the Pakistan market after being made in India by the format owner and broadcaster there is no reason to have the argument of I own it and you do not. Leave the ownership where you want. How do we split the revenues? We bring an idea and the broadcaster brings investment. It should not be a 100 per cent either way. I don't want to get into a discussion of ethics. Let us do business. We do have an advantage here in that we bring ideas from elsewhere.

'Often when you have an innovation copies come along. Those copies do not fare well. The innovation continues doing well. I will say that it is important

to come out with new ideas in game shows

With KBC I would argue that it was Bachchan that made the show a huge hit. His personality drove the show. Do you feel that it would have worked so well if someone else had hosted the show?

I would like to see this happen on Star just to find out what the result is. I will give the example of Deal Or No Deal. In Italy it was a such a huge hit on public broadcaster Rai that Mediaset the commercial broadcaster made a huge offer to the host that ran into millions of euros. He then joined them.

This guy did the show brilliantly and was completely identified with it. He was funny, warm. Rai put in a new presenter and the show's share dipped slightly from 30 per cent to 29 per cent. That shows how resilient the format is. Even though the original presenter was a genius the show still connected with viewers after he left.

Having said that India is different. I would use the Coke analogy. Globally you do not have a celebrity endorsing the product. The philosophy is that the brand is bigger than the celebrity. In a market like India it works to have a celebrity like a bollywood star. Without Bachchan the show would have still done well and have gotten a rating of around 12. Bachchan gave it a rating of 20. So the definition of what is a success was changed by Bachchan.

What are Endemol's plans as far as expanding in Asia?

We have India and South East Asia. The operation is in Bangkok and well formats to Vietnam and Phillipines. In the medium term we are also looking to do business in Japan, China and South Korea.

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