Television

'Line between credibility and sensationalism is becoming thinner ' : Anurradha Prasad - B.A.G Films and Media Limited MD

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B.A.G Films & Media Ltd. managing director Anurradha Prasad has her plate full. Having created a long list of popular TV shows, she now has her eyes fixed on FM radio, TV channels, animation and feature films.

The company has spun separate subsidiary outfits for each of these activities. The news channels will be housed under B.A.G Newsline Network while the non news broadcasting venture will be under B.A.G Glamour.

FM Radio is under B.A.G Infotainment and is operating under the Radio Dhamaal brand while animation will be via a joint venture with Sieindesign Co.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Sibabrata Das, Prasad talks of the changing face of news television with the growth of tabloidisation, the excitement of FM radio and her plans to create a vertically integrated media empire.

Excerpts:

Are TV content companies in India under compulsion to foray into broadcasting space as an effort to scale up their business?

We can go on doing a service job and generate ratings for the broadcasters. But the fundamental problem is that we have no ownership of those shows. So how do we do a forward and backward integration? We were already doing a 360 degree of content; now we have decided to do a 360 degree of media. If we don't do it now, then when will we? We have taken the organisation into a position of strength. Now is the time to take the leap.

Is the decision to have control over your destiny a fallout of B.A.G Films losing flagship shows like Sansani as Star News decided to do it themselves?

It had nothing to do with Star retrenching our shows. It was actually a two-way process and the pullout happened in May-June. We were actually contemplating on our future course of action nine months back and last December we took a call. Having done content, we had learnt a whole gamut of things and we decided to move from B2B to B2C. The things started unfolding when we bid for FM radio stations and created a new company structure. We did our first placement in January.

Were you looking at a model like Balaji Telefilms where a broadcaster picks up stake in the company and you venture into TV channels space enjoying an assured content supply?

That is a good business model as it provides a huge element of security. But we wanted to be on our own. Surely, we run a higher risk. But India today is all about challenges. If we don't take that up right now, we will have slipped an opportunity.

You mean to say that this is the right timing?

Media is attracting huge interest and is going to rule the entire consumer process. The whole distribution rejig is also happening. Cas (conditional access system) is being made mandatory, direct-to-home (DTH) platforms are up. Other media vehicles like mobile TV and internet are emerging . The cost paid for distribution is going to drop.

We have created tried and proven content. We have already set up an infrastructure and have the resource network in place. What we have to do now, and correctly, is marketing, positioning and distribution. For us, it is a very calculative challenge.

In the broadcasting space, why did you decide to get into the news and lifestyle genre?

For the last two years, there has been growth in these genres. And they have been eating into the audience share of the general entertainment channels (GECs).

Are Hindi news channels growing at the cost of the GECs because of crime shows and tabloidisation of news?

The drama in the news channels is an important driver for getting eyeballs because GECs are totally focused on women. As the GECs provided no alternative for male and young viewers, they went to news channels.

Won't it be tough as you are entering at a time when the news market is getting fragmented among 4-5 players?

The competition is huge and in the process people are going to any level to grab eyeballs. They are expanding the viewership through non fiction entertainment and are getting only TRP-driven. But in the process, they have never marketed their product or channel; they have sold cheap. The truth is that you can have a large number of eyeballs, but you may not necessarily enjoy fat revenues. People who watch news channels are not necessarily what the advertisers want. The perception you have created is very important. Which is why NDTV may have less viewership than some of the competitors but enjoys more revenues than them.

Isn't tabloidisation the winning bet for grabbing audiences in the Hindi news space?

The non fiction entertainment in Hindi news channels has created a new kind of TV. But there are no isms being followed and the editorial staff is getting edgy in this battle for TRPs. We started tabloidisation in India with the properties (Sansani, etc) that we created for Star News. But even in that space, nobody could question our credibility. That is getting lost, especially in the last two years. And some of the good properties which are getting created outside this, are not being marketed or sold properly.

How could you establish credibility in this genre which thrives on sensationalism?

When we did Sansani, it was the most credible crime show. We did research and stood by our stories. We provided all the drama but also reflected the interest of the people; several tantriks who were duping people were exposed. More than programming, it was the helpline that added to the credibility. When others took the crime genre, they never did justice to it.

As a serious organisation which is in the business of news, you can't be doing certain things which are not credible. That line between credibility and sensationalism is very thin. And it is becoming thinner because of the growth of this genre.

Do you see this trend growing?

The cost of making some of this kind of programming, particularly relating to ghosts, is cheap - and there is an audience for this. But I don't see this going on and on. It is also a happy India that we are in now.

'We plan to make a combined investment of Rs 4 billion in our broadcasting business'

Will we see opinionated news in your network?

We will carry the opinion of the people. We should have the guts to say whatever we want to say. Otherwise, why should we be in the news business?

How much will you be investing in your Hindi news channel?

We plan to make a combined investment of Rs 4 billion in our broadcasting business. We are launching four channels - two in the news space, one lifestyle and `Bliss' which will be all about mind, body and soul. For the news venture, we are pumping in Rs 2.5 billion. While the first will be a general Hindi news channel, we are still strategising on the second one. We expect to launch the Hindi news and lifestyle channels in October-November. We are using the Insat satellite and have applied for a teleport licence.

Are you diluting 25 per cent stake each in the two broadcast companies, B.A.G Newsline Network and B.A.G Glamour, to raise Rs 2 billion?

I can't comment on it.

Are India Bulls promoter Sameer Gehlaut and Kolkata-based High Growth Distributors individually picking up 12.5 per cent in each of the two companies? Have you raised Rs 1 billion each from them?

We are a listed company. We can't comment at this stage.

How different will the lifestyle channel be?

We are trying to create a new space. It will be a celebrity-driven, aspirational channel.

For the FM radio business, would you require to raise fresh capital in B.A.G Infotainment?

Our fund requirement is Rs 480 million. We have offloaded 10 per cent in the subsidiary company to IDBI Bank. B.A.G Films is investing through internal accruals and we have also tied up debt. We are adequately capitalised.

Are you in talks with foreign investors?

We will launch our brand and grow the business. We will create value before we decide to go in for a further dilution.

When will all the 10 stations get launched?

We have already launched Hissar and Karnal. Patiala is coming up next, followed by Muzaffarpur, Ranchi and then Jalgaon. We should have launched all our stations by August-September.

What is the strategy behind bidding for the stations in the northern region and the sugar belt of Maharashtra?

We believe that the towns we have selected will push for the radio revolution that has come so late in India. And the cities we have selected in the northern region falls within one extended stretch of tourist belt. Ranchi is an upcoming capital while Jabalpur is fully Hindi. In Maharashtra, the sugar belt has money.

Will your stations have a common distinct personality?

The tagline is `Hila ke rak de.' This is because the belt we have selected, particularly in the north, is high on energy. We have trained our RJs accordingly. We will be a mass-based station as we have to first get the radio culture in those places.

What are the plans for the animation business?

We have entered into a joint venture with Sieindesign Co, a firm which has a presence in the production, distribution and licensing of animation movies and TV series. We will see this segment growing.

How do you see growth in the parent company which will house the TV and film production business?

We will continue to do fiction programming for general entertainment channels as we see no friction there with our new lines of broadcasting business. The scope, in fact, will broaden as a slew of new channels are in the process of being launched.

We have also launched an international show Yeh Vaada Raha for Ary Digital, Dubai available in Pakistan, UAE, USA and UK. This is our first step towards going international. We are also foraying into Bengali feature Films with Ami,Yaseen aur amaar Madhubala. Directed by Budhadeb Dasgupta, it is set for release in October. All these efforts should give us topline and bottomline growth.

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