Television

'Going global is a key part of our TV content scale up plan' : Ajit Thakur - UTV Television COO

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With industry pundits expecting the television content industry to explode from Rs 14 billion to Rs 30 billion over the next two years, UTV Software Communications is laying the foundation to ride on this boom.

Having slipped in the television content production business over the years, UTV's revival strategy includes holding IPR rights for some of the content that it creates, working out a genre-specific approach, and striking partnerships with other production houses.

The Ronnie Screwvala promoted company, which has set the pace for the Bollywood industry, is readying to develop formats and content that can travel across the globe.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Sibabrata Das & Anindita Sarkar, UTV Television COO Ajit Thakur explains how the company plans to scale up its content business.

Excerpts:

Why is it that UTV's television content production business slipped over the years?

A few years back, production houses started emerging as specialist content providers. While Hats Off Productions mastered comedies, Fire Works started working on thrillers and Synergy specialised in format shows.

UTV did not take steps in this direction. We didn't have a genre-specific approach, but continued to do a number of things. Also, good talent was lacking in the industry.

Is UTV going to focus on specific genres as part of its revival strategy?

Our key focus now is to specialise in different genres and develop formats for which we can hold the IPR. We have identified a need gap in reality formats and have gone into it. We are also looking at formats and content that can travel in the global marketplace. We are clear that we want to hold the rights to some of our content. That is what keeps international content companies like Endemol and FremantleMedia in strong financial health; about 70 per cent of their turnover comes from 3-4 big shows.

Which is why you are interested in creating a property like Gandhi?

Exactly. If you do not hold the IPR to the big properties that you create, you will never be able to cushion yourself from the cyclic downturns that every creative content company goes through. The current structure of the broadcasting business is such that there is no value model for the production houses. We are out to change that. As part of that ambition, we are producing Gandhi for India as well as the world.

How much will the fund requirement be for this project and are you planning to strike a deal with an international broadcaster ahead of production as a de-risk strategy?

We will have to get there, no matter what it takes. We are creating an internal research team and will have a panel of Indian and international historians. Most of the creative team will not be from the television but the film industry. We will have writers from Bollywood and the West. Since we are sure that the content will travel, we are producing it in Hindi as well as in the English language. We are in talks with US and UK broadcasters.

Will you hold the IPR for the Indian market as well?

We will hold the global rights while selling the Hindi version of the drama series to an Indian broadcaster. Once we have a definite fix on the story board and zero in on the cast, we will know about the costs. We haven't worked out the budget yet but are prepared to spend on the project. It is easy to go to the Middle East and South East Asian markets. We want our content to travel to the US, UK and European markets.

'If content firms do not hold the IPR, they will never be able to cushion themselves from cyclic downturns'

How will the basic revenue flow from the content supply to local broadcasters be taken care of?

There is a business opportunity in soaps, reality, mythology and fantasy content. For starters, we have hit on the reality genre. We have set up the team for it and have produced EK Se Badhkar Ek for Zee TV. We will be replacing it with another reality show for the same channel. We will have Ek Khiladi Ek Hasina, a weekly dance reality show which has six leading cricketers as participants, on Colors. The game show, Cash Cab, has been developed by us on a licensed format, originally produced by Lion Television for ITV. Bindaas will be airing it from 15 September.

We see the reality genre having the potential to travel to overseas markets as well. Our aim is to produce six reality shows by the end of this fiscal.

Our next look will be in fiction and we will take a genre-specific approach. In fact, every six months we will get into a new genre and consolidate in that space.

What are the genres that carry an opportunity for UTV and could be tapped?

We are definitely not looking at the saas-bahu genre as the audience for this segment is steadily diminishing. There are thriller, comedy, fantasy and mythology genres. There is enough scope for period dramas too.

UTV has got into co-production partnerships with different local production houses. Isn't this the beginning of a new trend, much like what has happened in the movie business?

Our aim is to be among the top two TV content producers in the Indian market. One way of getting there is by creating partnerships with other production houses who have a distinct content flavour. We have equal joint ventures with three players and are looking at other proposals. We have JVs with Smriti Irani Television Ltd (SITL), Windmill Entertainment with Shekhar Suman, and another with Rajesh Beri. On the Gandhi project, we are doing it with SITL.

Going global, of course, is a key part of the scale up plan. We have another big project coming up which we feel we can take to the global arena.

Hasn't UTV recently started getting into TV content production in the southern languages?

We were earlier doing only airtime sales for the Sun TV network. But recently we have got into production as well and are doing a show for Sun TV (Tamil) and Gemini (Telugu). It is not a big revenue earner for us, but is more of strategic value. Since we were doing airtime sales, it was a logical step for us to integrate it with our creative resources. Once we have 5-6 shows on Sun, it can be a big step for us.

In a unique deal, UTV paid a minimum guarantee to NDTV Imagine for Ramayan and syndicated it to the Sun TV network of channels. Will we see more such deals?

We are close to signing up with a broadcaster for another mythology and syndicating that content down south.

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