Television

'Paanchvi Paas will be telecast in the UK and US' : Akash Sharma - Bulldog Media & Entertainment MD

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Akash Sharma has been at the forefront of acquiring, developing and launching high-quality prime-time hit shows in India since 2005.

An economics graduate from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, Sharma spearheaded Bulldog Media & Entertainment?s efforts to be awarded the Indian licence to the international format of 2007 "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" from Mark Burnett Productions. He is currently serving as an executive producer to the Indian version of "5th Grader" on Star Plus hosted by Shah Rukh Khan. Interestingly, Sharma shares his birthday (2 November) with SRK and likes to refer to this as a coincidence indicative of their similar destiny.

In an interview with Jaahnavi P Paal, Bulldog Media & Entertainment MD Sharma reveals all about "Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain?," the company's future plans and lots more.

Excerpts:

Who are the stakeholders in Bulldog Entertainment? What are the core areas that the company is concentrating into?

We are a new-age company which is just a year old. We have Ramit Bharti Mittal (from the promoter family of Bharti Enterprises Ltd) as a shareholder. We understand the business and the management side of it as well. Right now, we are into providing television content. We look across the globe for mature television content that would work for Indian audiences. For us as content providers, it is boom time as with the onslaught of new channels it has opened up a new client base. We just delivered our first big show - Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain?

'Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader' is a format owned by Mark Burnett. How did you acquire the format of the show?

The Mittals are very active in the media space. Both Mittal and I went to USA and told them our story. We told them how content is saturated in India and how we were looking at innovative content. We wanted to shake up the apple cart, too, as the saas bahu shows were going on and on. We told them we would be able to drop the hammer on the Indian market and that too with a bang. We did not leave Los Angeles and kept talking to all top broadcasters. It was in 2007 when we were invited to the Natpe conference. We were the only Indian company who got to see the presentation of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader by Mark Burnett. We saw the show and played it without knowing what it really was. But what?s interesting is that at the presentation they played the game with us and Ramit who volunteered to be part of it got his question wrong ("Which is the longest river in Asia?")

Do you think the format is suitable for the Indian market?

India has become so global. Whether it is domestic or international content, right now the focus is to get quality content. If there is a show and it?s successful, then it?s a proven formula and a less calculated risk. Getting licenced content is a safer bet. Viewers need quality programmes and this is our focus. In Paanchvi Pass, we will broadcast it in a handful of territories outside India.

The show is being produced by Synergy and Bulldog. Out of the 50+ territories in the world, we knew that it was most relevant in India because we focus on education more than anywhere else. Right from the start, we knew that it was an SRK, Star plus show, and hence we did not go anywhere else.

In India, it will go on air when kids go on vacation. And will go on at least for a year. But what?s interesting to share is the fact that Paanchvi Paas will be telecast in the UK and USA for the NRI audience. We are in talks with representatives from New Zealand, Canada, Indonesia and Australia so that Indians across the globe can watch it.

We are also launching a licencing and merchandising division with Star Plus where we will promote toys, games and apparel during Paanchvi Paas.

How would 'Paanchvi Pass' be different from KBC?

KBC has been around since 2000. It?s been completely put out to the public. First Big B was the host; then came SRK. It?s not the host but the format that has run its course. There were gaps which happened over eight years. KBC is a general knowledge, trivia game show. Paanchvi Pass is a different quizzing concept than KBC. You have kids as life lines, grade school-level questions and all demographics coming to watch the show. The show has in-built drama, comedy and education. I think Star was looking at something fresh to redefine their programming. With our vision and their platform, we have a great partnership.

How does the deal that you have recently inked with CBS Paramount for the show 'America's Next Top Model' look like?

It?s a little early for us to talk about this. In January, we launched the show in China. It was one of the few shows to be licenced there. Its all about glamour but outside the usual singing-dancing reality shows we have been seeing. It allows an average, normal person who is interested in modelling to be part of the show. We have recently acquired India rights for America's Next Top Model. We had been after CBS since the past one and half years. Hosted by Tyra Banks, the show is in its tenth season in the US. It?s the No 1 show on Foxtel in Australia. It is in its fourth season in the UK. We are in initial talks with broadcasters in India. We are only looking at top general entertainment channels (GEC) as this is a big-ticket show. America's Next Top Model is a brand and there should be a fit between the channel and the brand. This one is a franchise and each territory globally will be renewed season after season, and so we're looking at a channel which will be a good fit.

We are also looking at casting A-list model-cum-actors to host the show.

How is the format of the 'America's Next Top Model' different from so many other shows currently running in almost all Hindi GECs?

In order for a format to be successful, it has to have the local masala. We do look to bring the framework and then localise it a little. We will Indianise the show after talking to broadcasters. Bulldog will give the framework and the production house will then add the masala. But we will protect the brand. We have shortlisted production houses who can effectively produce it. This decision will be jointly taken by us and the broadcaster. The show will have your next-door neighbour girl who aspires to be a model. The hunt for her will be on a national level. The show will begin with about 35 wannabe models out of which 15-17 girls will be shortlisted and put in a house. They will then be trained on all aspects of modelling. After which one of them will be eliminated every week. The viewer gets to see the transition of the girls to super models. The viewers will be able to relate to the struggles and challenges that the models brave. There will be a panel celeb judges representing all walks of life.

'In the long run, we do want to get our hands dirty in production. We?re seeing fragmentation in TV channels'

How big would be the prize money for the show?

In the US, it has a complete package of a cash component, one year?s contract with a top modelling agency, a car, a film contract and a few additional perks. In India, too, we may offer something similar. The girls also get to travel for international shoots for a fortnight during the show.

What are the other shows that are in the pipeline?

We have just acquired a fiction show, Nuevo Rico Nuevo Pobre ("New Rich, New Poor") from Canal Caracol TV who is the top broadcaster in Colombia. This is a very exciting deal for us as it marks our foray into the fiction space. It will set a precedent in the licencing of fiction content.





This concept has been sold to Fox in USA and now we have the rights in India. It will be a heavily promoted show for them, and is scheduled to be launched this fall on prime time.

What are the future plans for your company?

In the long run, we do want to get our hands dirty in production. We?re seeing fragmentation in TV channels. This is a boon for us as this helps channels cut through the clutter. It opens up new opportunities for us so that we can change their programming. Viewers want quality now because of the clutter. And this will be our main focus.

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