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Bulldog Media: A glocal journey

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MUMBAI: Ever since the advent of Indian Idol and Kaun Banega Crorepati on Indian television in the early 2000s, there's been no looking back for international formats that have made their way into the country to quench viewers' thirst for "different" content.  

Moreover, it was in the year 2007 when Bulldog Media and Entertainment founder and managing director Akash Sharma and his partner Ramit Mittal decided to shake up the industry when there weren't many international shows travelling to India. The duo aimed to bridge the gap for shows that were launching in all countries in abroad and had not launched in India.

Speaking to Indiantelevision.com, Sharma says, "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 licensed content is a safer bet. Viewers need quality programmes and this is our focus."

Bulldog Media and Entertainment has expertise in worldwide acquisition, development and exploitation of intellectual property rights in the Indian television market.

“Being in America with an Indian background, I saw all the shows growing up in America and saw the huge opportunity to present it in India,” says Sharma.

While international format companies like Endemol and FremantleMedia have their own catalogue, Sharma believes that the advantage his company had was the ability to pick up shows from any company. "The difference is that we could pick from anywhere we wanted to, while they were bound by their own catalogue, which gave us another advantage. So the suppliers of shows saw us as a breath of fresh air."

According to Sharma, when Bulldog Media and Entertainment was set up, it did not have a red streak coming into the industry. "There were big names like Siddhartha Basu and a lot of other producers, who had been into fiction since the mid 90s. The tough thing was to prove ourselves and believe in the shows and the work we were doing."

Bulldog Media’s first project was licensing Mark Burnett Productions' global smash-hit, Are You Smarter Than 5th Grader? and launching the show in India, hosted by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain? on Star Plus.

According to Sharma, the company was forced to grow up fast and it happened quite instantly because of its first show. "It was a world win with a big star like Khan and at that time there was a huge buzz as none of the big stars had come to TV. This was being touted as the next big thing after KBC. We brought that show to India and it was our IP, so we were forced to grow up very fast and get accepted," states Sharma.

Post that, the company licensed and produced the P&G-owned 39-year old television franchise People’s Choice Awards in India, which aired in November 2012 on Colors, Beauty and the Geek India to Akal Meets Shakal in 2011 on Channel V. Utsav Ke Rang Stars Ke Sang (advertiser funded program) was aired on Star One in the year 2011.

Recently, it has acquired America’s Next Top Model, which will be aired in India as India’s Next Top Model.

Every year the company launches one marquee property and India’s Next Top Model will be Bulldog’s fourth international show in India. "Top Model might not be the biggest one in terms of money and size but is important because of its success globally,” reasons Sharma.

Sharma lists down the criteria on which the production house zeros down on broadcasters. They are as follows:

· Shared vision

· Long term association with the broadcaster

· Success track record of non-fiction properties

· Good reputation working with production houses

The production house has a strength of 10-12 people working full time including the creative, business and development teams.

Some of the factors that Bulldog Media keeps in mind while acquiring content, is the format's success in its original country. Secondly, whether the show has reached out to other territories and thirdly, if it relevant for the Indian market.

After acquiring the format, the development process begins wherein the production house studies the show's blueprint in the US market and scans the ecosystem for other similar shows. Then the broadcasters who would be interested in broadcasting the show is identified. A package is created, which is then pitched to different broadcasters.

Sharma confesses that it is not easy for the US studios to give a big brand to a production house like Bulldog. "They would be more comfortable dealing with Star and Viacom18, who are busy with their own home-grown projects running and hence companies like us have a window to convince the studios and give us the show. But it is not easy."

With the company now on to its fourth format show, Sharma reveals that it has a good network of show suppliers and that makes things a lot of easier.

The biggest learning for Sharma has been about people management. "Everybody has a connection and emotion attached to each show that we bring to India, whether it is a broadcaster, talent or sponsor. As the show’s rights holder, everyone looks at us for some answer. It is challenging to manage their expectations and sit down with them and develop good relationships with all the stakeholders. And moreover, we need to be careful so as to not over promise anything to anyone," laughs Sharma.

Brand value

The brand plays a pivotal role every step of the way. As per Sharma's experience, the format supplier's first preference is to work with a broadcaster. And a recent example of the same is that Bulldog Media, which was in the running to acquire the rights to The Voice, eventually lost the race to media mogul Subhash Chandra’s newly launched general entertainment channel (GEC) &TV

"The suppliers prefer a broadcaster because they have the sponsors and money and they hire a production entity. However, in our case we pick up the shows directly from the owners and that is where we face some difficulty. It wasn’t because of lack of effort on our side but because they wanted to go with somebody else," he says.

Cost driven

While the cost to acquire formatted content is very high, it also varies from market to market. "A show that I would pick up and bring to Australia would be significantly higher than for India and even the budgets are higher in those markets," informs Sharma.

For example, a show like Top Model is available across 30-40 countries. Since it is costly to acquire these shows, Bulldog is looking at franchises for the long term in order to recover its investment. "This is the reason why we don’t end up doing shows just for one season. We are not able to recover the money that we put in. Acquisitions of rights run into hundreds and thousands of dollars and the production budgets are low in the market and that makes it even more difficult," he laments.

Sharma is of the opinion that the franchise model in India is important for business and great for everyone involved from sponsors and advertisers to broadcasters because a stable show can be built. "Multiple seasons allow having a great team, utilizing the same people. It’s great for business because you are not struggling to launch a new property," says Sharma.

Moreover, Sharma is also keen to localise India's Top Model with its South and East India versions and is looking at exploring possible options soon.

Talking about how it had been his dream to work with MTV, Sharma says, "They respect talent, creativity, the business as well as other producers. They give us space and allow us to go with our vision. The channel’s support and feedback is critical and hence it's a collaborative effort."

Future roadmap

Many a times broadcasters acquire the rights to a particular format, which eventually doesn't see the light of day. According to Sharma, the approach towards producing a show today has totally changed from what it was six years ago.

While it is true that format owners prefer to deal with broadcasters to sell their shows, Sharma says that sometimes it isn't easy for them to sell to broadcasters because it is difficult doing business in India from abroad. "That's where Bulldog comes into the picture and bridges the gap. While we have been sometimes viewed as outsiders, now we are looked upon as someone who adds value to the show," he says.

The Indian elections last year led to a slow down in new non-fiction launches. "However, now the market is opening up and we have quite a lot of shows in the pipeline like The Apprentice and British reality game show, which we are looking at launching this year," Sharma informs.

It is also set to launch a BBC docudrama series Space Race. "We are in talks right now with all the broadcasters for the show," he says.

Apart from non-fiction shows, Bulldog Media also has a few fiction content under development. Sharma believes that with Indian fiction slowly becoming progressive in nature, there is a scope for more of it in the market. "Fiction is part of our business plan going forward and we are set to launch our first fiction show in the next 12-18 months focusing on genres like crime and drama," he says.

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