Hindi content consumers in south India are hard to please, says Pixel Pictures CEO

Pixel Pictures, based in Bangalore, is a media production house in the Kannada entertainment industry. Founded by Prashanti Malisetti and Sanjeev Kumar, Pixel claims to hold the distinction of being the first Indian production house to successfully adapt international reality shows to regional television, in a short period.

The company, launched in 2013, prides itself on its distinctive approach to television production. Its experience in production of varied types of television programs and televised events ensured the success of Pixel?s shows such as Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li?l Champs, Dancing Star and Super Minute. Pixel is also responsible for the television debut of Kannada film stars such as Crazy Star Ravichandran and Golden Star Ganesh, which was well-received.

In an interaction with Tarachand Wanvari, Prashanti speaks about her company, the way ahead and shares inputs about the regional television industry. Excerpts:

(1)What prompted you to leave a banker?s job and start Pixel Pictures? Could you run us through Pixel?s history? What drives you and what drives the company?

Banking kept me motivated, it was hard for me to quit a full time, secure job, and follow my passion. I aided other entrepreneurs manage their portfolio, I saw their scope of diversity in management and did not want to just push myself into one quadrant of money management.

The decision was hard, to leave banking and migrate into an industry without backing. Pixel was started with passion and instinct in two equal parts. After volunteering and learning the facets of production through several events in Bangalore, I landed my first break with Saregamapa, I could understand and worked hands-on to conceptualize it to suit the regional audience. Later came Dancing star, and Super minute which was a hit amongst the viewers.

To provide quality content and promote clean entertainment drives me, the team that I built push that vision across, and is the driving force of growth of the company.

(2)Could you tell us a little more about Pixel? How is it funded? What sort of a team do you have in place?

At Pixel we are diverse and cover from shows to events to gaming content. We have a strong team that works continuously to provide quality entertainment. Since television is a medium which caters to a wider audience, my team and I strive hard to provide them with shows that are different, exposing them to other verticals of variety reality shows.

Regional television producers are trained to work within a budget and having the money management experience ensures our delivery over and over again. Continuous movement and momentum have kept us within ourselves for funding, we are expanding to other platforms and shall be open to funding in the future.

I have always claimed that production is highly non glamorous, we work long hours and come on the bottom of the chain in terms of recognition. My team is diverse, and talented; we work with creative and technical staff. Each show has a separate team dedicated to it and goes through with its evolution in parallel, this allows multiplicity and timelined growth of the company.   

(3)How different are you from other production houses? What are the major differentiators?

Every production house is unique, each driven by its own vision. Pixel has always strived hard to provide the audience with quality content they would relate to. We began our journey with structured content of international shows and nativising it to the regional audiences of Karnataka. We learned along the way importance of styling and creative capture of audience is equally important for the success of a show. We have done multiple seasons of game and talent shows, the challenge is to capture the audience within 6 minutes of commencement of the show. The games or dance routines do not prolong for more than 180 seconds. Sometimes the same game is played over three or four time, each time should be designed and captured that the audience remain gripped. Pixel has differentiated itself here and have to our credit the reality shows like Saregamapa, Dancing star, super minute and Minute to win it in Malayalam which are hit amongst the viewers.

(4)Who would you consider as your idol/s? Why?

I have huge respect for Ekta Kapoor and Radika Sarathkumar; they stuck behind their vision and continued to push them unceasingly, regardless of the tags of being successful or otherwise. They both were visionary for their times. Kapoor took the television industry by a storm and revolutionized the content making women the forefront audience. At a time when the mentality was to make male-friendly content for the 9 pm slot, she brought in her shows and made women watch content and be heard too.

Sarathkumar was the first mainstream actress to begin her journey into the small screen and translate the strength of her movie career to the small screen. I also love the way the team at Colors Kannada works, their constant urge to create innovative content for their viewer not only inspires me but also pushes us to do a little more than before for each of our projects.

(5)What more non-fiction or reality shows do you want to do?

There are a number of ideas we keep working and do pilots for, the biggest challenge is to keep the viewer hooked over multiple episodes and maintain consistency. All reality shows engage with similar concept of holding time related challenges of some kind, we want to capitalise the same and do something different than the one we have done before. For the non-fiction space we recently did ?Shantham Papam? which was a recreation of the crime that took place in the region. It?s common knowledge that crime exists around us and we take our regularity for granted. This show was about highlighting that crime targets the ?us? commoners and we need to be weary and cautious. The show helped us focus on different linears and reach to a wider audience.

(6)You have done reality shows in Kannada and Malayalam. What?s next?

Its very important for a production house to stabilize themselves in each of the markets, having made a mark in Kannada Non-Fiction space, we want to establish ourselves as a wholesome content provider, hence our focus this year is to venture into the fiction segment and deliver quality content. Having done One show in Malayalam, we want to conceptualize and produce meaningful content for the Malayalam market.

(6.1)How different are viewers in the south regional markets from the Hindi-speaking markets?

The two markets cannot be compared; the sheer amount of choice that ?Hindi? market commands and enjoys is completely on another realm. That having said, the south viewers are also avid watchers of Hindi content and are very hard to please in terms of content. The urban audience who watches both picks the better of the two and stick to it or turns into a critic too easily. The tier two city audiences enjoy the nativized version and relate to the regional content more with their favorite stars entertaining them and showing their different personal side.

(6.2)How different is the live audience in the case of South Indian reality shows?

The live audience give the show its life, their reactions are genuine and realistic. They are the first judges of the content that?s been recorded.

(7)Do shows need to be localised? How and to what extent?

The shows have been nativised for the local audiences. From an international gaming format to the Indian audiences we engage in a lot of conversation and bring a personal touch to each participant. Each show has had its own set of changes, for example the dance shows had a good combination of Indian and western dancing forms. The Indian audience is extremely diverse and each episode needs to have multiple holding points to keep their attention and come back for more.

(8)What kind of fiction shows are you doing and what are the kind of shows that you would like to do? For who?

Recently, we have set foray into fiction/non-reality shows and our first soap opera in this category is a story about an Ayurvedic healer, and her struggle to restore the lost art of Ayurveda. The show focuses on her journey - her belief in Ayurveda, her exploration of unbridled volley of emotions, dark and dramatic starks of life. This show will definitely resonate with the people of different genre, as this is something people of all ages would relate to.

(9)How many episodes have been planned, how many have been canned so far?

The show is under production.

(10) The costs for producing an episode in and for regional markets are just a fraction of the costs or producing for the HSM market? Could you elaborate on this? How do you manage to stay profitable?

The HSM is a larger and wide market and that includes a lot of viewers and takes approximately 40% share, which means the advertisers reach more people.

We, at Pixel, are working continuously, irrespective of the magnitude of the project and this constant work is what motivates us, and has helped us to stay in a profitable business.

(11)How do plan your shoots? What happens when the schedule goes off-track?

Meticulous planning is needed for a successful shoot. We are usually equipped, and have a backup plan for unforeseen events that makes sure we do not miss on schedules. After all, we are programmed to be on our feet, and the team is tuned for lateral thinking. The team comprises of different people and all these individuals think differently, which helps us to plan and execute efficiently, without any setbacks.

(12)How do you approach a client with a project? What kind of research is done to prepare a project?

Approaching a client is a mammoth task as there is strong competition. A lot of research is involved based on the liking of people, demography, the food - market is feeding on, but at times, there is fear of failure too. At Pixel, our mission is to bring out shows that excites the audience, and bring in a different experience which would retain in the memories of audience for a longer time, and the credit duly goes to my team. Each individual is talented and come up with their own ideas, which gives us a plethora of approaches.

(13)What plans do you have for Pixel Pictures? Considering that you have a background as a banker, any plans for bringing in outside funds? Could you share these plans with us?

Any sensible business owner would agree, irrespective of being a banker or not, an infusion of external funds during expansion is very crucial as personal funds do not satiate beyond a point. The challenge is in finding the right partner who would understand the business, passion and growth. Until now, we have worked within a budget and have successfully delivered projects, and the continuous momentum has helped us keep the fund circulation within ourselves. As we expand, into other platforms we would be open to external funding.

(14)You are planning on doing some shows for the north regional markets. Could you speak about these?

Well, being in this industry, I would love to do shows for other markets too. To reach out to people of different demography, a lot of research has to be done to cater the needs of different audience. Once, we figure out what excites the audience of other regional markets, we would conceptualize the shows to suit their requirements.

(15)Localised distant clones of shows such as Survivors have been made and have had a successful run in the Kannada market for a few seasons. What are your thoughts on this?

For any show to be successful, the approval of audience is needed. We as a production house try hard to cater to the needs of the audience by making the shows more interesting, and something that appeals to the audience. Entertainment is our USP, and we would love to provide the audience, the shows they would love to watch and relate to.

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