MUMBAI: Indian films grew bigger last year. While the country witnessed some of the biggest blockbusters, it was also a year of the indie films – films made by people on their own terms, with stories that they believed in and wanted to narrate truthfully. Some of these films like The Lunchbox by Ritesh Batra, Ship of Theseus by Anand Gandhi and the recently released Miss Lovely by Ashim Ahluwalia took a long time to find space in theatres, some as long as five years. But once they released, people embraced them.
Similar was the case with many independent musicians, stand up comics and artists. Someone like Honey Singh, who was popular just among the college students for his indie songs, suddenly found space in the popular Bollywood arena; graffiti became big and popular; and stand-up acts became a year-round affair attracting a full house.
While more and more youth in India are willing to tread the road not taken (read: Bollywood and popular culture) in terms of artistic expression, they continue to grapple to find support – some don’t get a platform while others continue to scrounge the bottom of the financial barrel, with not much patronage coming their way.
However, some succor is coming the indie artiste's way, courtesy Pepsi MTV Indies – a soon to be launched channel by Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd (a 50:50 joint venture between Viacom Inc and Network18). Pepsi MTV Indies is being talked about as the El Dorado for youth who want to let their creative juices and expression flow and has the food and beverage giant as its title sponsor.
It was the close observation of the people associated with the the Viacom18 Network that led to the channel’s conception. MTV India EVP & business head Aditya Swamy says that he witnessed a hunger in the young people for differentiated content. “If you look back in history, once something becomes popular, there’s a need for a subculture to emerge. Like if Bollywood has become popular here, a parallel culture has to emerge,” he remarks.
Almost eight months ago, the channel realised that enough content exists to create a dedicated destination for independent sub-cultures. “While music is a big part of it, there’s enough happening in other spaces like stand-up comedy, independent films, street art, motorcycling as well, but all these were not getting the required fillip,” says Swamy, who wondered what could be the “game changer."
And the answer zipped into his brain in a flash: why not use television which he so well knows, add to it the internet, the mobile, and the live stage. Swamy believes all of these put together put together have a synergistic effect and form a potent combination to deliver the unconventional to over 20 million Indian homes.
As soon as the idea struck him, he went to meet PepsiCo India senior marketing director for Colas, Juices and Hydration Homi Battiwala and without wasting time Mission Indie kicked off.
Keeping in mind the popularity of indie music, the channel’s major programming would be around music. Back to back music videos as well as content around independent music will be aired along with artists’ profiling etc. Other key programming will be around stand-up comedy. So instead of VJs, comic artists would be seen as hosts. Independent cinema – from a five-minute short film to a 60-minute film, all will get space on the channel. It is open sesame for everything from album art, graphic art, street art to body art, fashion and motorcycling on the channel. .
Interestingly, Pepsi MTV Indies is going to be multi-lingual with English, Bangla, Malayam, Hindi, Oriya music on offer. “Music knows no language. Good music is enjoyable in any language," believes Battiwala, who thinks language shouldn’t become a barrier for a performer. “We will have the sub titles to make it audience friendly."
To make it beneficial for larger bunch of youth out there, the channel would give a chance to everybody. “There are a lot of people who are creating interesting stuff in the indie space. We are keen to work with everybody. We are already working with large number of partners – from the small hidden content creators to the large brands and corporates. As the platform grows, everyone will benefit,” remarks Swamy.
Talking about the process of streamlining content and artists for the channel, Swamy says that anything that is not mainstream would get visibility on this platform. “We won’t play film music or music by international pop legends, instead smaller groups and lesser-known artists would be featured,” he says as he adds that teams comprising qualified independent artists and musicians are curating content for the channel.
Homi believes that a platform like this that is available 24 by 7 and 365 days of the year, will give the indie artists the recognition that’s long due. “What makes a song popular? It’s frequency on the TV channels. It’s played more often and heard more often. If our content is exposed more, people will be bound to follow it.”
The Network is planning a 360-degree campaign to promote it across platforms. A website - www.pepsimtvindies.com - has been launched to stream some of its content. The website is richly designed with a broad representation and coverage of artists, experiences of fans and indie news from across the globe. Vishal Dadlani, the Raghu Dixit, the Bandish Projekt, the Jaipur Literature Festival are some which seem to be getting the spot light. The videos section has a bunch of videos from the usual indie suspect, but the good part is that it has many more from the unusual newbies too. To add to that, visitors can have access to a gig guide which also allows them to book tickets.
Pepsi MTV Indies also has its own indie music discovery app on iOS and android platforms. The app will help the audience in recognizing the name of the song, lyrics, guitar tag along with the names of five other artists to be checked out. Even videos can be watched on it.
Extensive on-ground activities have been planned too. The channel will reach out to more than 350 top colleges nationally in the first year itself.
A promising promo has been created to build the right buzz around the channel. “Every artist in the promo are genuine indie artistes,” reveals Swamy as he talks about the background track that has been created by Dualist Inquiry – a solo project by musician Sahej Bakshi. “The track is going to become a music video. Credibility, realness and honesty have been important for us while building the channel,” he adds.
The channel is also working closely with bands like Menwhopause, Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Spud in the Box and Sky Rabbit.
Some of the shows planned to go on air with the launch of the channel at the end of this month include The Unusual Suspect, Sound Tripping, Morning Jam and Indiepedia.
The channel is an extension of MTV India and thus everyone working for the parent brand is involved with this as well. While a handful of few new employees are expected to come on board, largely the music team is the same.
With digitisation and the launch of more premium services, Swamy believes it does not make sense to be a free-to-air (FTA) channel, and thus from day one has been put in the pay bracket. "People who enjoy such content will be happy to subscribe to it,” he remarks.
When quizzed if MTV has had a change in strategy on air time selling following the TRAI mandated ad cap, Swamy said that in the beginning the idea is not to sell the inventory rather to make the channel popular.
“We want to work with 20 odd advertisers who deeply believe that brands need to be invested in this space. This is not about carpet bombing, but about sniper firing. Brands have already invested in this space to be ahead of the curve. It isn’t about how many spots they want to place on air. It is about adding value to Pepsi MTV Indies. If a phone brand agrees to come on board and embeds Indie content into 10 million phones, we will be happy to involve them as they would be spreading the movement.”
Pepsi is slated to add its marketing muscle to push the MTV Indies brand. It is looking at using the face of its beverage packaging to reach out to larger audiences. Close to a million different packs are slated to carry the brand of Pepsi MTV Indies. "And we are quite excited about on-ground and the multiple spaces," says Battiwala.
The Network believes that the new channel is not going to affect the viewership of MTV as there’s enough space for both to co-exist. "Music is always a part of youth. There is so much music in India. We will now be looking at two different types of music. I don’t see content of one overlapping on another. May be, a lot of stuff born on Indies can become mainstream and eventually move to MTV,” says Swamy.
Launching a new channel is not an easy task, believe experts in the industry. It is an expensive affair as well, especially when the channel will be available in high definition (HD) Dolby Surround 5.1. Industry sources assume the cost of the channel to be close to 25-30 crore.
The biggest challenge in today’s time, experts think, is to make something creatively good and also make a business out of it. According to analysts, Pepsi MTV Indies has numerous mines to dig for gold: subscription money, licensing and merchandising, growing internationally, expanding digitally, and live events.
Madison COO Karthik Lakhsminarayan believes that parent MTV has kind of got its vision relatively clear on the indie offering and that the mother channel will not be affected. "MTV has its own following. The category will expand and new followers will follow the new channel. Ultimately, it is being run by the same set of people. They will ensure that there is no commodisation at their end.”