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"Viewers are not interested in seeing reality anymore on mainstream channels" : TV18 executive director Vandana Malik

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Any time you meet her, Vandana Malik exudes infectious enthusiasm, a trait that marks most of the software her company, Television 18, creates for entertainment television channels. She was among the core team that split from Business India Television to form an independent television software company almost a decade ago.

When it started, Vandana ran the Mumbai bureau of TV 18 singlehandedly. She played the multi faceted role as the bureau head, producer, reporter and host all rolled in one. As reporter, she conducted celebrity interviews with Kapil Dev, Juhi Chawla, Sanjay Dutt and scripted and directed features and profiles of various artists for the flagship programme The India Show.

Since 1999, when TV 18 tied up with CNBC, Vandana has devised new shows and explored genres to keep a diverse audience engaged. TV 18 has also set up a new division called 18 Entertainment with Vandana Malik as its managing director, which now executes large scale TV events, and designs and executes corporate events, films and specialised training courses in various media related fields such as shooting, editing, reporting, producing, directing, interviewing etc.

Today, she is busy exploring fresh genres for CNBC TV18, delving into her own experiences and feedback from viewers and targeting audience segments. In an interview with indiantelevision.com's Aparna Joshi, Malik shared her thoughts on programming on satellite television, her ideas for the future and the way television in India is headed. Excerpts -

What was the logic behind launching 'The Art Show' and the 'Auto Show' on CNBC TV18?

Our research showed that while trading hours on weekdays demanded hardcore business news, which of course is CNBC TV18's core competency, there was a need for lighter yet information filled feature shows. These would cater to the same audience which watched our regular shows on other days. That was what triggered the Sunday Brunch idea, and basically came out of talking to viewers and understanding what they wanted to see. The Art Show was born of the need to educate viewers about how one actually went about assessing and appreciating art, while the auto industry, that's currently booming in the country, was the starting point for the Auto Show that started on 10 June.

TV18 has done some interesting shows in the past on satellite channels? Why is it restricting itself to CNBC TV18 now?

If the offer of a good show comes along on other satellite channels, we will definitely do it. In the past, there was a demand for different shows on these channels. We did a diverse array and pioneered some genres, including the India Show, a Lifestyle Show on Zee English (for the short time that it aired local programming), the Nikki Tonight Show on Star and others. Somehow, the current demand seems to be for the drama genre on most channels and I am unable to connect to that. Although I admire Ekta Kapoor for what she has managed to achieve, soaps have not been our core competency. Features and docudramas, mostly backed by research, has been out forte. If what we do best is in sync with what is required on CNBC TV18, it is satisfying.

You made shows like 'Bhanwar' and 'Haadsa', reality shows that got critical as well as popular acclaim. Do you plan to make any more like these?

Bhanwar was a landmark programme. If we tried another show on similar lines, it would have been a me-too show. Haadsa, which aired on Sabe TV, tried a similar track, tracing victims' lives while giving it a feel-good touch. Unfortunately, the show never got good viewership. Besides, in the current scenario, viewers are not interested in seeing reality anymore on mainstream channels. They prefer to watch something that probably takes them away from the drudgery of real life.

Your last venture for a satellite channel was 'Kya Masti Kya Dhuum' for Star Plus. Were you happy with the way it shaped up?

KMKD was a huge show, both in terms of scale of production and celebrity content. The channel definitely did not stinge on costs, but the fact is we ran out of film stars after a point. With Sonali Bendre as the host, the level of celebrities too had to be that high. The production budget itself for the show was between Rs 10 and 15 lakh (over Rs one million) per episode. In that scenario, we felt it was better to leave at a high than to wait for the show to hit a decline. In a way, it turned out to be a trendsetter for shows like Kuch Kar Dikhana Hai that are currently running on the channel, so it was a pioneer in its own right.

"The daily soap is here to stay. The genre is an addictive one, and once viewers have been hooked on to it, it won't be easy to dislodge their interest"

You had shows like 'Nikki Tonight' on Star and 'Archana Talkies' on Sony. Would you rate these shows as successes?

Both these shows were ahead of their time. Nikki Tonight was a technically superior show, unfortunately it ran into hot water editorially. Archana Talkies was a trendsetter too, but we realised a problem as we went along. The audience was not geared to a honest discussion, to opening up in front of the camera on a talk and variety show. It's a problem that persists today and the genre of talk shows suffers because of it. I repeat, viewers are not interested in reality, they prefer to watch shows that do not require them to think too much.

How are you building weekend programming on CNBC TV18?

The idea is to broaden the scope of content and to pull as many diverse viewers as possible. While I was working on the Good Life Show for instance, I got the feedback that that the younger generation is interested in fitness, just as women too are interested in segments that would target them specifically. That was how we came up with the idea of a four part series on the 'anywhere, anytime' fitness segment for women executives who travel.

The Sunday Brunch is an extension of the same. Since the channel is a focused business news channel, it is easy to develop programmes knowing which kind of viewers you are catering to. We are slowly expanding the scope of content, bringing in sections like the Gourmet section in Trendmill, which hopefully bring in a wider cross section of viewers.

How has CNBC grown in terms of viewer demographic?

Being a business news channel, it basically targeted the male executive aged above 25. Interestingly, the channel is now attracting different viewers, particularly women. I often meet ladies who tell me they appreciate a certain anchor on a certain show, at times even late night news segments. We have found that even the younger generation is getting interested in the features that we have on the channel.

Do you feel the genre of the soap is something that will blow over and give way to other genres?

No. I think the daily soap is here to stay. The genre is an addictive one, and once viewers have been hooked on to it, it won't be easy to dislodge their interest. Although, some of our features on CNBC TV18, including the news segments at night do manage to rope in the discerning viewers. And that makes me happy, if I have managed to wean away some audiences from, say, a Kyunki...

With the influx of so many news channels, is it getting tougher to maintain viewership? Are you also considering making programmes in Hindi to reach out to a wider base?

Inspite of the news channels, CNBC TV18 is still the only one that provides domestic business news exclusively. Thus far, there has been no competition on that score. As for Hindi shows, we have had programmes like Bazaar Aaj and Dalal Street which have used the language.

Although this is something that will be decided by the channel editorially, I don't think language would be a barrier.

Finally, is it easier to make shows for CNBC TV18, being a sister channel?

(laughs) Easier because we don't have to sit through the nitty gritty of budgets and bureaucratic wranglings. But every idea we throw up has to necessarily follow the right procedure and presentations, so it necessarily is fine tuned before we get into production.

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