Television

"B4U is a TV channel but the core is just like radio" : Yugander V V B4U Movies and Music creative head

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His booming voice quite belies his age. 29-year-old Yugander V V joined B4U Television Network as head of promos. He took over as the creative head of B4U Music and Movies in May 2003 and was immediately assigned the task of revamping the network.

Within two months of his appointment, B4U Music rocketed on the ratings. Brought up in Bangalore, Yugander is a telecommunication engineer and has grown up on what he terms as 'very boring western music' (like Brahms and Bach). But Dire Straits and Black Sabbath are among his favourites. While Dire Straits still rules the roost, the man has gradually warmed up to Gulzar, R D Burman, A R Rahman and Anu Malik.

Under his guidance, B4U Movies won Gold and Silver Awards at the Promax Asia Awards. With the one-point agenda of making Bollywood hep, this Capricornian believes that only a disaster could take him away from media.

During a t?te-?-t?te with indiantelevision.com's Trupti Ghag, Yugander spoke about the channel, music, movies and more.

Excerpts:

How did your creative journey begin?

I guess it begins with an urge, which you can't suppress after a period of time. With me especially, it was something that I had to figure out. I didn't have any visible talents but since very early on, I knew that I had to express myself.

Probably it was a form of escapism. You are not doing anything mainstream demanded of you, like academics. That may be why I was attracted to something as non-lucrative as art. Being a person who likes to dream all his life, I thought i would just give it a shot. But until someone really pats you on the back, you don't realise that you are a creative person.

You graduated as a telecommunications engineer. Why did you switch to entertainment then?

When I came to Mumbai, I joined the Xavier Institute of Communications (XIC). I didn't really attend classes - XIC was just a passport to come to the city. Actually, I was among the lucky few who got a job in his first month in Mumbai. So, everything else was conveniently sidelined.

What was your first job like?

I joined director Ketan Mehta at his studio 'Maya - The Magic Shop'. The studio had just started operating. There, for the first time, I met graphic designers and other creative people and interacted with them closely. At that time, I formed certain associations which continue to grow even today.

Primarily, my interest was films and at that time, Mehta was shooting Kartoos, which is materializing only now. I spent a great deal of my time working on that. We worked on Sundays and slept in the studios. Mehta was fine with it and we enjoyed it too.

I used to return to my hostel once in two weeks, have a bath once a week (jokingly). It was quite a grind in the early years but that is what made me the person I am today.

How did television happen? Why was B4U your career choice?

Television was a huge accident. It wasn't a pre-planned move. After Mehta's workshop, I worked with filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Mahesh Mathai, later I dabbled as an independent ad film maker.

I did everything that came my way. As for B4U, it was a job like any other. But I guess I am stuck with television as of now.

Before its launch in India, B4U was promoted in the overseas market. What was the reason behind this strategy?

I would like to believe that B4U is, in a big way, responsible for creating the present perception of Bollywood overseas. The West woke up to Bollywood briefly after our channel launched - it started to celebrate Bollywood. I think B4U had a pivotal role in the opening up of the overseas market.

B4U, therefore, became synonymous with Bollywood around the world.

What is the music breakup on B4U? How would you describe the programming line up?

Ideally, the music break up is on an 80:20 (80 per cent Hindi and 20 per cent English) ratio. B4U is a television channel, but its core is just like radio. It is a feel-good experience with a good line up of music that would sustain the audience's mood and interest.

If some channel is playing good music at a particular time, I would involuntarily put the channel on even while I am working. I think that is the guiding principle for our line up.

"Our VJs are international VJs in the real sense of the word"

What are the demographics of the channel?

In this business, people are only shooting in the dark because you never know if you have done something right until it works.

But I would like to believe that half the country is tuned in during prime time. But perhaps there is a lone surfer who isn't interested in Hindi and has tuned in to watch English music between 10-11 pm. You just take a shot at that.

Music channels are essentially a frequency channel, what you call a time-pass or a snack-in and snack-out channel.

So music channels do not have appointment viewing...

Yes they don't. But some research can prove us wrong. A particular programme slot might call for appointment viewing but that is a rarity.
Who is your target audience?

Anyone who is a Bollywood fan. To be more specific, it is the young and global citizens belonging to 15-35 age bracket.

How do you conceptualize a programme?

As an idea, it should be fresh - something that wouldn't get boring from the second episode. It must have a snowballing effect and it should be able to accumulate viewership over a period of time.

Ideation usually begins with 'I wish I could watch something like this'. Then you throw it at somebody and work around. Sometimes, you just wake up with a brilliant idea.

That said, I think, people's attention span is growing smaller by the day. Considering that, vignettes are things of future. They don't take your time for granted.

You seem to be working on your hunches quite often. Shouldn't the work be based more on research?

I guess hunch is an operative word in this industry. You are never too sure. But we don't operate in an ad hoc manner. When an idea comes, we nourish it, we work around it. Then we throw the idea at complete strangers, see how they react to it and then the creative team jams up.

We get an assortment of people to react to any idea. When we are absolutely confident that it is going to work, we go ahead and take our chances on air. We also do have some in-house research groups.

If a certain show isn't working, I would rather take it off air before somebody gets up and complains. Instead of annual revamps, I recommend revamps every three months. People get tired of the same thing.

How important is a VJ to a music channel? How do you choose your VJs?

It's a human being that starts standing up for something as inanimate as a television channel. There's a very tangible connection that viewers start making with a VJ. They are like a face to the channel.

There is a three point requirement for VJs - they must be attractive, must have a good personality and connectivity with the audience. It is a tough combination...

VJ Keith has an anglicized accent. Doesn't that pose a threat to the connectivity?

I don't think there has been a problem with the accent. In fact, I think it has worked for Keith. During road-shows, we were surprised to see his popularity. He is not only popular in Delhi but also in Kanpur and Lucknow. We have got fantastic response. It was a revelation of sorts for me.
"Vignettes are things of future. They don't take your time for granted"

More often than not, music channels have neck-to-neck competition. How does B4U tackle the competition? Who do you consider as your closest competitor?

We constantly take notes. It is a competitive scenario but a simple truth about B4U is that there is no confusion. We offer Bollywood. Bollywood is a huge phenomenon, and we just like to celebrate it.

Our competitors are anybody out there who is proud of Bollywood.

Looking at the current trend, it seems like the music channels invest a lot in reality shows. What is the scenario at B4U?

Reality TV is something that you cannot walk away from, it is very important. It is what gets the ratings. It creates interactivity. Whether we are a music channel or not, interactivity is, by and large, most important - and elusive!

Currently, we are launching a show called eXpress. We have married couples talking about their marriage - what is special about them, what keeps the romance alive and if the institution is worth it. Every episode will feature a new couple.

Another show is Libb. It talks about love stories in the country's towns and villages. The thought behind this show is that love must be happening rather differently in small towns. We find these people in towns, find out what kind of hurdles they have to overcome and what ingenious ways they adopt to stay with each other.

The idea is to approach the beautiful landscape of India like a photographer or a National Geographic show and weave in real love stories. It represents the young people and bridges the divide.

Why hasn't the channel launched a hunt for another pop band, after 'Teer'?

I think we will test the waters and try again.

What about borrowing formats for shows?

Nothing is borrowed. It is all ideated here and is exported, just like Bollywood. Our channel is about Bollywood. We are communicating with Indians across the world, and non-Indians following Bollywood.

We export to 84 countries. Unlike other international channels, we don't have a different set of VJs speaking to different audiences. Our VJs are international VJs in the real sense of the word.

What are your views about the current music scenario?

Internationally, there is some interesting music happening, and at home turf, some interesting voices are trying to stand in the huge A R Rahman shadow. The global breakthrough, I think, was Rahman and everybody is either trying to be a part of that glory or try to carve a niche for themselves.

But yes, people's minds are opening up - markets are opening and exposure has increased. Acceptability to different forms of music has grown.

However, technology and piracy have also taken a toll on the music industry.

What is a music channel's role in promoting music?

A music channel's contribution is huge. You cannot ignore them anymore. Promoting albums and songs on music channels has become integral to the marketing plan. People have got so used to it that you cannot do without it.

How important are the looks?

To a certain extent, yes. But how often can you take people for granted? You can create a buzz around music with flashy videos but ultimately what sells is the music.

"Reality TV is something that you cannot walk away from. It is what gets the ratings. It creates interactivity"

How crucial is marketing to a channel?

It is essential. It is all about image - the correct perception without which you can't create right impression.

Where would you see B4U Music three years from now?

I would like to see the channel having made Indians proud of Bollywood. Proud of belonging to this land that has a film industry which makes innumerable movies, all so distinct.

How do you plan the movie acquisition?

Many a times, we are involved with the films at the time of production. We are associated with iDreams; therefore we will soon be premiering Agnivarsha. Since the connection with the movie is already made at the production stages, we get it on board when it is out.

Any movie which can garner some viewership even on a repeat telecast, has potential. Also sometimes, we get the movie, which for some reason didn't get much reckoning at the box office but we have a hunch that people would like to watch it on television.

Why isn't B4U venturing into the award ceremony territory?

I am toying with the idea. But nothing certain as yet... wait and watch.

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