Decline in appointment viewing doesn’t mean a show isn’t doing well: Nikul Desai

Desai on experimenting with formats, figuring out what makes Indian viewers tick.

MUMBAI: Nikul Desai is mainly known for directing non-fiction shows like Comedy Circus, Rising Star, and his latest venture, Taare Zameen Par. He began his career under the supervision of his paternal uncle Vipul D Shah, the co-founder of Optimystix Entertainment. Starting off as an assistant director back in 2001, he has worked his way up to head of non-fiction content.

Along the way, Desai has donned many hats, including that of a director and content head; he is also credited with having introduced many talented comedians like Kapil Sharma, Bharti Singh, Krushna Abhishek and Sudesh Lehri to viewers. The studio has recently launched Sargam ki Saadhe Sati on Sony, and there’s also a kids quiz show in the works. In a special interaction with’s Shikha Singh, Desai talks about creating experimental shows, bringing new technologies and much more.

Edited excerpts:

On new trends.

I think whether it's fiction or non-fiction, great storytelling always works. Even if it's a singing reality show, dance reality show, variety entertainment, or comedy, people only had one option – to watch everything on television. Now we have mobile phones, which are like on-the-go TV. So, we don't need to have an appointment viewing for TV because the network’s OTT platform uploads the episode 24 hours before it is aired on the small screen. It is also one of the biggest reasons why appointment viewing is going down which gives the perception that shows are not performing. Streaming platforms combined numbers are good, but as it is not reflecting on TRP numbers and it is directly not in sync to TV’s ad sales revenue, good programs are suffering. Whether it's a fiction show like Star Plus’s Anupama, which is really doing well and is also available on Hotstar. Having said that, creators also have the huge responsibility to adapt, to stay updated and I think growth is the key word here.

On TV loyalty shifting to slot loyalty.

TV set loyalty has been shifting to genre loyalty or slot loyalties. Because at the end of the day earlier the medium was just television. For metro audiences, there’s Amazon & Netflix and for tier-2 and tier-3 cities, there are AVoD platforms. Providers like Jio are giving free service on your mobile, they have a live streaming option. as well. Even if you are from tier-2 or tier-3 city, one doesn’t really need to sit in front of your television set to watch shows. On the other hand, in metro cities like Mumbai or Delhi, people are not hardcore television viewers anymore. Weekday shows are dominated by fiction and weekends are dominated by nonfiction, so luckily that trend has not changed.

On channels focusing more on non-fiction properties once IPL is over.

Yes, broadcasters are now looking at creating non-fiction shows. We are all already in talks with a few networks about our line-up. In fact, everybody is just preparing and gearing up to launch shows post IPL. We are planning to launch one show during the IPL and the other two post-IPL. Mostly, broadcasters will be launching new programs after May. Meanwhile, they will keep up the fight by focusing on fiction. 2020 had a lull because of the Covid2019 pandemic, followed by new compliance policies. Now in the new normal, people are definitely planning a lot of new shows or maybe the new seasons of popular programs.

Currently, I cannot mention the name of the network but we are coming up with a kids quiz show which has been missing from the small screen for a very long period of time. During the lockdown, kids were always confined to their homes, outdoor activities were not happening. Primarily, the whole idea is to give them immense happiness when they come back to our show. We will start shooting by March-end. Apart from that, we are in talks for one comedy show and another reality show.  

On experimenting with different genres.

I believe the core of storytelling is still intact, as TV has its own viewership pattern that cannot be changed completely. So, our idea is to play on our strengths by bringing a certain degree of variation into it. I always make sure that we at least try something new, for example, nobody ever did Monday to Saturday, daily singing reality with kids, we did that. There was no elimination or pressure on kids. We did one show called Sabse Smart Kaun in 2018-19 where you could play the game while the show was streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. We don't want to be completely experimental or alienate the show just for the heck of it. But keeping the flavour, the DNA, and the taste intact is our go-to mantra.  

On whether he wants to be a part of the re-adaptation trend.

We should definitely be a part of the trend, but not follow the trend. There is no harm in being part of a trend, and then try and set a new trend. After nine years of doing Comedy Circus, we came up with a roast comedy show for Colors named Bachao.

According to me, the issue is there is a world of makers and then there is a set of people who are the takers. The real challenge is that we still don’t know what our audiences want. On the same network, there is a regressive show which performs well and on the same channel, there is a progressive show which is equally loved by audiences. Due to this, even we fail to understand what our viewers like. That is the reason why everybody is trying to cater to a bouquet rather than one particular show. Creators want to experiment, but after a point, because major fiction viewing is coming from women, the protagonists have to be female.  

On adapting international techniques for Indian shows.

For our kid's quiz show, we are putting up a 360-degree set. Now, you can shoot on that set from any angle at any point in time. We are also introducing physical tasks in the show.  We are also bringing a lot of new motorised technology to entertain and amuse the kids. We are also introducing changes in the way the game is going to be played, the way the set is going to be made, coverage, and other aspects. The team is working on a project where viewers can play as well as interact. The idea is to keep them engaged.

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