MUMBAI: Leading Indian production house Reliance Big Synegry CEO Rajiv Bakshi has seen a lot over the score and more years he has spent in the corporate world. His exposure has been quite expansive with stints in TV, internet, media, telecom and consumer durable industries, which allowed him the luxury of witnessing India’s media and entertainment industry's evolution from close quarters. Bakshi’s mandate, when he was given charge of the TV producer in 2018, was to enhance its multi-platform reach, drive strategic partnerships and develop its original content portfolio. He had other challenges as well: Reliance Big Synergy was known to be a non-fiction powerhouse thanks to its founder Siddharth Basu, but it did not have much of a track record on the fiction front and in regional language show. Bakshi's remit was to aggresively scale it in these two areas.
And he's quite pleased with what he has achieved. Says he: “It’s been a remarkable 12 months where we have broad-based our offerings and become a formidable powerhouse for all forms of content – from fiction, non-fiction, web series, direct to digital films, biographies, mythology and more."
Reliance Big Synergy currently has TV series running on Star Maa, Zee Punjabi, Dangal, ZEE5 and many more. And Bakshi is aiming even higher: he'd like his charge to have aiming for a 4:1 (fiction to non-fiction) split , that is 80 per cent of its portfolio will be fiction, 20 percent non-fiction. It language repertoire has also swollen to cover Bangla, Telugu, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, from just Hindi earlier.
“Due to the pandemic the appetite for fiction shows has gone up today. Also, it has been a tough journey to transform, we worked day and night to double up our offerings. In the past, we have never done a mythological series but now we are producing them,” he reveals.
Reliance Big Synergy new non-fiction comedy series #“Haasya Da Halla Payega Jaswinder Bhalla” to premiere on Zee Punjabi on October 24 at 7 pm. Also available on ZEE5. pic.twitter.com/7aWcxVIMuT
— Reliance Big Synergy (@RelBigSynergy) October 14, 2020
India is a very large and diverse market, and the lockdown has demonstrated that consumers will lap up all types of content that is dished out to them - no matter which country it originates from - as long as it is produced well and tells a engaging story. Bakshi believes the media and entertainment industry - domestically and internationally - is undergoing a dramatic transformation on all counts - platforms, scale, talent and, above all, storytelling. Hence, the company is looking to make shows for audiences worldwide. The more varied the market, greater the opportunity, he opines with a smile.
“Now it’s up to us to scale up the creative teams to build both a robust portfolio of content and the production ability to produce shows of scale for the global audience, not just Indian viewers,” says Bakshi. Chances are high that there will be more collaborations between entities – and even competitors – if the opportunity is unique and scalable, given his stated ambition.
There has been a huge spike in OTT engagement ever since the start of the Covid2019 pandemic that is holding steady for now. A recent survey conducted by Flyx, a social network platform for OTT content, revealed that there has been a sizeable uptick in both purchase of OTT subscriptions and viewing hours amongst Indian users. More than 50 per cent respondents shared that they have purchased new subscriptions during the pandemic. Users also revealed that there has been a 5x increase in those spending 16+ hours weekly and a 4x increase in those spending 12-16 hours weekly on OTT platforms.
Acknowledging that watch time, particularly for streaming services, increased during lockdown, Bakshi, however, maintains that the data from the Covid2019 period cannot be the base for decision making. One will have to look at trend lines and not use it as is. He explains: “Because of the OTT platforms you cannot serve the same content to everyone, you need to divide it, whether you are a broadcaster or a digital player. As a content creator, it’s music to my ears because more the variety, more is the opportunity to create. I can say this with confidence that the OTT industry will surpass everyone’s expectations. There will be some losers, but in contrast there will be big winners. I think three key growth triggers for the OTT industry will be - affordable subscriptions, regional content and low data cost.”
With theatres remaining closed for months on end, moviemakers began to divert their releases onto OTT platforms instead, bypassing the idiot box. Bakshi considers this an interesting shift that’s off-shot new directions for creators to explore outside the small screen. Does that mean it is a theatre vs OTT explosion waiting to happen?
For Bakshi, there is no competition between sectors in the media and entertainment business; everything is complimentary. He opines that no platform can match the theatre experience. So far as demand is concerned, especially when OTT platforms have subscription models, movies do help attract viewers. Therefore, streaming giants continue to invest in movies. In the current environment where moviemakers are suffering losses, the most viable solution is to release movies on OTT platforms, he states.
When it comes to differentiating between TV and OTT content, Bakshi seeks the help of consumer insight. The studio undertakes extensive research before entering into a new market.
Apart from this, Bakshi didn't shy away from pointing out the challeges that he is facing due to the rampaging virus. He notes that there are several challenges ahead in terms of creating better content – pace of production has slowed, people run a higher risk, casualties happen, and there is added costs on top due to the SOP measures. Bakshi quips: “My biggest challenge continues to be prioritisation since so much is happening, we have to take a measured decision and exercise smart choices.”
For the most part, the company is still in work from home mode. However, filming has begun at various locations across India. Bakshi has hired a Covid2019 compliance firm to ensure safety and security of cast and crew members on the set. He highlights that the entire process of shooting is quite intense and puts a heavy toll in terms of cost, weather, technology etc.
But he is not letting them weigh him down. He has his own solution for these tough times. In September, Bakshi had tweeted: "What to do when ya meet a tough cookie?" His own response was: "You dip it in milk."
That should hold him in good stead as he goes about sculpting his big vision for Reliance Big Synergy.