Television

“Mobile content consumption to impact content on television:” BBC Worldwide’s Myleeta Aga

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MUMBAI: Over the past few years, BBC Worldwide India has come a long way. The journey from a format owner to a producer and licenser to being a full-fledged production house, UK’s public broadcaster has left no stone unturned to bring the best formats to Indian television screens.

Having one of the successful formats in the world in the UK i.e Dancing with the Stars, BBC earlier licensed the show and then started producing Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa for Colors in India, which is in its eighth season now.

One woman who has stood tall through this incredible journey and walks with pride is BBC Worldwide India MD and creative head Myleeta Aga.

Not only does the production house produce multiple BBC formats both in non-fiction and fiction, but it has also seen a significant growth in its home-grown formats.

For the record, BBC Worldwide Productions India licenses and produces all BBC Worldwide formats in India and works with local networks to develop home grown formats within the territory. The production base has brought local versions of The Week the Women Went (Wife Bina Life), Baby Borrowers (Pati, Patni Aur Woh) and the hugely successful Dancing with the Stars (Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa) and South Korean television series Boys Over Flowers (Kaisi Yeh Yaariyan) on MTV India amongst others to Indian audiences.

In conversation with Indiantelevision.com, Aga talks at length about her journey at BBC, different kinds of content and the future roadmap of the production house.

With almost 20 years of experience in production, Aga has personally produced content in six countries and has worked with different languages, markets and audience groups. One whiff of the huge amount of talent in India and Aga felt that there was immense potential for the entertainment content business here, but the roadblock was that as a community, India is still slightly closed and there is space for us to push ourselves.

Consumers moving to different screens

With digital proliferation in the country and around the world, Aga is of the opinion that consumption of content on mobile devices is going to impact content on TV.

“Sometimes I feel we underestimate our audience. I think our audience is ahead of us, whether you’re talking about the small towns in the Hindi speaking belt or someone who is living in a new development in Mumbai, content is freely available. People have choice, so you really have to acknowledge that choice and it always brings me back to the basic, which is having a good story and whether you can tell it well,” states Aga.

She believes that with consumers moving to different screens and with catch-up episodes, they can record it and find the time to watch it, which in turn is a huge challenge for content creators. “Content creators may think that they have the best program in the 9 pm slot, but someone who has taped something from the night before, which is better is not going to bother watching the 9 pm program if the content is not good.”

According to Aga viewership in India still primarily comes from small towns, which comprises co-viewing television with a large and conservative family. “However, that is now changing,” she’s quick to add.

Learning from MTV’s Kaisi Yeh Yaariyan, where the show openly talks about issues like same sex relationships, teenage pregnancy etc, which is a top rated show on the channel, Aga says, “You might question if conservative audiences are ready for it, but it is the top rated show. Obviously, a large bulk of people are liking it and they are all not living in the skyscrapers of Mumbai. There are people living in small towns who also watching it. People have access and you have to acknowledge that.”

Apart from producing content, BBC has also licensed iconic properties like Sherlock to AXN in India. The production house has designated development teams for fiction and non-fiction. “For fiction, it is quite different not only in terms of a production scale but on a creative approach also. For a daily, you need to set a different kind of rhythm. Whereas for non-fiction, one needs a lot of resources in a short span of time,” reasons Aga.

BBC also has a specific team for digital and branded content. “I believe the story is the same, but the way you tell it and the kind of skills you need to tell it are very much impacted by the format,” explains Aga.

To ensure differentiation across categories, BBC works closely with broadcasters as they have more sophisticated tools to access information. “They have a good sense of what their audience wants and it is up to us as producers to take that information and deliver a good product,” says Aga.

Re-invention leads to success

BBC Worldwide, which tasted success with franchising Dancing With the Stars in India as Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, has now set its sights higher.

Aga believes that the franchise model can work in India if the show re-invents itself every season. “If you look outside India, you’ll see that if there’s a good formula, there’s no reason why shows can’t keep going on for multiple seasons,” says Aga.

Citing Dancing With the Stars’ 20th season in the US and multiple seasons of Endemol’s reality show Big Brother as examples, Aga says, “Across the world if you get it right, you keep doing it. However, one needs to re-invent from season to season to keep the freshness alive,” says Aga.

On the flip side, in India, Aga believes that currently the audience has reached its saturation point. “In India, there’s a mix of re-inventing in existing content as well as experiments with the reality format like scripted or constructive reality,” she says.

BBC keeps certain factors in mind while producing or acquiring any format for Indian audiences. For example, it has to be entertaining, aspirational, and sufficiently different from things that have been already done. “There are a lot of formats in the market and the new offering should provide some kind of challenge to the audience,” opines Aga.

Though, the BBC has bought third party formats from Shine TV and ITV Studios amongst others, it does not believe in acquiring a lot many of them given its own library. “We believe in creating and launching new formats every year,” Aga says. “If we see a particular gap in the current content offering in the market and feel that a particular format can fill that void, we might auction it. But we don’t do that a lot. We have a pretty strong catalogue within BBC itself and home-grown development is really working,” reasons Aga.

Short pre-production cycles in India

Pre-production stage is where the company is responsible to get on-board the best talent like directors, writers, producers, and creative heads to deliver a good product. Aga believes that India tends to have a very short pre-production cycle compared to other markets, which can be a disadvantage. “Except for development in India, we really do not spend enough time on pre-production. You spend a lot of time developing an idea by pitching and when you get a yes from a broadcaster, you have to be on-air in no time,” she says.

The period between concept to on-air for a show in India is a short and an expensive one too, compared to other markets where Aga has worked. “And that is where you start making choices, which don’t necessarily do the best for the audience,” explains Aga.

Throwing light on BBC UK’s historical programs like Blue Planet and Shark amongst others, which are in production stage for three-five years, Aga says, “These shows are in pre-production for a year. Of course, it is a totally different genre and ballgame but there is respect for the amount of time it takes to get ready so that when you are actually in production, you are completely prepared, and also completely prepared if things go wrong. When you are under prepared, you are less able to respond to things that may happen on a shoot,” laughs Aga.

Depending on the type of show, in India the BBC has been in situations where the show’s pre-production is covered in a maximum time span of a year to a minimum of two weeks.

Multi-genre and multi-budget company

BBC has worked across genres and languages too. For example, it had launched Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa in Kannada, which received decent responses from the regional market consumers. Aga believes that people respond to the content and not the money that the makers pump in.

When asked, is there was a huge budget difference between regional made shows and shows made for Hindi GECs, Aga says, “It’s just about what one chooses to spend money on.”

She goes on to say that the version of Dancing with the Stars made in the US is significantly more expensive than it is made here. “I wouldn’t say that Jhalak is any less relevant or popular with Indian audiences but the budget as compared to DWS is completely different. The absolute same logic applies for regional content to India. Yes, the budget over here is significantly less because the cost of production is less, but you can deliver a good product at any budget level,” responds Aga.

Future roadmap

This year, the company is going to focus on areas like fiction and digital content. Aga believes that digital is increasingly present and is user generated. She states the best examples are Netflix and Amazon.com, which are like TV studios but have digital as their primary mode of sharing content.

“For me digital is not only user generated but also web produced high-end content and everything in between from ad-funded to short bytes that are a part of bigger properties. If you are making something for television, how do you make iterations of it so that they have their own voice on digital, living beyond the television property,” she opines.

The company is also planning to strengthen its website bbc.com by adding exclusive digital content. “Last year, we wanted to build and stabilise our fiction business and now our main focus is going to go strong on digital,” reveals Aga.

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