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“We plan to introduce innovative disruptive new age content in 2016:” Deepak Dhar

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Millennials in India have grown up watching reality television perhaps even before they could pick their favourite subjects or role models.

Shows such as Bigg BossMaster ChefThe Voice and Emotional Attyachar amongst others need no introduction, nor does their production house Endemol Shine India, which is heralded by one of the brightest minds in India’s reality TV landscape - Deepak Dhar as managing director and CEO.

Dhar joined the production and content creating giant in 2005, after paving a successful career in media with companies like Star TV, MTV, Channel V, etc. Armed with his expertise in reality television, Dhar went on to lead Endemol with some of the most challenging and ambitious projects.

At the launch of Khatron Ke Khiladi’s seventh season, which is slated to go on air on Colors early next year, Dhar speaks to Indiantelevision.com’s Papri Das on the current landscape of reality TV, prospects of producing home grown format shows in India, the company’s relationship with broadcasters and more.

Excerpts:

What’s new in Khatron Ke Khiladi season 7 from the production perspective?

We have 60 different stunts lined up this season. It’s already a task to set up one and now we have 60 of them to put in place. Not to mention, the scale of each stunt will go up this season, matching international standards. The new locale (Argentina) has also allowed us to try different things and explore various possibilities in terms of the type of tasks. The schedule includes shooting in Argentina in Buenos Aires for 40 days. Our crew of about 160 people and contestants will celebrate their Diwali there.

Have you tried anything new when it comes to production technique?

We are shooting in Argentina, which is an evolved market from a technical standpoint and that works in our favour. We plan to use drones to shoot some scenes as well. They are not easily used in India as there are restrictions, but shooting in Argentina will enable us to do so. These are stunt friendly locations. We have a few things in mind but we plan to explore them once we reach the shoot location.

Do you notice any new trends in the landscape of reality TV shows in India?

I feel that reality TV has become a very staple diet for Indian viewers. It has also seen an evolution of sorts. At some point in time it used to be more focused on song and dance. People have now moved on from that and are looking for edgy content dealing with relationships, drama and danger. It is all about making it more real and how the people onscreen can relate to the people watching them.

That is why shows like Bigg BossMaster Chef, Fear Factor etc are doing well as they feel more real, and connect the audience with a sort of warmth on screen. I wouldn't call this a new trend but that’s just how things are shaping the landscape.

Are there any plans to introduce new international formats in the Indian market in the near future?

There are quite a few formats from the Endemol Shine system that we are bringing in. Shows like The HuntedThe Circus of the Celebrities and The Australian Spelling Bee. There are a lot of innovative disruptive new age content that we have to offer, that will hit the screens next year.

Are Indian production houses at a stage where a home grown format can be taken internationally?

Why not? Largely a lot of song and dance reality formats have been home grown here, for example Dance India Dance (DID). A lot of drama, stunt based shows and game shows do come in from across the globe because we want something tried and tested. We don’t want to invest in something that might have a chance of not working with our audience. I do feel that India has the potential to create a home grown format in the song and dance segment.

We also made something called Big Switch for Bindass a few years ago that involved switching people’s identities and their circumstances. We successfully ran that for two seasons and probably will come up with a third very soon.

As producers do you get enough freedom from the broadcasters?

As far as Endemol Shine India is concerned, our relationship with broadcasters is mutually beneficial. Colors for example has lapped up our formats for reality television quite well. They have taken Bigg Boss and Khatron Ke Khiladi to the next level, with a huge push on the marketing and celebrity side as well as by simply scaling up the content. They believe in airing disruptive content and we tend to have a lot of that.

Out of all the reality shows you have produced or been part of, which has been the most challenging?

They were all challenging and fun in their own right. But if I had to pick and choose, I found producing five seasons of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge a refreshing experience. It was a challenge because it was an unchartered territory for Indian reality TV. We couldn’t pre-calculate the parameters and variables involved that could go right or wrong for the show. It was all new for us. Comedy wasn’t mainstream those days. It was in the realm of smaller events. We picked it up and established an entire genre of reality shows from it.

With VOD platforms like Hotstar, Voot, HOOQ, ErosNow et al emerging as the new medium for content consumption, how is Endemol positioning itself in the programming ecosystem?

We are already creating and producing digital content formats for some of these OTT players. We have brought in formats from our international partners because those are evolved markets familiar with OTT and digital content. We are in talks with some of these players to see how we can start mounting them up.

Is India finally catching up to short format fiction shows?

The shortening of content is bound to happen due to fragmentation of mediums and due to the gradually reducing attention span of viewers. People are getting restless. They want to see the start and end of a scripted program and binge watching is becoming a concept as well. People now want to watch and complete a series maybe within one or two weekends or maybe over a month. With this viewing behaviour spreading across genres, producers must also shift and re-think in that direction, and go for more and more finite shows.

What does week 41 and 42 BARC data mean for you as a content provider?

It’s still too early to comment or even start shifting gears based on the data. Let the ecosystem stabilise and settle a bit. It is just about stabilising, so we must wait before forming any opinions based on it or our content strategy. The new numbers will throw us new trends as well, and we are keeping an eye on them for new possible show concepts.

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