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Sudhanshu Vats on Rishtey's content strategy, challenges and Viacom18's latest show

Viacom18 is set to roll out its first Rishtey Original on 2 February

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MUMBAI: The sweet spot. That’s what Viacom18’s Hindi mass entertainment channel Rishtey appears to have struck with its latest offering Navrangi Re! The newest act of the media and entertainment conglomerate sees it join forces with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and BBC Media Action to create a finite series with an underlying behaviour change message on sanitation. Few organisations throw their might behind CSR initiatives like Viacom18 does, and with Navrangi Re! it seems to achieved a rare double – a powerful story and entertaining narration.

“The challenge with this show is that we have a finite series and in India it’s a big thing to manage a finite series. But it has begun to change now. We are very hopeful with this show and if things go right, we will be mounting on subsequent seasons and we are committed to that,” says Viacom18 Group CEO & MD Sudhanshu Vats.

Billed as the first ever Rishtey Original, the 26-episode drama series will launch on 2 February and be telecast on Saturday and Sunday at 9.30 pm. It will also air on Colors Gujarati and Colors Odia at 6.30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays starting 9 February. Viewers can also watch the show on Viacom18’s OTT Voot.

Rishtey, previously a free-to-air (FTA) channel, is now priced at an MRP of Rs 1 under the new tariff order.

“The idea for Rishtey is to appeal to the section which is more CDE in terms of NCCS. The concept of Rishtey being a repeat channel is technically correct. But that’s a broadcaster or content player’s perspective. But a lot of the audience is consuming its content for the first time, and therefore that section is watching Originals. So our strategy moving forward is that we look at what of our content already appeals to that section and where we need to get in new or original content. Going forward, we will continue to have that balance,” highlights Vats as he offers an insight into the channel’s content strategy.

Building and scaling up a channel of this nature could be tricky given that most of Viacom18’s competitors have been in the business of Hindi mass entertainment for two decades.

“One of the challenges we have compared to some of our competitors in India is that we are a relatively younger company. So the library of content they have is stronger. So their ability to then package content for this audience through their library maybe a little better than ours. Therefore as we progress, we will need to look at how we can balance this with originals. That’s the thinking and strategy,” adds Vats.

When asked if there will be added focus on Originals for Rishtey, Vats responds keepings his cards close to the chest.

“You will see. We are doing this, and you will see some more,” he says.

Produced by Swastik Productions, Navrangi Re! is the story of a lively mohalla (a neighbourhood) in a town in northern India full of quirky and endearing characters. This series promises to make you laugh while raising critical questions around ‘flush ke baad ki kahaani’.

Does the series fit in with the overall content strategy of the network?

“It fits in beautifully. We have always picked up social issues. We have always stretched the envelope on social issues. I think we are further stretching the envelope with this series. We are taking up a very tough subject for television and trying to make it appealing. The theme we are trying to manage is faecal sludge management, but we want to make it entertaining. I think the humour will help us in getting the message across,” the veteran executive points out sounding rather confident.

Interestingly, the show launch nearly coincides with the implementation of the new tariff order (post the TRAI extension) on 1 February. With the radical change likely to cause disruption in the distribution value chain, is there cause for concern?

“We’ve got to have business as usual and people will continue to watch television. Yes, you could argue that there could be teething problems in the beginning, but the show must go on,” says an unperturbed Vats as he signs off.

It’s not often that broadcasters, especially in Hindi mass entertainment, steer away from tried and tested formats to take up subjects rooted in social change. Viacom18, however, seems to be making a habit of daring to dream beyond the banality of everyday television. More importantly, it continues to do so with passion and panache. And for that, it deserves to be applauded.

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