"Looking at creating multinational co-funded and co-financed content": Applause Entertainment’s Sameer Nair

According to him, the entertainment industry should be protected from monopoly.

Many believe this is the golden age for content creators. Applause Entertainment is one of those at the forefront of creating digital content today. However, the company’s ambition isn’t just restricted to India but rather a global audience. Some of the recent names that can be credited to the Sameer Nair-run company are Hostages, Criminal Justice, Rasbhari, Hasmukh, The Office, etc. Under development are an Israeli thriller adaptation for India – Fauda, as well as Luther.

In the second part of this interview, Applause Entertainment CEO Sameer Nair, in a virtual fireside chat with founder, CEO and editor in chief Anil Wanvari spoke at length about content creation for global audience, co-production in different countries, short-form content, TikTok, the role of streamers in today’s digital world and much more.

Read the first part here

Edited Excerpts:

The pandemic has been longer than what we have suspected, do you think it will change the way viewers live. Due to lack of fresh content at their disposal audiences are moving from GECs to OTT now.

I think what the pandemic has done, in India especially, is that it has exposed a new giant audience to the OTT platform. It is a forced thing that has become a habit now. I think it’s a good thing; the distribution of content via the internet is a golden age of content consumption and content creation. Television, theatre and OTT are very important parts of our business. I don’t think any one part of the business can or should replace the others. From a content creator point of view what you want to have is multiple revenue channels. If it gets monopolised then it will create distortion in the market. 

Do you think that Indian content has not travelled the world? Also the broadcast industry is heavily dependent on advertising and subscription is not coming to the level it was expected.

I think from our scheme of things the world is an open playground. For now, we are an Indian studio but thankfully due to streamers content is travelling globally. The US market exists all over the world but in the next 15 or 20 years, the Indian market will have the same influence. Initially, Chinese had a lot of power with their technology and the Koreans have done that but as India seems to have a large market one can be happy because it is such a huge market. But now what global streamers have automatically created is a system where content can be viewed in any part of the world.

Certain animation studios have set outposts in Hollywood and they are starting co-production and are hiring locals from there. So are you looking at penetrating American market with American style shows rather than doing Indian shows alone?

It is definitely a possibility and different people in different ways have done that. The story of Hollywood is like when they run out of money they find a new investor. Originally, it was run by Jews then Germans and Russians came and the Indians went for some time. If you talk about co-production in America, I believe they are already more qualified than Asians. It is more about growing together, partnerships, collaborations because they are already doing great stuff and maybe we can contribute to it.

Is there a chance to do a co-production between India, France and the UK?

Yes, in fact, we have been approached by a documentary company to figure out if we can co-produce some documentaries which would be partly financed by the French and partly financed by Applause Entertainment. We were looking at monetising it in a way where France would take care of Europe and we could take care of the rest of the world and India. Actually streamers while arriving are shaking up the global content. Originally what used to happen in the  West is that anyone in the US or Europe is completely aware of how these whole syndication licencing models work, how multiple financing models work or how to create content in one market and sell in different countries. Streamers have put a planner in place and they are doing this very effectively.

We are looking at these partners and seeing how to create a multinational content which is co-funded and co-financed. Finally, what has to work is the economy, the business of it, who pays and the ways to recover money.

What is your opinion on 15-second 30-second and 90-second short-form story format? Are they lending good storytelling?

I think the whole TikTok revolution and before that what YouTube did and a lot of short-form content has democratised storytelling. Before the internet and social media came along, only a few could create that content. Either you have to be a filmmaker or a media and TV producer. Then YouTube came and TikTok took it even further. I think storytelling is a form of expressing creativity. I don’t believe it is right to judge anybody. With millions of pieces of content on YouTube some things rise up some things catch our attention and that is how a YouTube star or TikTok star is created just like any other platform. Story of content and its quality remains fundamental. People should be allowed to express their story.

What do you think about the TikTok ban, now a lot of indigenous brands that have come up or do you think Indians will create a better version then TikTok?

TikTok is more than a brand and replacement; it is an ecosystem that has been built over so many years. It has been built on very clever insight and how audiences and market works. It is not something that is replaceable; it was also an economic model that needs financial backing. In the end, a lot of social media platforms have huge financial resources that look at building customer acquisition. Personally, I think the TikTok ban will be revoked and it will be sorted out

Do you think it is important to entertain and impact society at the same time with content?

I think in a way we are already doing this. What we are today is the outcome we have created for ourselves. Different creators, filmmakers are trying to influence society. One can influence society in a good or a bad way. There are many movies that make you sit and think and there are also some dumb comedies. I don’t think one size fits all or there is a right way. That goes into a dictatorial regime which is against creativity. If I want to laugh about something, then I should be allowed to do so. I don’t have to be meaningful all the time. Television has been the biggest influencer in India but to what extent it has influenced, that we don’t know.

How do you choose a story or a subject of a story and what is the process of greenlighting the project? Also, which are the genres you are looking at developing further?

One filter for our selection process is to do something which we are already not doing or have just done. If I have three to four thriller series in development then maybe I won’t do the fifth one right now. There are some broad genres we want to focus on: thriller, crime, homeland security, military biopic, inspirational stories, romance, family drama and historical.

For us, the process is very simple. The idea of a story comes to us, sometimes it comes through a producer or a writer, then we get into development. We are always involved in the process. We are responsible for every product that comes out of Applause Entertainment. Sometimes the idea comes attached with the producer who then comes with his own director then actors come on board. This is the overall process but it starts with writing.

Tell us more about your joint production with Gurinder Chadha and Sunder Aaron for Seeker?

Locomotive Global’s Sunder Aaron was already in talks with Bend it Films & TV’s Gurinder Chadha. They have developed an idea after which they approached Applause Entertainment. I have met Sunder a couple of times where I explained to him about our work. It took some time to complete the paperwork and now we are creating a multi-country writers room. There is a writer in New York then there is a writer’s room in India  and all of us at Applause Entertainment are putting this together. I am very excited about this project.

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