Deepak Dhar started out as creative director in Endemol India and soon got elevated to the position of managing director and chief executive. He had previously worked for television broadcaster Star India as group head of programming where he was responsible for large television productions such as Pop Stars and The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. Dhar has also worked with MTV India for three years. In recent days, Endemol India has sold 49% stake to Chernin Group's CA Media (the media investment unit for the company's Asia operations). In an interview with FE Brandwagon's Anushree Chandran, Dhar states that his ambition is to produce content across platforms, and the move will help the production house establish a strong presence in the Indian film sector. But he will not part with further stake. Edited excerpts:
Can you tell us about your film ambitions and the deal with CA Media?
Our ambitions are very aggressive and we don't want to be catering to one screen. Today, we are attempting to produce content across mediums and platforms. Our ambition is to not just be a television producer but a content producer across screens. The deal with CA Media is to fulfill those ambitions. It's a 51:49 joint venture and the controlling partner is still Endemol. We have no plans to sell further stake. While they (CA Media) are not so hands-on for television programmes, they are a key driver in our plans for film. Endemol spotted Kahaani which is a very big blockbuster film and we are re-making that in Tamil and Telegu. We have picked up the rights to a Malayalam film called Traffic and we are producing that in Hindi with Manoj Bajpai in the lead. Initially we will not be looking at big budget films. We are also planning to make a Bigg Boss film for next year. The idea is to build the franchise and let people sample different parts to it. We are still on the drawing board as far as the script is concerned. It could be a kid's oriented goofy film. Or it could be a slasher film. Or a mystery/whodunit. So we have some three projects in the offing. There are some big directors and writers being signed on.
Which are the television formats that you are thinking of bringing into India?
Bigg Boss, Fear Factor and Fame Gurukul are the formats that have worked really well in India and have been extended to multiple seasons. Bigg Boss will go to at least 4-5 different markets and we are optimistic about this franchise. We also have another big blockbuster show called One Versus 100 that will soon hit the Indian screens. It's a game show where one contestant plays against a 100 other contestants. We intend to bring this into the market very soon. We are also considering another show that did well in the UK called Your Face Sounds Familiar. We are also one of the biggest producers in regional television. While a lot of other producers of content are just moving to regional markets, we have already been there since about a couple of years. We produced more than 400 episodes of Deal Or No Deal for the Sun Network. We also did about 150 episodes of a format called A Million Pounds. Very soon, we are also going to announce a four-language deal on Fear Factor.
Our forte is that we are the only producer that can give programmes in multiple languages simultaneously. I see a lot of developments in the regional television space. There's a strong sense of fatigue setting in on regional television and hence a need for cutting-edge formats. What's interesting about regional networks is that they cannot operate in isolation because they cannot afford the cost. As a result, we bunch shows together (in multiple languages) and they get it at a more competitive price. We get the volumes as a producer and the broadcaster gets bang for the buck.
Advertiser sentiment hasn't been good due to the economic slowdown. Aren't you worried that there may be far lesser demand for reality television?
I think that phase has come and gone. Reality TV is coming back on a lot of prime time networks. Regional channels are picking up so many of our formats. Broadcasters in general are on the lookout for new spaces and formats - the food genre, crime or youth entertainment. We are doing about six-seven soaps (fiction formats). We have a big co-production deal for a fiction show with Amitabh Bachchan. Very soon you'll see some sort of evolution in the way fiction is being sampled as well. You will see some big breakthrough ideas coming through on weekdays. While currently, crime and thriller content is showcased only on weekends, soon it will move on to weekdays. There are other discussions happening with big Bollywood talent and broadcast networks for blockbuster shows on television.
Are you also attempting to put out content purely designed for digital?
We are considering a web-only version of Bigg Boss. The show is so internet friendly already, it's not going to be too difficult to put together a show just for digital audiences. The winner of Bigg Boss on television could be a part of the web Bigg Boss show. The thing about digital is that everybody's still trying to figure out how this medium works. There are no set patterns and set benchmarks and that's a good thing because then you can define the rules. We are also taking a lot of the digital formats that Endemol owns internationally to some of our existing partners. We have a digital show called Frames which is a captive reality format. There is another show called Master Plan where the phone device is the master in your life and the contestants take orders on the phone. We could easily sell this to someone like an Airtel or Vodafone. There are a lot of these very small quirky ideas that have gone across the globe and we have picked up those and are taking them to advertisers and broadcast partners. Digital, at the moment, is a very price sensitive market and you need to have small clever ideas that don't cost much.
Copyright 2013 The Indian Express Online Media Pvt. Ltd., distributed by Contify.com
Credit: Anushree Chandran
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