New Delhi: Bringing the curtain down on the latest season of its popular game show Kaun Banega Crorepati doesn’t signal an unexciting time for production house Big Synergy. The Indian television company, originally headed by Siddhartha Basu, now a part of Anil Ambani-led Reliance Mediaworks, says it’s eyeing an entry into fiction content after dominating the non-fiction space for years.
Originally known for helming series like Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, 10 Ka Dum, Sach Ka Saamna and India’s Got Talent, the production house founded by Basu in 1988 that is a joint venture with Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films (which in itself is a joint venture with Reliance Entertainment) is currently looking at two shows on the Star Network and web-series for a host of over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, ALTBalaji and Voot.
“The process started two years back when we began investing in developing stories for the fiction format," said Indranil Chakraborty, chief executive officer, Big Synergy, adding that the 2016 alliance with Phantom brought in much writing and directorial talent into the company.
“While we were developing scripts with Phantom and also internally, the big opportunity that came knocking our door was this whole world of digital investments. It was a coincidence, even if digital hadn’t happened, we would have invested in fiction for TV," Chakraborty said. “Today I can claim we are the only production house making web series for a majority of the platforms, we’ve already launched a show called Ye Kya Hua Bro for Voot, there’s Bose: Dead/Alive for ALTBalaji, we have two shows under development for Amazon Prime Video, Sacred Games for Netflix and we are beginning to shoot a show for Vuclip. Plus we should be able to finalise some of our fiction content for TV soon. Some of this happened by design, but also because of the thrust in script development, we actually had stories to tell."
The modalities of putting a show together for the OTT space differ, Chakraborty said. While some services like Netflix came to Big Synergy with a brief, the production company took scripts to platforms like Amazon.
“The creative development bit is done by the production house. But finally it needs to be certified by the platform because they know who their audience is," Chakraborty said. “Once the screenplay, talent and budget are locked, the production house pretty much runs the show. After you hand in the project, the marketing and distribution is done by them."
The current restructuring in the media landscape may also have to do with Big Synergy’s move to fiction, industry experts point out.
“The media and entertainment industry is at the cusp of a significant paradigm shift. As business models evolve, few dominant trends seem to emerge. One of these is the increasing propensity of audiences to consume niche content. Although service offering of players continue to be fluid as they attempt to satiate the ever-evolving needs of the Indian consumer in a radically expanding digital space, they also strive to obtain content curated to customer-specific preferences," said Priyanka Chaudhary, partner at Grant Thornton India LLP. “This is done best by the traditional content creators in the value chain who bring in the required creative aspects and strike the right chord with a medium, time and place agnostic millennial consumer base."
Experts point out that non-fiction is a popular but niche segment in India. Fiction, on the other hand, provides a wider board where you can create and modify, provide maximum potential penetration and reach. Jehil Thakkar, partner at management consulting firm Deloitte India sees the Big Synergy move as an extension into other formats rather than a dilution of their core strengths.
“I don’t think they are abandoning non-fiction," he said. “The market opportunity at hand is hard to ignore given the money being spent by telecom companies and OTT platforms, the only differentiator being the original content they can come up with. And there are very few players out there who will provide 200-300 hours of quality programming."
Chakraborty agrees. “Non-fiction is our core business across eight languages and it will always remain so," he admitted. While KBC has just ended, a new season of 10 Ka Dum with Salman Khan is due for Sony mid-next year and a live game show, inspired by KBC’s Jio play-along feature is also on the cards. A lot of it has to do with Basu’s expertise with the segment that makes people come up to them. Fiction, on the other hand, is something they have to grow in and learn to execute. From 100% non-fiction production, Chakraborty said 30% of their business will be fiction by the end of 2018, and by 2019, it may possibly be equally divided between the two genres or fiction may even command a bigger share.
“It’s pretty weighty on both the fiction and non-fiction fronts in the coming months. The next one year is a really challenging one," Chakraborty said. “A lot of investments will happen in digital content. My estimate is there will be a commitment of at least a billion dollars in the next two to three years. Nothing less than one-third of it will flow to develop original content. The challenge for us as producers is to not become greedy and actually give returns on this kind of money."