Home >Specials >Manthan Awards 2012 >An online chat show for the Internet age

Bangalore: Chat shows are meant to be breezy. Given the low attention spans in the Internet age, however, it is difficult to pull off the traditional chat show that runs anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Hoping to capitalize on this, 31-year-old entrepreneur Lakshmi Rebecca started an online chat show called Chai with Lakshmi last year.

The show—aimed at 25-to-45-year-old urban Indians—consists of so-called webisodes of 7-11 minutes where Rebecca interviews people in cities who she says are shaping the future of India. “We are a cross between a talk show and a documentary film, depending on the subject," Rebecca said.

People who have appeared on the show include Magsaysay award winner Harish Hande, who runs an organization that provides solar energy services to poor people; Rajni Jha, a polio-affected young girl who became a national-level swimmer; and a housewife who is a passionate waste management activist.

Rebecca, a marketing graduate from Sheffield Business School, has a varied work background: she helped make documentary films for the BBC and Channel 4, modelled briefly, taught marketing, and worked as a marketing consultant.

“I was trying to find a connect between the variety of things that I’d done in my life. The initial motivation was to take those things and build a brand for myself," she said. Modelling helped her become comfortable facing a camera, while documentary films gave her experience in doing research and interviewing people. A chat show seemed a good way to combine her experiences.

The Bangalore-based entrepreneur adopted a simple formula for building a brand: take a meme and attach your name to it.

“Today, if I we were to start a show, I’d probably call it The Lakshmi Rebecca Show. When I started out, I didn’t have that kind of confidence because I’d not done a talk show before. I wanted a cultural underpinning and did not want the name to sound just about what Lakshmi Rebecca thinks," Rebecca said. So she thought of a name based on chai (tea)—a popular conversation accompaniment in India. “Chai is also very Indian. It lends itself well to the idea of a casual conversation which could leave you with something to think about and that’s what all the webisodes are about," she said.

Chai with Lakshmi is a short-listed nominee of this year’s Manthan Awards.

Rebecca started the site with her savings along with money from friends and family. After that, she has been running the business primarily through the money she earns from her marketing consultancy. “We also earn from custom production—that is, we make Web videos for others," she said.

The first year was tough for Rebecca, who as a model and marketing teacher had become used to a regular salary. “There was so much to do. The more you do things yourself the more you save money, so I used to work through weekends."

After the show went online in July last year, Rebecca said the feedback was that though the concept of a short, breezy yet meaningful online chat show sat well with people, viewers were disappointed with the sound and production quality. “So we bought the right equipment. Then it became about the content—we got suggestions from people about the kind of questions they wanted me to ask, who they wanted to see, etc.," Rebecca said.

The show now attracts 100,000-200,000 viewers a month. About 60% of the viewers are from Bangalore, 20% are Indians based abroad, and the rest are scattered around the country. Rebecca has filmed 98 webisodes in three seasons, of which the last is ongoing. She plans to put her next season online in January. For that series, which will have 36 webisodes, the former model is in talks with brands to get sponsorship and bring in more revenues.

“We’d offer space on the webisodes, just as a TV show would. And also then facilitate a pay-per-view option," Rebecca said. She declined to name the companies she was in discussions with but said ideally, she’d like to work with a company such as Britannia Industries Ltd and Ford Motor Co.

Rebecca said her company was well-positioned to grow. “We have the right infrastructure in place. I’m more confident, revenues are coming in from the custom product video and my consulting business. We’re at a place where we’re comfortably set for growth."

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan Awards.

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