New Delhi: A stint on television for the longest time for BBC Studios India is now being coupled with both selling content to over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms and working with brands to create content for them. In an interview with Mint, Sameer Gogate, business head, production, BBC Studios, talks about the company’s plans for traditional and new media and challenges of working with both. Edited excerpts:
What is the current focus for India—television or digital? Or is it a mix?
Television still does remain a larger part of the pie, in fact we’ve recently completed 145 episodes of a show called Khatra Khatra Khatra on Colors. Having said that, digital has definitely picked up in the last couple of years, especially in the last two years and it all started with the success of Criminal Justice, that show really did well for us. Also, a lot of our formats that are very easy to adapt, have found acceptance in this digital era, whether it’s on Hotstar, VOOT or SonyLIV. The advantage is, when it comes to originals, the development time for a story is between nine to twelve months. On a show like Doctor Foster, which we are doing with Hotstar, the development time would crunch down to three to three-and-a-half months, because it is based on an existing script. Some clients are trying to see the advantage, and some haven’t seen it so it’s a mixed bag right now. The moral of the story is a lot of our BBC formats are getting accepted across platforms — we’ve got The Office, Criminal Justice, Luther and Doctor Foster.
What are the digital projects coming up immediately and whom are these in collaboration with?
The formal announcement with some of the platforms hasn’t been made. There is a new original show that we are producing with Netflix, there is a sports mockumentary we are doing with Amazon Prime Video. Doctor Foster will be out soon, sometime over the next quarter and you’ll hear at least three more shows making it out. We are involved in these projects from scratch, from script to pitching, developing and producing them.
Is there an investment you’re looking to make in digital over a certain period of time?
In all the projects where we are involved, there is a certain amount of investment that needs to go into the development. If the idea is powerful enough and the brand can see what we are trying to achieve, we can go for a lot more detailed projects.
What are the plans as far as licensing properties are concerned?
We at BBC only licence our formats to platforms who then commission it to us for production.
We are in active pitches with all the four major television broadcasters, there is a daily soap discussion going on with a major GEC (general entertainment channel), we are also actively discussing Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa right now.
What are the challenges on television right now?
I think the one challenge the industry is now facing is on the non-scripted side where we can see the pressure on costs come into play with the state of the economy. The broadcasters are finding it difficult to monetize the premium shows. If they are going to find it difficult to monetize high-end, non-scripted shows, these won’t get commissioned easily and that would mean that it is fiction that would land up taking these slots again. The current TV model is that everything is ad-funded and if you’re not making money on it, it’s a challenge for broadcasters.
What are the challenges on the digital front?
I would see it as more business opportunities with more platforms. Also, everyone’s at a different ticket size so while Netflix and Amazon are at the premium end of the spectrum, others are at a slightly less premium end so the kind of content you are making varies by platform.
How do you respond to the threat of censorship at some point on this medium that has remained free so far?
As a production house, we tackle it as and when it comes. Every platform has its own issues and guidelines and we are governed by them. Because there is no censorship, people have been able to push the envelope. If censorship comes in, it would be restrictive for the kind of stories we tell. Today, a daily soap is a daily soap regardless of the channel. But here is the opportunity to tell more stories and entertain our audiences better which may not mean extra violence or highly sexual content. It could be the verbiage or language used by the characters, and if that gets censored, as a producer, I feel it’s not true to the character. It (no censorship) allows us to pitch more varied stories to platforms, so if tomorrow, censorship comes in and platforms say we can’t do certain things, I’ll have to change my pitches accordingly.