Business News/ Industry / Media/  Heat on TV reality shows as music labels seek pound of flesh

New Delhi: Music labels are pressing television broadcasters for fatter fees to use film songs in music and dance-based reality shows after witnessing increased revenues from digital platforms. While established franchises such as Indian Idol may stay on the air, the category itself may not see new additions, given the high costs and limited returns.

Music reality shows are very hard to put together, a broadcast network executive said. “You’re not just scouting for the right talent and polishing them to execute the show, but none of the songs are yours. So, you could be paying close to 1 crore for limited usage of some music, and that cost cannot be amortized unless it’s a really big show like Indian Idol," the executive added.

To be sure, the tangle between broadcasters and music labels isn’t new, and negotiations are common.

According to the executive cited above, certain shows with assured returns and brand recall will survive, but it is common for music labels to play hardball when the commercial value of the music they own is high. “Labels are right in their own way because they’ve invested so much into making and marketing the music, so they would want to monetize the IP. But there is no growth for unscripted programming, at least on cable television," the executive said, adding such content may move to streaming platforms.

Leading broadcast networks Sony, Zee and Viacom18 did not respond to Mint’s queries. Anuj Gandhi, a media analyst and founder of Plug and Play Entertainment, a media tech start-up, said the licensing of music rights had been a perennial issue. “Labels are increasingly making a lot of money on the digital side; so, it is common to flex muscles where they don’t think they’re getting real value," Gandhi said, agreeing broadcasters see reality programming as a high-cost, high-risk business with little return. On the other hand, digital brings not only revenue but also data on user behaviour and patterns. There will always be a feeling of the cost being higher for TV networks, and labels feeling it’s lower, as it’s bound to be in any business negotiations, said Shahir Muneer, founder and director of Divo, a Chennai-based music and media company. “However, with most TV networks now having launched their own OTTs, it has led to additional licensing revenues to cover digital as well. However, this is only for the sound recording licence, which is what the labels license; for performance royalties, the networks have to deal with IPRS (Indian Performing Right Society), which will lead to royalties for composers and lyricists as well," Muneer said.

When it comes to TV shows centred around music, broadcasters will typically get into a licensing deal with music labels, said Vinay Guwalani, director of label and artist solutions, Believe India and South Asia. Believe is a digital music company. “The deal is structured in such a way that the broadcaster takes a ‘catalogue licence’ for the usage of music for all shows. This licence is based on a fixed fee, and in exchange, the broadcaster on the network can put it to any possible use. Digital music licensing works with different models. It’s based on various factors, and these licensing models are derived after understanding the requirement of the platform. In a usual scenario in India, it’s a combination of license fee and revenue share, but this can change as per the requirement and licensing needs of the platform," Guwalani said.

Reality shows have to ultimately make commercial sense for broadcasters, said Rakesh Nigam, chief executive officer of the Indian Performing Right Society.

“Costs of mounting these shows is huge, and it all depends on the popularity of the property. Negotiations always happen," Nigam said.

Reality shows that centre around the use of pre-recorded music will definitely be affected, given that they passively use existing music to run in their shows, said Vinod Kunj, founder and chief creative officer, Thought Blurb Communications, an advertising and design agency. 

“On the positive side, this is an opportunity to search for original talent and musicians who write their own music, instead of relying on the tried and tested formula of using music that is already popular with the public. Of course, that is a lot more work for show executives," Kunj said.

Lata Jha
Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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Updated: 26 Apr 2023, 12:32 AM IST
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