We’re a one-stop shop for broadcasters: Santosh Nair, UTV

27 Feb,2012

UTV Television, known to be a pioneer in the TV content business in India, was started by Ronnie Screwvala in the early nineties. Though the group has expanded its wings to being a broadcast major, its television business, which has now, in a way, been overshadowed by the international companies’ foray into India, is slowly but surely taking bigger strides in becoming a significant player in the business.


as put by Chief Operating Officer Santosh Nair, the content house’s biggest USP is the fact that it offers fiction and non-fiction shows, plus the company’s wide experience in the regional space. In a freewheeling interview with MxM India’s Rishi Vora, Nair speaks about the content business in India, UTV’s role in that, company’s plans and much more. Excerpts:


Q: So how was 2011 for UTV Television?

The year 2011 was very good for us. Saubhagyavati Bhava, which was launched at the end of the year, is doing well. Dor, which aired on Star Plus, was launched early in 2011 too performed fairly well. The non-fiction shows, especially on UTV Bindass, such as Big Switch and Emotional atyachar too have delivered.


Q: Is it tough competing with the likes of Endemol, Freemantle, Balaji and a host of other content houses?

all businesses are tough in that sense. My sense is that there is space for everybody. Yes, there are international format companies, but we’ve been successful in doing home-grown formats. The first season of Dance India Dance was done by us. and that’s the first and the best example of a successful home-grown format. Ek Khiladi Ek Hasina -India’s first cricket format show too is a great example of a great home-grown format. and not to forget Emotional atyachar – that too is a home-grown reality show.


Q: But not all home-grown formats have been successful.

Most of them have done fairly well. Dance India Dance is doing well season after season. The show is now in its fourth season. These are tried and tested formulas. and that’s one reason I feel there is space for everyone in the industry.


Q: While there are home-grown formats done by Zee and various other channels, international formats like KBC, KKK, Bigg Boss and others are more popular. Why is that so?

International formats are formats which have worked internationally – they have worked well in many countries and hence are successful formats. There is a big market for international formats in India and that’s one of the main reasons why international production houses like Endemol, Freemantle and others have entered India.

Look at KBC for example. That’s a show that has seen a lot of success. Some have worked, some have not. But broadcasters will always look to do international formats more as these are the shows that have seen some success in overseas markets.


Q: are you also doing an international format show?

Yes, there is one in the pipeline.


Q: For a content house like yours, are non-fiction shows profitable?

Non-fiction shows are seasonal and each season lasts for about 13 to 26 weeks. So often they turn out to be more profitable because fiction shows usually takes about 200-250 episodes to break even. It takes that much time to understand how your fiction is doing on the ratings front, whether it is a good call to continue or not.


Q: UTV Bindass is a sister company, so if I may ask: How do reality shows like Emotional atyachar and Big Switch benefit you and the channel from a cost perspective?

These shows target the youth. So from a cost perspective, it is working out well for the channel and for us, too. That’s the reason why we’re doing them every year. So I’m pretty certain that the channel makes a fair amount of profit on these shows.

To be very clear about how we deal with Bindass: We treat the channel as any other broadcaster, the way we work with Star or Sony or Imagine, it’s the same way we work with Bindass. We pitch to them – and if in case they don’t like it – we take the project to someone else.


Q: So Bindass also works with an Endemol for example?

Yes, Bindass works with Endemol.


Q: Which means UTV Television is not much inclined with Bindass.

No-no, it’s not that way. What I’m saying is we are one of the content houses for Bindass.


Q: There is a buzz that some of the non-scripted shows are not really non-scripted in the true sense.

No-no. The kind of shows we have done, we have never done any doctoring, purely in terms of making a non-scripted show a scripted one. I can’t comment about other shows, but my fair sense is that nothing is scripted in non-scripted shows, apart from anchor lines.


Q: What is it that makes UTV Television stand out in the clutter?

Look at any content house right now in the Hindi space vis-a-vis UTV, which is the only content house that delivers both scripted and non-scripted content. That for us is our USP. We are doing some work in the southern market. We are doing shows languages such as Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam or Telugu. apart from being present in the Southern market, we’re also doing shows in Marathi. We recently did two fiction shows in Marathi, so the kind of programming we do – we are into six or seven languages.


Q: So where do you focus more: fiction or non-fiction?

We’re strong on both – fiction and non-fiction so we focus on both the formats. We’re a one-stop-shop for any broadcaster to look at fiction as well as non-fiction.


Q: a lot of content is being produced in regional languages, so is it a beginning of a trend in the content space?

apart from UTV, I don’t think many players have made a foray into the regional space. The reason why I’m saying this is because we have a decade old relationship with the network and we have been doing quite a bit of work down south. apart from the local players, I don’t see many of the Hindi players getting into the regional space.


Q: What is your view on the issue of IPR, where the broadcaster owns it when it is the content house that is producing the show…?

The broadcaster owns the IPR because he commissions the content house to produce the show. There is a budget which is rolled out, the content house keeps its margins and that price is fixed. That’s the model which is operational in the industry now minus Sun Network. With Sun Network, we spend the money on producing a show, we pay them slot fees and the IPR lies with us. So that’s a slot model.


We are doing Shubh Vivaah on Sony, a remake of a Tamil show; Saubhagyavati Bhava too is a remake of a Telugu show…


Q: So for all these shows, the IPRs lie with you?

Yes. In fact, there are two other shows in the pipeline which are remakes of south shows (we are currently in talks with broadcasters) and we own the IPRs.


Q: What is your view on broadcasters’ interference in terms of storylines or tweaks?

It’s team work. Broadcasters respect our expertise in terms of creative formats that we bring to the table. While we respect them in terms of their understanding about the business, so it’s a mutual thing.


Q: What are we going to see from UTV television this year?

We’re doing Shubh Vivaah on Sony, an international format show with one of the GECs. Two more fiction shows are lined up with top broadcasters and we will be launching a few fiction shows in the south. So a lot happening this year.


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