There’s more to Endemol than Bigg Boss & Khatron Ke Khiladi…

31 Jul,2017


While fiction shows have ensured the continuing success of general entertainment channel Colors, a significant contributing factor to its staying top-of-mind of viewers through the years is the popularity of reality shows Bigg Boss and KhatronKeKhiladi. While the new season for KKK is currently on, the announcements for Bigg Boss have started. The owners of both the format is EndemolShine India and CEO and Managing Director Deepak Dhar has been anintegral part of the global software major for the last 11 years after spending nine-odd years at Star India and MTV. Excerpts from a conversation.


We are in the eighth season of KhatronKeKhiladi, and the 11th season of Bigg Boss is on the anvil. Given that general entertainment channels reflect popular cultureand if this popular culture reflects the times we live in, how would you say have things changed, from the firstKhatronkeKhiladiwith Akshay Kumar to Rohit Shetty now…

We found a partner who was ready to take a position back in those days, and wanted to do stuff that the market was not ready to do, and we really created a market out of that, and those days it was Rajesh Kamatand AshwiniYardi. I used to be Rajesh’s deputy and I have had a fantastic equation with him. He said he needs a show from you and I assured him I would come back with an idea. So the following Monday or Tuesday made a pitch and a presentation.

The channel was not even launched, there was nothing called Colors, there was no logo, there was no look-style-feel, and I went sat across the table, with Ashwini and Rajesh, and said I’ve got Fear Factor. And they said everybody has seen it on AXN, how does it become primetime 9 o’clock? Rajesh said he wanted something spectacular.

I told him I have a different take on Fear Factor, so he asked me what it was. And I said it’s an all-female version of Fear Factor, so they said okay, and then Ashwini got a little exited and said:Tell Me More. So I said imagine what my mother or my masi is thinking while watching the show and saying ‘dekhoaajkalkiaurateinkya-kyakarrahinhain’. That was the thought and they kind of loved it. This was taking a usual route but in a very unconventional way.


So how have things changed from then to now. Has your value system changed with the show being bolder now?

Yes, with every season, things have gotten bolder, especially in Bigg Boss we have introduced a lot of tricks and things. There are some who have loved them, and there are a few who havn’t, but the TG really loves it. Like for instance when we put Sunny Leone in the house at one point of time and everybody was shocked and surprised. A show like Big Brother Bigg Bossalways throws up a lot of surprises – like we had Dolly Bindra and we also had the Great Indian Khali.


And you had Jade Goody in Season 2

Yeah, that was the headline story of the day. With ShilpaShetty as the anchor, and everyone wondered if Shilpawould do to Jade what she did unto her. But of course Shilpa took the ‘AtithiDevoBhavo’ route and and that was like super-energy, great storytelling at its peak.


Now there’s Salman Khan…

Yes, Salman Bhai is so emotionally invested in the property. He really plays the producer of the show. He loves something and he dislikes something, and he makes something, and to an extent he would go and say, this is the last season of the show, now I am pretty tired of the show, and we kept it the way it is. Because we really don’t want to script the show. I don’t know what he is going to say next, he might bash me (laughs).


He ensures the buzz every season…

The buzz starts the fact on whether Salman is doing it or not doing it and then who are the people who are going to be in the house. There are lot of people who self-proclaim they are going to be in the house. And the feeling when we produce it is that this could well be your neighbour’s house from 9-10pm or 10.30-11.30pm, whatever be the time slot.


Although Endemol does a lot of content through the year, but it’s known essentially for Bigg Boss, KhatronKeKhiladi

It’s not a compliment at all and while I would love to believe it’s a compliment, but it’s not a compliment, because we do so much outside of that. Big Brother is also such a big project at a global level for us and in India too it is such a big property now. It has gone to regional markets as well – Kannada, Bangla and Tamil with Kamal Haasan Sir as the host.


We have seen that in the past that Amitabh Bacchan had come in too and while he did create a buzz, he didn’t fit in very well. Was that in the back of your mind with Kamal Haasan.

No, not really, Kamal Hassan Siris as wicked and wacko as Salmanis really pushing us as well.


How much is the pressure on you to offer new, out-of-the-box solutions. Like Colors came up with Rising Stars which took music reality shows to another level. How much do broadcasters push for your innovations?

The pressure is enormous. Because you know everybody is trying to build a big idea, but having said that, every now and then we pull a rabbit out of the bag, and we manage to do something.


And how about a Made in India format?

So many years back (and we will come back with that very soon), we created the Great Indian Laughter challenge, which was something as disruptive, but at the same time very primetime, holistic family viewing kind of thing. It was the first time many men came to watch television and it was such a runaway success and after that the entire genre of comedy opened up.


But these days laughter shows aren’t quite family, right?

Yeah, now people forget that while pushing boundary or evolving you still want to keep it family.Having said that, we want to go back to the conventional standup comedy.


So will there be an Endemol India format that you could take abroad?

There will be soon.A lot of energy, work and thrust in the development pipeline is on that. So I feel there we might take again possibly a very unconventional route, maybe we will look at fiction to travel abroad, because you know internationally people are now wanting stories that feel earthy. Given the way Dangal and Bahubali caught everybody’s fascination internationally, and not just the Indian diaspora, there’s a learning there.


And fiction is what you have gotten into, right after the funding came in but that has not grown as much as one thought it would?

Well I would say yes, and no, but the pressure has been there almost every year, to deliver one or two things, can we go from one or two to three to four. I mean that’s the learning curve for us, right now we have got fantastic show called the Test Case, that is something as disruptive as it could be, and that has been a fantastic opportunity. So every year we do a couple of shows which are very-very disruptive and the market may not pick it up, but we find it as an opportunity.


Do you OTT is possibly the next big platform for disruptions?

I think so, given the way the landscape has changed, a lot of people will go there, and we are also thinking of engaging with digital audience.For instance, I got a call from Voot, and they said give us something on Fear Factor. A year back, I didn’t think I would get that kind of a call.


While most of your revenues may be from television right now, do you think that could skew in future?

I am not seeing skewing but amplifying and contributing at a very healthy rate, and in the next two years, we have also projected some growth in various segments of ours.


What could be the kind of projection?

I think it will double or triple up in that space, because the number of platforms that are coming up.


So in double digits?

Yeah, because the amount of content that the new platforms  are looking at… because you are not programming for just one slot, or one or two weekend slots across 13 episodes.They are looking at, say, 30 hour of content from Endemol, or anybody else. And that’s an opportunity for us…


What about regional television? How has that been growing for you?

Outside of Hindi primetime entertainment, the next big contributor to us, is regional, and there are six different markets there. So if you crack three of those markets, you are really well ahead of the game. We are the only producers who operate in all the languages, and we operate across genres, non-fiction to fiction, within non-fiction also, all the segments we operate in, so for us, the opportunity immediately multiplies, and amplifies, and that is where it.

Bigg Boss, for instance, has gone from Hindi to Kannada, Bangla and Tamil and we will add a few more languages towards the end of this year. Then there’s this show called ‘Deal or No Deal’ which didn’t do well in Hindi, but has been a big success down south for Sun TV in all the foursouthern languages, with more than 500 episodes. So that was a big regional success for us. Also  a big success has been Million Dollar Minute, so right now we are doing it  in three languages, we have actually loved a lot of these.

Is English a big frontier for you? And what else?

Well, it is a little slow there, but I see things opening up maybe on the OTT side. Outside of regional we do a lot in the youth and lifestyle spaces, because that’s one big market for us – Nat Geo, Fox Life, History, MTV.Scripted is fairly strong and big for us, and as is regional, but it would be interesting for you to know that last year we actually produced Big Brother China in India, on our facilities, and who would have thought a Chinese version of China outsourcing to India. I have actually seen people in the house having roti and sabzi with chopsticks, and I was amazed at the way we got that show together…


There’s of course the regular Hindi entertainment content… anything new there?

Bigg Boss, KhatronkeKhiladi, MasterChef is another big one and waiting to go into various other languages. Food is such a territorial thing in India, and everybody loves to show their food and their kitchen, so MasterChef is one. KhatronKeKhiladi will also now go into other Indian languages. We have exploited Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Million Dollar Drop, Minute to Win It… I mean there are others that are now waiting to explode into other markets. Many years back when Rajesh was here, I had told him: Sir, let us go regional and he said there is no money there, we might not even recover our flight costs. I said we will just go, and we went on well ahead of time, and really built that capability.


A show that may have disappointed you? Something that you were backing hugely, but it did not work?

I did a show called Yudh, and we were really emotionally invested in that show, but it just didn’t fire at all. I don’t know why, we thought it got it all covered up, with legendary MrAmitabh Bachchan. It was great story, a very family drama, but I think the learning out there was that maybe it was too dark.


Huge expectations given there was Amitabh Bachchan, I guess

Maybe it was an OTT kind-of a show, and not a primetime TV show.


Possibly the channel at that point of time was not right?

Yeah, possible. So that was something in which I had personally invested a lot of energy into it, to get that going, but having said that these are learnings


With the going so good on most fronts, is there something that worries you? Anything that gives you sleepless nights?

I would say two things that really worry me are unhappy clients if any and the next big idea. The clients need to be happy with the content or the way we are going about it, and the fact is that one constantly loses sleep thinking of the next big idea. It might be an idea which may not work, but I am constantly dreaming of ideas all the time. These are also the two things which keep me going. For us the fun part is we are the kitchen of a restaurant, a lot of things are being tried and tested. Many things work, somedon’t, but the fun part is we are constantly rolling up our sleeves to get something going.


And if you are in the kitchen you should be ready to face the heat?

Absolutely, all the time the pressure in terms of revenue pressures, the external rating pressure, you know what is the next big ground you are breaking, I mean it’s hot in here, but it’s very exciting…


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