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SK Barua

Managing Director | 03 Dec 2010

“Believe me, all the emotional outburst is natural. This is what we need to convey to our viewers. I can sense that people think there is lot of scripted stuff that is going in the reality formats but for FremantleMedia reality means- all natural. If we had to do formats in terms of scripts then I think formatted shows would die. People would have no faith in them. It’s totally unscripted and real.”

S K Barua is the Managing Director of FremantleMedia India. He has set up operations of the Company in India and has already successfully produced one of their flagship brands - Indian Idol Series 5. The production has won various awards in 2010 and are now in the process of launching some of the other flagship properties of Fremantle Media into India. Experienced over 15 years in media, Barua has been with Discovery Networks India and was the head of Finance, with additional responsibility of Distribution and South Asia. Subsequently he moved to Singapore as the CFO of Discovery networks and was looking after the whole of the AsiaPac region. Barua talks about FremantleMedia content and reality shows with exchange4media's Tuhina Anand.

Q. Do you think that Indian audience has reached a saturation level where they are reluctant to watch soaps and moving towards formatted shows?

Soaps definitely are the staple diet. It’s more about the quality of the content and the way you package the show. For example, I think Indian Idol 5 was something that reinvigorated the entire show as the show is about the talent of the participants on this platform and if it is lacking good content, I am sure that no one would like to watch them. For Indian Idol we have brilliant content coupled with equally brilliant creatives which is thus working it to be a complete package for wholesome entertainment. There is a perfect match between the judges and the contestant which works wonderfully for the show. In fact, my creative head says that the show has `aatma’ or the soul which is why it works. So I don’t think there is a shift in what people want to watch, but yes people are looking for entertainment that is clean and fun.

Q. You mention entertainment that is clean and fun but today what works is sensationalism and however much hue and cry is raised about these shows, ultimately the channel manages to get high ratings and guess that is what matters to them. What is your view?

Sensational stuff always makes for high viewing figures. I am not saying good viewing but it does attract people to your show. Like there was a time when lot of fight used to happen between judges on Indian Idol which attracted viewers but the question is how long will this last- maybe just for a while. You can get people to watch for a while but sure sensationalism doesn’t sustain long time viewership. In the recent case, the channel might have gained viewership but the other channel too was running steady with its numbers. I am not questioning the content, but probably what is shown is actually real and a part of the show and also necessary to bring variety to the show. I mean you can’t show the same thing and keep the show monotonous.

Q. One thing that is working in the minds of the viewers is the pertinent question of how much of these shows are scripted.

There is nothing scripted as far as we are concerned. Our reality format is all real and everything happens on-ground. As far as FremantleMedia is concerned there is nothing scripted in the reality part of our shows what we can do maximum is have themes like Asha Bhosle theme or Old Songs theme. This is what we can design and the only thing we do.

Q. How would you explain the fact that over the years that the drama shown on these reality shows have increased?

Believe me all the emotional outburst is natural. This is what we need to convey to our viewers. I can sense is that people think that there is lot of scripted stuff that is going in the reality formats but for FremantleMedia reality means- all natural. If we had to do formats in terms of scripts then I think formatted shows would die. People would have no faith in them. It’s totally unscripted and real. We may not want to show everything as we shoot 6-9 hours of a show and then shrink it to one hour for the show and of the 6-7 hours or even of one hour that we show no content is pre planned. We never tell our judges what to do as they are competent enough to know what they should be doing. And the most interesting thing is, what come naturally and spontaneously makes for good television and its fun to watch. If there is a fight then so be it, we will show that. There could be a difference in opinion many times on our shows like Got Talent, Hole in the Wall or Family Feud but ultimately its clean fun.

Q. You mentioned about bringing a dating show to India, do you think Indian viewers are ready for such kind of content that’s not the regular song and dance shows?

We were also very surprised. This show came out of Europe and European shows not necessarily does well in this part of the world. We launched `Take me Out’ in Indonesia and that’s a much more conservative country than India. The show has become a hit and now we are running five different versions of the show running everyday prime time. We have Take Me Out, Take Her Out, Take Me Out Celebrity, Take Her Out Celebrity and then we have a dating show. In two years time, this has become a hit and has 15 varied formats of and in 2009 and 2010 it is the most travelled format. This is not about getting you married- it doesn’t take you to that level. We fix dating with a boy and girl and don’t go beyond that. What happens later is none of our business.

This is a format that we plan to bring to India but we are not sure when we would be doing it.

Q. Besides this, what other formats of FremantleMedia do you plan to get to India in the near future?

We are evolving every day. We are talking to broadcasters and these are expensive formats and require huge monies. We are talking to lot of people and hoping that some of the bigger formats that we have worldwide can be brought here. Some of our big formats like Idol, Got Talent, Hole in the Wall are already here. All this while it was being produced by someone else and now we have started our own production house to do that.

Q. What are the key challenges that you face when you plan to get your format to India?

I think it is managing the size of these formats as these are really really huge. That’s a big impediment for us.

Q. What about the production quality? Are you able to replicate that in India as it’s done worldwide?

We would love to replicate that as it’s done worldwide but there are some limitations because of cost and logistics, and it might get cut to an extent, but we have strict guidelines and we adhere to that. We have people who come down to India and sit for shoots and guide us in adhering to a style and technicalities. Compromise in terms of quality is not something that we will take.

Q. Besides the formatted shows, FremantleMedia also does scripted shows. Any plans to get those to India too?

We will bring it in. We have successful scripted shows running all over the world but we have just started from February-March here, so we will take our time.

Q. What have been the learnings of operating from India?

It is a difficult business and it’s not just about India but all over. It’s about understanding the requirement of the channel which is a big thing. It has to ultimately about getting the right content at the right talent. Localisation is also a big thing that one needs to focus on.

Q. What took you so long to be in India on your own?

India is the happening market and everybody wants to be here. Most of the big companies are already here but it’s not easy to be here so one can look at tie-ups. We are on a standalone and that has been a difficult decision for us to make. The size of the market prompted us to be here and definitely the huge opportunity. I think we lost out of some opportunity as we should come here some two years back, that’s when things were really happening. Having said that, we have come in late but we will go all out to be here.

Q. Share your formula to garner revenues?

I wish I knew that. We just try to make our margins without compromising on our quality. Overhead management will be the key to success but I don’t see a shortcut in break even as this a market that works in volumes and if any other company thinks that we are going to break even in first year then that would be misguided. One has to have a deep pocket to be a success.

Q. Are you looking at only national channels or also at regional channels who are also experimenting with content?

We have started to look into the regional market and are in talks with few of them. It is a difficult market with the distance and logistics a concern. We have to work out a model that will work long term. Regional market is happening and in no way can we ignore that.

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