Comedy Central recently announced the launch of two new domestic properties to lead its line-up of Indian content that they are hoping to introduce in a channel that is predominantly filled with international content. The two new shows are: The Other Week That Wasn’t, a spin-off on the show The Week That Wasn’t that used to feature on CNN IBN starring top Indian comedians Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijaykar; the other is a new format show called The Living Room, hosted by a young stand-up comedian Kenneth Sebastian. Speaking to exchange4media about these two shows and the content strategy of Comedy Central Ferzad Palia, EVP & Business Head, English entertainment, Viacom 18 said, the channel has been on the lookout for more local content. This is in keeping with the channel’s global policy of customising content to local preferences. “Given that we are an English language channel, it is slightly harder to do it… and it is still harder to do it in India,” he conceded, but added that the channel has been working hard on picking up new talent while working with established ones. Excerpts from the interview.
Tell us about the two new properties that you have lined up.
Since the last couple of years, we have been testing a couple of things, like our April Fools’ specials. The two shows that we are looking at are with established artists Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijaykar. It is a spin off on the show The Week That Wasn’t, though it is a completely different one and is called The Other Week That Wasn’t. The topics are going to be very different from what is on news channels, which are very politics heavy. Here we are looking at a wide range of subjects, which is less political in nature. The show will start on November 16 and will air at 8 pm every Sunday.
By virtue of scouting the country for talent for all these years, we stumbled upon Kenneth Sebastian who is new to the scene, but a very well known name in the youth comedy circle. We got him because he met several of our criteria - he is fresh, new and happy to experiment with a lot more things. While we were rummaging through what we can do, we stumbled upon a great concept to do with the country’s first improv (improvisation) English comedy show. It also has some sense of variety. It has games, interviews and is just a show about doing crazy things. And since we are experimenting with not just a one-off, we have commissioned multiple episodes of the show. Starting December 1, this show will be aired on Monday to Friday at 8pm.
How are you planning to integrate the Indian content with a predominantly international content driven format?
While we will continue to have a lot of international content, when you have a strong international platform, it is always important good to give opportunity to local talent. It helps you to be more relevant to the Indian context. We are confident it will be funny if not funnier than the international content that we have.
Are you looking at increasing the share of domestic shows on Comedy Central?
We would like to. It has been an ongoing endeavor, but we have been taking it one step at a time. So first we experimented with one-offs, now we have got these two shows going. We would like to do new stuff. We are constantly piloting new things and working with new people, new ideas…. I think it is just a matter of time before we get acceptance. It is a completely new space on television.
What is your content strategy for Comedy Central?
We look at the freshest content. Look at the Jimmy Fallon (Tonight Show) show, which is currently the biggest show talk show in the world, and we are getting right after the US. We also had the Daily Show with John Stuart some time back, which will be brought back after we have tried other shows. We also have the Graham Norton Show that is extremely popular in the UK. You have seen a whole new lineup with Penn and Teller Fool Us, which is again different. You don’t expect English GECs to be showing that. But if anyone could take that sort of risk, it would be guys like us, and we are seeing some fantastic traction from the consumers on that. We are not looking at shows that have 50 and 80 episodes, because that gets a bit boring.
Comedy Central started off with stand-up shows but moved to sitcoms or dramas such as Suits. Why is that?
We still continue to do stand-up. We always maintain that we will try and explore all forms of comedy, whether it is sketch, improv, talk shows, sitcoms, etc. So everything has finite episodes once it is made in the US. So it is not that we stopped stand-up, but are in the process of bringing on more stand-up series once they are produced. I get this question about Suits on Comedy Central many times. Everything cannot be laugh out loud and have a laughter track, stand-up. If you look at Suits, it is at the top end of the comedy pyramid, which is wit. And wit is also important and you got to have products that appeal to a cross section of people. What works the most about Suits is the interaction between the characters.
What is the increased investment that Comedy Central has put in for the acquisition of new content?
It was a concerted effort right from the time we came into the country that we are not in this for the short term as an organisation. You have seen the kind of investment we have made in our content, distribution, in the overall look and feel. In fact, we have gone beyond television. You have seen our expansion in the live business or with the digital business. While we have increased our investments in line with our plan, the returns have been very good for us. We are 30 months old in the country now, so it is still early days but we were well on track and financially we are satisfied with what we have seen from day one.