Zain Verjee, Anchor, World News, CNN, London bureau
I think the biggest learning has to be what you make of yourself; because it is really easy to want to emulate other people, other styles, other techniques, which is great because you can learn and absorb. But it has taken me ten years to become comfortable with myself and the way I present on television and some people like it and some don’t. Some hate my hairstyle and some like my talking style. Everyone has an opinion and that’s fine because you are in a public forum. I am very comfortable with myself and how I have developed as a professional.
I think the biggest learning has to be what you make of yourself; because it is really easy to want to emulate other people, other styles, other techniques, which is great because you can learn and absorb. But it has taken me ten years to become comfortable with myself and the way I present on television and some people like it and some don’t. Some hate my hairstyle and some like my talking style. Everyone has an opinion and that’s fine because you are in a public forum. I am very comfortable with myself and how I have developed as a professional.
Prior to her current assignment, Verjee was the news presenter for The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer in Washington, D.C. She reported on a range of news stories and interviewed prominent foreign policy thinkers. Verjee covered the US State Department for CNN for two years closely following American foreign policy. She travelled with with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to more than a dozen countries, including Israel, Turkey, Libya, Russia and South Korea. During her time in Washington DC, Verjee launched an innovative series called The New Diplomat which looked at the dangers and challenges American diplomats face today. Verjee previously co-anchored CNN International's rolling newscast, Your World Today, with Jim Clancy, and hosted the debate program Q&A on that network.
CNN Worldwide is a portfolio of more than two dozen news and information services across cable, satellite, radio, wireless devices and the Internet in more than 200 countries worldwide. Domestically, CNN reaches more individuals on television, the web and mobile devices than any other TV news organization in the United States; internationally, CNN is the most widely distributed news channel reaching more than 260 million households abroad; and, the CNN Digital Network is consistently the No.1 current events and news destination on the web. Additionally, CNN Newsource is the world’s most extensively utilized news service partnering with hundreds of local and national news organizations around the world. CNN is division of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner Company.
Q. How important is showcasing your point of view in covering something as huge as 9/11 bombing? I don’t think your point of view should be there. No one wants to hear your point of view. Unless it is a point of view programme that you are doing, in which case expressing your views forms the very foundation of the programme. Otherwise I am not there to talk about what I think but report occurrences as they happen and let the viewers form their own opinions. The only time where I consciously had to make an effort to not let my point of view interfere with my reporting was for the coverage from Kenya, which is where I have grown up. I made sure that my coverage was disassociated from my point of view, which was emotional.
Q. Please tell us a little about the shows that you have done in the past like ‘The New Diplomat’ and ‘Your World Today’. What are the shows that you are currently involved with and any new shows that are on the horizon? When I started with CNN, I was anchoring general news bulletins. I hosted a show called ‘Q and A’ for South Asia, which was really great as it was my first experience with a talk show at CNN. Then I joined the state department at Washington for three years and I came out with a series called the ‘The New Diplomat’ which was about what diplomacy is like in the 21st century for the United States. Now I will be hosting a really exciting new show. It will essentially be a show that will be in a different country each month and will give an informed, perspective on things about that country that you wouldn’t normally hear about. I am not going to do hard politics and news but more of culture and how do people live and make money. Malaysia will be the first one that I will be covering, followed by Turkey and Nigeria. The programme will be called ‘iList’. It is such a great opportunity because, as compared to when I was travelling with Condoleezza Rice all over the country I was with her convoy and it was like a bubble of security, I will get to see the real people and their way of living.
Q. Is there an international coverage that you vividly remember and why? I vividly remember the Kenya election violence story because I was really present and it was home, I had grown up in that neighbourhood. Even more because I got shot by a tear gas cannon shell and I remember it really well; I have a scar from that on my back. It was all quite frightening and very unfortunate as it all happened in my home and outside the hotel I had grown up around. The other coverage that I remember clearly is going to Pakistan before Musharraf declared emergency and Bhutto was ousted from the country. The whole time period was tense and I was there throughout. I have covered the Hajj pilgrimage quite a few times as well. It is just because of the sheer volume of people and the rituals that are involved it is fascinating place to be.
Q. What are the attributes that one must have to make it big as a news anchor internationally? I think mostly a person needs to be curious and I don’t think anyone needs to be brilliant. But I think they should have a genuine interest in understanding people and the world around them. He or she should be willing to absorb information. I also think that one has to have a degree of confidence in yourself to be on TV. Anyone who is aspiring to be on TV should concentrate on what is unique about them rather than to ape someone else’s style. I also think that they should read a lot.
Q. As an anchor there have been various occasions where you have to moderate discussions by people from varied backgrounds. What are your personal do’s and don’ts to ensure that you get the best out of the discussions and your speakers? The first is to speak to them before the show and tell them to keep their answers short. The reason is that there is a limited amount of airtime and if you are interviewing one person at a time then everyone has to more-or-less get an equal amount of time to speak. If it is a politician or a newsmaker then I would not hinder them. But if it is an analyst or one of our own reporters then it is best to tell them so that they can use the airtime optimally. Therefore, always speak to your guests before the show, keep your questions short, and show some kind of a reaction and always listen to the answers intently. It is imperative that you listen carefully to the answers and probably ask questions that are based on the replies, rather than bluntly move on to the next predetermined question. Lastly, do not concentrate on just one or two guests but give all of them equal amount of time to speak and express their views.
Q. Anything about the September 11 bombing that you can recall? I very clearly remember the faces of the people and how emotional it was. I remember everyone’s reaction in the news room when the two towers collapsed, I was there. It was a moment of total disbelief. When the first tower fell everyone was not quite sure what had happened or whether or not it was an accident. But when the second tower came down it was very evident that it was an act of terrorism. What stands out most is the human story and not just the dramatic pictures.
Q. Tell us a little about your book, Live and On the Air, and how it has been received. What in your own experience have been the biggest learnings for you? I wrote that a long time ago when I was 22. It was received really well because at that time I was in radio and the book was about a girl who comes to the city and works at a radio station. It was obviously my experiences. But I put it in a local African context. In my spare time I still do a lot of creative writing that I thoroughly enjoy. Lately I find myself with more time to be creative and do have some ideas as well for another book.
Q. Since it has been more than a decade that you started your professional life, which has been the biggest learning for you from your own experiences? I think the biggest learning has to be what you make of yourself; because it is really easy to want to emulate other people, other styles, other techniques, which is great because you can learn and absorb. But it has taken me ten years to become comfortable with myself and the way I present on television and some people like it and some don’t. Some hate my hairstyle and some like my talking style. Everyone has an opinion and that’s fine because you are in a public forum. I am very comfortable with myself and how I have developed as a professional. However, it is far easier said than done because it has taken ten years of being on television everyday and I have finally gotten to a point that I am quite comfortable.
Q. You must have seen Indian coverages on many Indian news channels. What is your take on Indian coverages and what can they learn from foreign news channel coverage? I think that the Indian media in general is extremely vibrant. It is the biggest democracy in the world and the media reflects that. It has an immensely talented pool of journalists. Every channel has different techniques of doing things. I do think that it is a question of learning because western news channels’ way of working is better. They have techniques and styles that can be incorporated here. But I must reiterate that the news channels in the west are not better. Each country has its own organic news culture. For example in Kenya they have an equally vibrant news culture. It is also important to keep in mind that in India we have the freedom to say what we want to say. But it comes with a serious degree of responsibility.
Q. Which is the one news coverage you would have loved to cover from yesteryears and why? I think covering the Mogul Empire would have been fantastic. How they functioned and how they collapsed after centuries of dominance in the Indian subcontinent, would have made for a great coverage. I think I also would have like to cover when the man walked on the moon for the first time. More recently I would have loved to cover the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism. French Revolution would have again made for a brilliant coverage. That would be a chapter of history I would be fascinated with. All these occurrences through history were turning points for the world. For our generation it was September 11 because the way East saw West and vice versa, completely shifted.
<b>Ritu Kapur</b>, Programming Head, A+E Networks | TV18
Our ambition and mission is to broad base the genre and ensure that each and every Indian is tuning in to our channel. We look forward to having History leading the factual entertainment genre and growing it progressively into an alternative to mainstream general entertainment channels… This is the general trend the world over: factual entertainment channels actually compete with regular mainstream entertaining channels and we expect that to happen here as well.
By e4m Desk | Jan 4, 2012 12:00 AM | 8 min read
Kapur has amassed an array of experience during the course of her career. She was the Features Editor with news channel CNN-IBN since its inception. While she was overseeing all entertainment, health and technology content as also lifestyle shows on weekends such as ‘Secret Kitchens’, ‘Ynot’, ‘Living It Up’, etc., her biggest initiatives have been ‘Real Heroes’ and Citizen Journalism. She started the concept on the channel and worked on it as it has grown and taken on the dimension of a media movement.
Kapur joined Network18 in 1992 as Associate Director and Correspondent on a lifestyle magazine show – ‘The India Show’, which was the first ever Indian show on a satellite channel, Star Plus. Following this, she moved to Sony Entertainment, where she was both Director and screenplay writer on the real-life docu-drama series ‘Bhanwar’. She also worked with SAB TV, Zee TV and Doordarshan, where she was involved in writing and directing several popular series.
She was part of the core team that launched a channel for the Diaspora in the UK and the US, called ‘South Asia World’. She has also taught screenwriting at the Film School at Rai University.
In this interaction with exchange4media’s Suraj Ramnath, Kapur speaks about History channel’s success, how different it is from other infotainment channels and the road ahead… Q. What is your market spends for the marketing of History? It’s in the range of around Rs 12-15 crore for the year, but that’s largely because this has been a launch year. Going forward, we will be looking at creating innovative clutter breaking marketing concepts, along with exploiting synergies with our sister channels.
Q. What is your advertiser profile? FMCG forms a bulk of the genre’s advertising. Having said that, we are getting new brands on board every day, cutting across categories of BFSI, Auto, Education, Travel and Tourism, Government PSUs, etc.
Q. Where do you see History channel in three years’ time? Our ambition and mission is to broad base the genre and ensure that each and every Indian is tuning in to our channel. We look forward to having History leading the factual entertainment genre and growing it progressively into an alternative to mainstream general entertainment channels. This is primarily because we believe there is a lot of inherent weariness and audiences are looking for new content beyond the regressive shows across GECs. This is the general trend the world over: factual entertainment channels actually compete with regular mainstream entertaining channels and we expect that to happen here as well.
Q. Post launch, how has the response been from the viewers of History channel? The response has been pretty phenomenal with the channel garnering a clear No. 2 rank across market clusters and audience groups. History helped grow the factual entertainment genre by 30 per cent and has gained significant market share in the month of it debut. History also led the factual entertainment pack in time spent per viewer with 35 minutes vis-à-vis Discovery (23 minutes) and Nat Geo (16 minutes), which is an indication of differentiated programming, its stickiness quotient and our positioning as providing new and refreshing content.
Q. What kind of marketing and promotional activities do you undertake for your shows and channel? As a channel, History has transformed itself by using very innovative formats that move away from the traditional concept of history being about dates. That DNA of innovation is being replicated everywhere, including every marketing exercise we undertake. For instance, we now have a comprehensive partnership in place with CBSC and its 10,000 schools on exciting on-ground events, activities and quizzes. History is also reaching out to every possible audience with access to a screen – be it a TV screen, a computer screen or a mobile phone. The channel has forayed on the mobile platform and is now available across major operators on live streaming and video on demand. On social media, History already has more fans than most of our competition. We have a healthy social media community, where every show generates interesting conversation currency on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter a week before its launch.
Q. Most of the content shown in History is international shows. Do you have any original Indian shows in the pipeline? The channel has launched a series of India connect shows for the month of November to provide its Indian viewers a ‘Desi’ element by capturing the diversities of this country. History is airing the following shows this month – ‘A Passage Through India’, ‘Monster Quest’, ‘26/11 Umbrella’ (which includes ‘60 hours’ and ‘Lest We forget’), along with other India connect shows such as ‘IRT: Deadliest Roads’ and ‘Strange Rituals’, which will be aired till December-end.
As already mentioned, we will soon be announcing a few big-ticket local productions that match international scale.
Q. How do you differentiate your channel channels like Nat Geo and Discovery? History is perceived to be associated with the past, but with our channel, we hope to change people’s perception of history. The channel today is contemporary. It is also about action, thrill and adventure as much as it is about events and people that have shaped our lives. With the right blend of strategic insight, cutting edge creative and innovative thinking, we endeavour to position History as the most relevant and engaging factual entertainment channel.
Q. What are the factors that you keep in mind when adapting international shows for the Indian audience? We select/ offer content that is superlative, engaging and connect with our target audience. Thematic and differentiated content seems to be the flavour of the season as there are people looking for differentiated content. Research has proven that viewers have started watching factual entertainment channels the world over even more because they offer a completely different style of programming, enhanced visual experience, especially in an outdoor setting that has never been seen before. This trend is bound to show up in India soon as people are looking beyond soaps, serials and existing reality TV content for entertainment. With History, the A+E Networks | TV18 JV has attempted to bring this kind of content to India.
Q. Is History channel planning to launch any more new shows in the coming future? We have a plethora of new shows lined up for December. We have special shows which are one-offs, focusing on interesting concepts like ‘History Must Watch’, which includes shows like ‘Child Warrior’ that talks about in-depth journalistic report of the escalating international crisis of children who are recruited and used as soldiers in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Eastern Congo, Nepal and Columbia; ‘Ancient Ink’ – an insight into the world of tattoo making and how tattooing has changed over the centuries; ‘Scammed’ – which takes viewers inside long and complicated schemes and even the micro-cons that have plagued unsuspecting people for hundreds, even thousands of years; ‘The Real Story of Christmas’ – which reveals interesting and unknown facts about this religious festival; and ‘South Korea – a nation to watch’. But probably the most promising one is the thoroughly enjoyable ‘Freddie Flintoff versus The World’ – where ex-cricketer Andrew Flintoff travels across the world meeting celebrity opponents, unraveling challenges and competing in extreme sports.
Soon, we will also be announcing a few big-ticket local productions that match international scale.
Q. Out of these shows (‘Ice Road Truckers’, ‘Sliced’, ‘Top Shot’, ‘Swamp People’, ‘Food Tech’, ‘Deadliest Roads’, ‘Evolve’), which has been the most popular one? Most of our shows have done well, though the ones which have really stood out include ‘Ice Road Truckers’, ‘Deadliest Roads’ and ‘Food Tech’.
Q. How hard is History trying to air more of different content from that of Nat Geo and Discovery? History’s show selection and content mix are based on exhaustive studies, content testing and feedback with a variety of audiences. ‘History, Made Every Day’ – the channel’s position, encompasses the breadth of content and themes that History brings to Indian audiences – History here is not just about the past, it’s as much about people making history today. With such a strong positioning, we are clearly differentiated from the competition and our strategy is more proactive in nature and in line with our strategy of growing the genre. The channel has been launched with universal themes that use the premise of history, but are entertaining, engaging and thrilling, and would appeal to a very wide audience, including younger demographics and also discerning audiences.
<b>Myleeta Aga</b>, General Manager & Creative Head, BBC Worldwide Productions India
We are very passionate about bringing in different ideas to the market, to be innovative and do things differently. For instance, with reality shows, we are training producers to also learn how to film. We are leveraging the resources we have and combining that with finding fabulous talent here and training them so that we can do different things. We ensure we match audience preferences by doing systemic audience research and then tailoring our products to the number of niche areas available in the Indian viewer market. We also rely strongly on our global exposure and experience in the entertainment, media and television world to bring in strong differentiation.
By e4m Desk | Dec 1, 2011 12:00 AM | 9 min read
Myleeta Aga is currently General Manager and Creative Head of BBC Worldwide Productions India. BBC Worldwide Productions India is part of BBCW’s network of production bases, the others being Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Paris and Sydney.
Aga oversees BBCW India’s current productions of ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’ (‘Dancing With the Stars’) for Sony Entertainment, ‘Wife Bina Life’ for Star Plus and ‘Firangi Tadka’ for FoodFood channel, as well as working with a wide range of local talent and broadcasters in India. ‘Jhalak…’ has been the top rated non-fiction show of the year.
Aga returned to India as Head of Content and Co-founder of Media e2e in 2007, where she was involved with the development and launch of India’s first TV guidance channel ‘What’s On India’. Prior to this, she was Executive Producer at the Travel Channel based in the US. Here she co-developed, produced and launched Travel Channel’s Emmy winning, most successful series to date: ‘Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations’. ‘No Reservations’, now in its sixth season, earned Aga an Emmy nomination for Best Non-fiction Series. The series airs across 50 countries.
Prior to her assignment with the Travel Channel, Aga represented the International Networks at Discovery Communications and worked as an Executive Producer for Fremantle Asia, based in Jakarta.
In an interaction with exchange4media’s Shree Lahiri, Aga speaks at length about the various television properties that BBC Worldwide has launched in India and the road ahead...
Q. Do you have any original Indian show in the pipeline? Fiction is a key focus for us in the year ahead. We have brought on a very talented young team and are developing concepts for various channels.
Q. Could you share some TAM rating numbers for your major shows in India? These are the peak ratings for our series:
5.6 – ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’ (one of the highest ratings on Sony)
4.3 – ‘Wife Bina Life’ (Star Plus)
4.3 – ‘Desi Girl’ (Imagine TV)
4.3 – ‘Pati Patni aur Woh’ (which had the highest rating on Imagine TV)
Q. What is the profile of the advertisers that have come on board for your shows? While this is a question more for the channels, the shows we have produced have generally attracted top advertisers from around the country.
Q. Please take us through what went into the making of ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’? How did you decide on an India version of ‘Dancing with the Stars’? ‘Dancing with the Stars’ has been named the world’s most successful reality TV format. It was only a matter of time before it entered a large market like India with all its international success. We have produced two seasons in India as ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’. The last season saw Madhuri Dixit return to India as a judge on the show. It has been a great success for BBC Worldwide Productions India and Sony Television, opening with TRPs of over 5. The Indian version of course has been extensively remodeled to appeal to the country’s viewers. The dances are typically more exuberant than on its sister programmes around the world, owing to India’s unique Bollywood traditions.
‘Dancing with the Stars’ (DWTS) has become an international phenomenon and has notched up over 30 international TV awards and countless nominations. For ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’, we also worked closely with Sony Television on having the right mix of celebrities and ensuring a range of dance forms from India’s cultural heritage were reflected in the series. This contributed to its excellent ratings.
Q. One normally associates BBC with news and news-based programmes. How, when and why did you decide to get into producing entertainment content? BBC Worldwide is a media entertainment company and the commercial arm of the BBC. While the BBC, the UK’s public service broadcaster, is known throughout the world for its news coverage, it also produces a huge range of fantastic programmes. BBC Worldwide’s mission is to maximise profits on behalf of the BBC by investing in great brands and content, from the BBC and independent production companies, and exploiting them around the world.
BBC Worldwide has six operating businesses: Channels | Content & Productions | Digital Entertainment | Sales & Distribution |Brands, Consumers & New Ventures/ Consumer Products | Magazines.
BBC Worldwide Productions India sits within the Content and Production business, which has a global network of wholly-owned local production offices in LA, Mumbai and Paris and partners in Cologne, Toronto, Moscow, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. The India base serves the vibrant Indian market and has worked on shows across genres, including studio base entertainment, reality shows, general entertainment shows, lifestyle formats, films, fiction series and advertising films.
Q. For how long now has BBC Worldwide Productions India been producing reality shows? BBC Worldwide Productions set up in India in late 2007 with its office in Mumbai. We have produced high profile, innovative shows, including ‘Desi Girl’ on Imagine TV, ‘Pati Patni aur Who’ on Imagine TV, ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’ Seasons 3 and 4 for Sony Television, ‘Wife Bina Life’ for Star Plus, ‘Firangi Tadka’ for FoodFood Channel, and most recently ‘Chef Pankaj Ka Zayka’ for Star Plus.
We have been bringing in not just international bestselling formats, but creative concepts which we adapt to the Indian market. For example, earlier this year we produced ‘The Week the Women Went’ for Star Plus. This show premiered as ‘Wife Bina Life’ in India. ‘Wife Bina Life’ was a breakthrough concept that was never seen before on Indian television. In the show, family life is turned upside down when all the women of a community leave home for a holiday and the men remain behind with children. The show involved entire families, real people and reflected the change in attitude and perspective towards family that is happening in our culture. We were thrilled to bring such a popular format to India and adapt it to the local environment.
Q. Do you think today there is an overabundance of talent hunt reality shows on Indian television – ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’, ‘Dance India Dance’, ‘India’s Got Talent’, ‘The X-Factor’... The Indian entertainment market is large, and the fact that there are so many reality shows being absorbed by the viewers is a testament to the size and breadth of the market. Due to that, there is space for everyone in the value chain to prosper – from the viewer, who gets a multitude of choice, to the advertisers, producers, artists and the channels. What BBC Worldwide is doing is that we are raising the bar with quality formats and well researched programmes, adapted uniquely to the Indian audience.
Q. How do you ensure differentiation for your shows? We are very passionate about bringing in different ideas to the market, to be innovative and do things differently. For instance, with reality shows, we are training producers to also learn how to film. For certain shows you need small crews, where you can get intimate with your content giver. We are leveraging the resources we have and combining that with finding fabulous talent here and training them so that we can do different things. That’s something I am personally passionate about.
We ensure we match audience preferences by doing systemic audience research and then tailoring our products to the number of niche areas available in the Indian viewer market. We also rely strongly on our global exposure and experience in the entertainment, media and television world to bring in strong differentiation.
Q. Besides ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’, ‘Firangi Tadka’ and ‘Wife Bina Life’, which other shows have you lined up and when will they go on air? We have just produced ‘Chef Pankaj Ka Zayka’ for Star Plus. ‘Chef Pankaj ka Zayka’ is on air and is a cooking show with a difference, as we have strived to make cooking more exciting and engaging for the audience. With an impressive line-up of guests for company, ranging from popular faces on Indian television to renowned celebrity chefs, Chef Pankaj makes cooking fun, uninhibited and transforms food into an art form. She helps the Indian housewife solve her kitchen issues, surprises her and takes her on a culinary ride like never before.
Additionally, we have got several BBC Worldwide formats that we are bringing into the market. We also have plans to do fiction. We have a lot of different home grown ideas for non-fiction next year. We have ambitious plans and are committed to this market.
Q. What are the factors that you keep in mind when adapting international shows for the Indian audience? Formats are generally tried and tested in several markets. We bring to India, those that have already shown a high degree of success. Having said that, not only does our market have cultural differences with other international markets, India itself has its own internal cultural differences. We seek themes and formats that appeal to a pan-Indian viewership.
When we adapt an international show, we do in depth research to assess audience expectations of the show. This research enables us to modify the format and create an appeal for the unique Indian audience. For example, in ‘Wife Bina Life’, together with Star Plus, we modified an observational documentary by adding an element of competition in order to make it suitable for the Star Plus audiences. While this kept the core of the format, we adapted the message.
Q. What kind of marketing and promotional activities do you undertake for your shows? We work closely with the channel to provide them access to quality sets, stars and celebrities and access to these stars. Our marketing and promotional strength lies in the value we bring to our partnership with the channels in terms of every aspect of production.
Q. Have you entered into any exclusive content tie-up with any broadcaster in India? No, we are very loyal to our broadcasting partners to whom we have issued licenses of the formats, which are then distributed by them.
<b>Dr Anuj Saxena</b>, CEO, Maverick Productions
(For a good television property) a great idea/ concept is key. For a reality show, I would either adapt a successful international format or create something entirely new. For a fiction series, personally speaking, I would now go for a ‘male’ dominated show. Something new and different! Followed by a fantastic set-up, great team who can deliver the concept as envisaged, and channel support – to give it the sort of push it needs on marketing and promotions. Then you cross your fingers and hope for the best!
By e4m Desk | Sep 22, 2011 12:00 AM | 8 min read
This dynamic young CEO also heads a production house called Maverick, which is producing a hit Kannada reality show and also is going to launch a new show toplining Taran Adarsh on Music India. He also holds major stake in Limelight, a full service advertising agency.
Saxena is also well-known as an actor on television for his role in Ekta Kapur’s soap ‘Kkusum’, as well as the film ‘Chase’. Maverick has also produced the Hindi film ‘Aaloo Chaat’, and is now producing the Kangna Ranaut-Chirag Paswan starrer ‘Mile Na Mile Hum’.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Nitin Pandey, Saxena shares his vision for Maverick, what goes into the making of a good TV show, what is currently working best on TV and more... Q. Going forward, what are the key growth areas that you are looking at for Maverick Productions? Going forward, our focus is continuing Maverick’s evolution into a “complete” entertainment company. To grow and develop our current areas of operations, film production and distribution, television, events, ad films, documentaries. Also, Maverick has a keen interest in being a key player in regional film and TV production.
Q. Does similar content work in different markets – any formats that may have been a huge success in one part of India, but didn’t take off all that well in other parts? Yes. Different parts of the country do want different products, but as I said earlier, currently reality shows on TV seem to be universally accepted. North or South, they do find audiences – One of Maverick’s most successful shows is on Zee Kannada at the moment – ‘Baduku Jataka Bandi’, and TV in the Hindi speaking belts is also filled with reality shows. Films are again very different, with the South industry and Bollywood being the biggest, and very different. But the core idea is still deeply valued, and we’re seeing a reverse trend of Bollywood borrowing from the South in the last two years with films like ‘Wanted’ (remake of the hit film ‘Pokhri’), etc. coming in than vice-versa.
Q. Quite a few international formats of programming are being adapted for Indian shows today. How are regional players reacting to these formats? How successful have these adaptations been? Many successful shows internationally have been adapted successfully in India; ‘KBC’ (‘Who wants to be a millionaire’); ‘KKK’ (‘Fear Factor’); ‘Jalak Dikhlaa Jaa’ (‘Dancing with the Stars’), ‘Bigg Boss’ (‘Big Boss’/ ‘Big Brother’); ‘Sach ka Saamna’ (‘Moment of Truth’), etc. As I mentioned earlier, the core idea needs to click, it could germinate anywhere. International players are of course interested in the Indian TV market, which is huge, and many have franchised shows or set up offices here. But this is a trend that will continue, and may even be reversed as our TV industry develops and show ideas may flow out internationally as well! Right now, reality shows based on foreign hit format seem to be the biggest successes, but that’s not to say locally developed formats will not work, they too will find their niche – it just depends on the idea, the delivery and the click.
Q. Please tell us more about the new show ‘Talking Cinema With Taran Adarsh’. What kind of promotion activities are lined up for the new show? The biggest USP of the show of course is Taran Adarsh himself! He is one of the industry’s most respected and trusted analysts, and he has a great screen presence. We will be bringing Taran back to television after some gap; so thereof already a lot of interest and excitement around the show. Moreover, there is a stellar line-up of celebrities on the show, with every A-listers from Mr Bachchan to Deepika Padukone on the show, Prakash Jha to Rohit Shetty – and Taran doing what he does best, interviewing and grilling actors and technicians. So, marketing and promotions will revolve around the show’s content, which is what keeps audiences gripped. In addition, there will be a strong promotional lead up, 10 days prior to the show, from write ups in print, promos on air to outdoor media campaigns.
Q. How are homegrown TV production houses facing up to the international players in the business that have forayed into India? What strengths does Maverick Productions bring to the table? The Indian entertainment industry is huge and still growing, but young. There is scope for all to grow, and honestly, there are just about 10-12 big national production and entertainment companies. So there is enough room for all of us.
Maverick is perhaps one of the only companies that does what it does – films, shows, celebrity management, ad films and so much more! Our size and structure enables us to move nimbly and deliver efficiently and profitably. Another advantage for Maverick is our pan-India industry relationships and associations, developed over the years. My personal vision for Maverick, driven by compassion and excellence, has helped make our presence felt strongly in a short span of six years. In another four, I hope to have set the foundations very firmly.
Q. It’s been almost five years since you have been engaged in the business of Film Production & Distribution, Television GEC Soaps & Ad Commercials Production, Events & Documentary films in India. How has your experience been in the business so far? It’s been a great journey with Maverick, my production house, and a terrific learning experience. Production in general is a very risky business. You have to have deep pockets, be prepared to lose money first and be here for the long haul, only then can you get somewhere. And you have to keep going at it, pushing for things to happen, only then do they happen.
Q. Given your experience, what kind of content works for the audience in India? Have you seen any content segregation for different regions of the country? It’s difficult to say, because it varies depending on the medium – films, TV or documentaries. With films, there is no formula; anything can work. If someone worked out the content click with audiences, they would be very wealthy! You see small films becoming big hits - that come from brand new directors and production houses, with unknown casts - and you also see small films failing, big films working and many not being successful. The film has to click with the audience. There are no guarantees. In TV, the staple diet is soap operas, and there are phases – there was a phase of saas-bahu sagas, then a phase of issue-based dramas, now reality shows are the staple diet.
Q. It would appear that reality and format shows are dependent on the more negative side of human traits such as voyeurism or even sleaze to attract audience attention. What is your observation? There is a lot of clutter on TV, so of course things that shock and awe do hold audience’s attention. And that is reflected in the ratings of shows. The Indian audience has evolved tremendously over the years and is open to newer content, newer formats. So a much wider palette can be offered and is accepted. This is not to say that shows that have other rich content will not work. Film based shows, for instance, with celebrities will also find audiences – we have got a fabulous response to our new show with Taran Adarsh that features conversations a stellar line of celebrities and reviews and previews films. Also, dance shows, etc., don’t work on that formula, but mainly on skill and competition.
Q. If you had to chalk out some key ingredients to form a good television property, what would they be? A great idea/ concept is key. For a reality show, I would either adapt a successful international format or create something entirely new. For a fiction series, personally speaking, I would now go for a ‘male’ dominated show. Something new and different! Followed by a fantastic set-up, great team who can deliver the concept as envisaged, and channel support – to give it the sort of push it needs on marketing and promotions. Then you cross your fingers and hope for the best!
<b>Satish K Singh</b>, Editor, Zee News
We will be more aggressive and we will pick up more topics of relevance for the people. We are going to be more insightful, indepth and comprehensive, serious and cutting-edge in terms of reporting and analysing various issues. Apart from that, now on we will be doing more and more campaign-based news content on issues of mass interest.
By e4m Desk | Aug 9, 2011 12:00 AM | 9 min read
Satish K Singh has been leading the editorial team at Zee News as its Editor since 2007. He has over 15 years’ experience in journalism. Prior to joining Zee News, Singh was with NDTV India (2005-07) as Senior Editor, Output. His earlier assignments include Input & Output Editor at Zee News (2002-05), Chief of Bureau, Zee News (1999-2002), correspondent with APCA (1995), and reporter with Nalini Singh Associates (1994).
Singh specialises in Indian polity and society, international relations, domestic policies and macro issues, besides national and international economy and sports and health news.
He is a frequent public speaker on various forums relating to social and political issues, including human development, cultural and media matters.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Nitin Pandey, Singh speaks at length on Zee News’ content strategy, bringing back seriousness of purpose in news, nurturing talent and more...
Q. As we understand, Editors of news channels interact amongst themselves via emails on various issues. Is the process still being followed? Yes, we interact regularly through emails and face to face consultations. However, it depends on the issues, which are sensitive in nature.
Q. But, why did you choose this particular time to launch this campaign? We have always been followers of serious news. Zee News should be credited for having taken up the issue of price rise and corruption much before newspapers or other media reported on it. We started a campaign against corruption in 2007. Now, it is fashionable to talk about corruption. Everybody tries to join the bandwagon as they do not want to be left out. But news channels need to have a sense of the issue to deal with serious issues with seriousness.
I recall that when we were raising these issues through our channel way back, a very senior entrepreneur of the country asked me, “Do you really think these issues will pick up?” I replied, “For sure”. And it turned out to be true established when we saw the spontaneous turnout of citizens at Jantar-Mantar, who are sick of corruption. It was not Anna Hazare who brought the crowd, but the crowd that turned out was frustrated at the prevailing helpless state of affairs.
Q. Many say that the Anna Hazare movement was nothing but media hoopla? What are your views on it? People supported Anna because they were sick of corruption. And on this particular issue, media stood up for the right cause, perhaps, because media understood the common mass better – their aspirations and their problems.
Q. What are your views on copy-paste programming – for instance taking YouTube visuals and making hours of programme out of it? I am not against it. But anything we broadcast should have a perspective, depth, credibility and viewpoint. It should not be sensationalist and trivial. It should carry substance with understanding.
Q. Most of the Hindi news channels give fair space to entertainment content. As an Editor, how do you see this trend? I believe the channels that are showing more entertainment content and less news content lack sense of conviction, knowledge and professionalism. They lack in competence, so for them the easy route is to air entertainment content to attract viewers. They feel that common people do not want to see serious news. They are just taking the viewers for granted, which is not fair at all.
Q. There are many young talents opting for the media profession. Does the kind of talent that media colleges are generating these days for broadcast media match the industry’s expectations? To some extent we see good talent in the industry today. But most of the media colleges are just minting money and cheating students who want to be a part of media.
Q. How do you see the placement of advertorials in news content of any news channel? I think if we are successful in raising relevant issues, empowering the needy and delivering what is expected from us, then I don’t mind if advertorials are being broadcast. Because we are not a government-funded channel, we also have to generate revenue to run our operations. There is no harm in having such properties on the channels from time to time. However, it should not at all be paid news. Advertorials should be relevant, like we do some university surveys, programmes on medical or IIT entrance, and so on – it must give value for money to the viewers. We reject many proposals on advertorials because we cannot compromise on our journalistic ethics or viewers’ trust. We are very cautious before taking any decision on advertorials. And if the parameters are not violated, I have no issues with advertorials occasionally.
Q. In Zee News, in terms of in-house training, what are some of the things that you do? We keep having regular internal workshops. We train raw talent, supervise them and give them the technical training so that they can be well versed with the operation system of any media house.
Q. What are some of your plans for 2011? We will be more aggressive and we will pick up more topics of relevance for the people. We are going to be more insightful, indepth and comprehensive, serious and cutting-edge in terms of reporting and analysing various issues. Apart from that, now on we will be doing more and more campaign-based news content on issues of mass interest like water crisis, river cleaning, environment issues, RTI awareness, etc. We are in the process of introducing some interactive talk shows, and the programming will also focus more on youth centric issues – their problems and solutions. Soon we will have a show which will have only positive news as content. Besides these, we are working on a health show as well.
Q. Tell us more about the content policy you follow in Zee News? The entertainment and sports content in Zee News is much less and proportionate. News channels need to understand that we are news media, when we stick to ‘News’, we have the acceptance, say, credibility and people’s trust with us. But once you deviate from ‘News’ you lose all these components. There are many news channels that have flooded their content line-up with entertainment and ‘touch and go’ news, we don’t follow that.
Q. How do you see the different approaches of reporting in English and Hindi news channels on global events like the Middle-East crisis or the Osama killing? Are Hindi news channels relying more on agency news? I do not agree with this. We have our representatives abroad and we report from there. We have a representative in New York; many Hindi channels sent their reporters to Japan (the earthquake and blast in the nuclear plant) and Egypt (the uprising) as well. Yes, the English audience is perhaps more global than the Hindi audience. So they have more footprints outside India. English news channels perhaps spend more money for newsgathering offshore comparatively, but we have the services of global news agencies like APTN, SNTV and Reuters, so we do not suffer.
It must also be understood that English viewers are more educated while a section of the Hindi viewers are not yet ready to consume ‘global’ news. Perhaps, the news consumption and news expectations of the viewers of Hindi heartland differ from the English ones.
Talking about English news channels, they are more interested in discussions, particularly during prime time. But I think chit-chat and talk shows are not enough in themselves. We comparatively got higher ratings in the recently held State Assembly Elections in India several times over and above the English channels, which can easily be seen as proof of what the viewers like and it will keep on changing. So, we can’t impose content as we think.
Q. Apart from the national channel, Zee Network also has several regional channels. How does the network of channels help you? It helps a lot. It is a two-way process. Inputs from these regional sister channels get space in national news, while regional channels get national news. The network helps in leveraging manpower, machine power, expenditure, logistics, infrastructure, and so on.
Q. Zee News has recently launched a campaign aimed at bringing back the ‘seriousness of purpose’ in dissemination of news. We would like to understand from you the thought process behind this campaign and your channel’s stand on this? Yes, we have launched this campaign to bring back the seriousness in news. Through this campaign, we are referring to news that really matters. News that make a difference to someone’s life, aspirations, advancement and growth. Also, news that ensures accountability of people who are in power.
We can’t call everything news – as most of the channels believe these days. We can have a bit of entertainment and sports in our news line-up, but it does not form the core of our news. When we talk about news, it is not only about reporting something superficially, but going into the depth and width of the issue. But, this is not as simple as it sounds. The ‘fast news’ concept – which is being followed by many channels – is just information which can be covered by the ticker space of any news channel. Hence, news channels need to understand that news is a serious business. News should be aimed at making the people of the country better citizens as they can fight for their rights. They (citizens) should be aware of their basic rights – from voting to the use of RTI (Right to Information) – they should know how to exercise it. And, in terms of getting all these information, viewers expect a lot from us. They watch us with hope as they consider us as their representative watchdog on their behalf.
<b>Simon Spalding</b>, Regional CEO, Europe and Asia Pacific, Fremantle Media
In the areas of factual entertainment, there hasn’t been any success here yet and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because potentially it doesn’t make a lot of noise. One of the reasons that some of the shows like ‘Idol’ or… ‘Millionaire’ have been successful is because they are big. It’s that second tier of international formats that have worked well in the western countries that have not yet picked up for the Indian market.
By e4m Desk | Aug 9, 2011 12:00 AM | 8 min read
Formerly CEO Licensing, Worldwide, having joined the company in London in December 1999, he was responsible for exploiting Fremantle Media’s many strong brands off screen across brand licensing, music publishing, interactive, Internet, wireless, sponsorship, clip sales and home entertainment, developing product and promotional associations that enhanced and extended consumer’s experience of each property.
Spalding was previously Head of Consumer Products at DreamWorks, covering Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia, where he was responsible for establishing this new division. Prior to moving into licensing, he had spent 14 years in the toy business, latterly as SVP Strategic Marketing for Hasbro Europe’s Toy Group. He has a degree in Politics from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Simon is married with four children and lives in Amsterdam.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, the man behind the brand. Q. Fremantle is one of the first international production houses to set base in India. Then the likes of Endemol came into the picture. How has the India experience been so far? Given that this is the third time that we have come into the market, it would be fair to say that the expectations are mixed. I think that historically, we came in at the back of a commission from a broadcaster and built an organisation in order to service that commission, but didn’t spend the time ensuring we had a solid enough foundation. So, if that commission has disappeared, there wasn’t enough revenue coming in to support the infrastructure that we put in place. So, this time we have taken a long term view as to figure out what returns we want on the investments we’ve made. We have also spent time looking at shows that other companies have previously produced before us as we have now taken the production responsibilities ourselves. Thus, we have a broader base. Clearly, at the time of opening during the economic crisis, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do in hindsight, but I am very pleased with progress we’ve made so far.
India is a potential market, where we expect significant growth, specifically in the independent production sector. It’s a market that traditionally and historically has welcomed the sort of formats that we have produced. So, it seemed time that we should come in and take control of our business. However, for us the bigger opportunity was to manage the production side ourselves, rather than simply licensing our formats and allowing others to produce them.
Q. It would appear that reality and format shows are dependent on the more negative side of human traits such as voyeurism or even sleaze to attract audience attention – is this really true? I think there was a period where that type of entertainment was very popular, where audience wanted to be challenged and wanted those kinds of controversies. I think that the difficulty in that area is that it is tough to keep raising the bar. So, in that sense there is always a danger that one goes too far and the audience rejects it. But for us, that’s really not the space that we are in. However, the factual entertainment area is one that at the moment the Indian audience has not yet responded to and clearly the amount of fiction that runs in this market is higher, perhaps compared to other western markets.
Q. When any broadcaster takes an international format and adapts it to a market, what are some of the points that he must keep in mind? Two things - One is, do they really buy the core idea. The core idea would then depend on what the format is. When one is looking at that format, there are two elements which are the core programme idea, which is then locally interpreted. Post that, the format owner needs to draw a line so as to see that the local adaption that the broadcaster is asking us to make should be complimentary to that core idea or make if it so it does not underline it somewhere. If it’s the former, then it’s alright, but if the latter happens, then they should not be buying that in the first place since they are looking at a different show altogether. For instance, if they bought into an ‘Idol’ and they want to incorporate dancing as well as singing; that’s not the ‘Idol’ format. The format is finding an individual singing star. Thus, such a change will not fit in with the demands of the format.
Q. With the RTL Group tie-up with Reliance, do you think the interests of Fremantle, the content production house, suffer in India, since you are aligned with another media owner, even though at a Group/ Super Parent level? We are an independent company that works for all the broadcasters. This tie-up is done by our shareholders who have broadcast interest. It will run Fremantle content, but it will be taped content. However, the content that is developed by us elsewhere in our network will be available for sale for the Indian market.
Q. How’s 2011 looking for Fremantle India? It’s too early in the year. We certainly have a strong foundation for the business. We have some great work to do in terms of bringing in some of the shows that we are in talks with the broadcasters here.
Q. In terms of projects and ground visibility, Endemol seems to have quite a lot going. Is something like that competition to you at all or is the approach to business too different to let something like that be a bother? There are a number of worldwide competitors in the format business and Endemol is one of them. But essentially, we look at each of the businesses as local business that has the advantage of being able to access the huge library of intellectual properties that Fremantle has and continues to add to. So for me, it’s more important that the business here in India is seen as one that is uniquely suited to serve Indian clients, but is able to access that bank of formats/ intellectual properties in order to do that. But I hope over time we get a good mix of utilisation of the international pool together with the local business.
But of course, the more people fighting for the same slot, the more competitive it is, but I think each of us bring unique product hopefully and we think with the range of formats that are currently available, we have some of the strongest in the market and our business across the world reflects that.
Q. Let’s speak a bit on content that works in India – given your experience, what would you say are some of the things that work for the audience here? Out of the kind of stuff we do, it’s primarily good strong entertainment. So, whether that is ‘Idol’ or an ‘X Factor’, game shows historically have been very successfully here for us. However, less successful has been factual entertainment. One of the big issues in this territory is if a particular style of format is successful on one channel, it very rapidly gets replicated somewhere on other channels. That’s why it’s very difficult to remain unique.
Q. If you had to chalk out ingredients to form a good television property, what would they be? The ingredients that I would consider in any format would be - if there is a story to the format that engages the viewers or are the viewers going to care about the characters in the story in the process to deliver a satisfying end result. With that result, the format should help re-engage the TG in the event to do the show again. For us, the show isn’t successful unless it’s re-commissioned.
Q. Does similar content work in different markets – Any formats that may have been a huge success is Europe but didn’t take off in India? As I said, in the areas of factual entertainment, there hasn’t been any success here yet and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because potentially it doesn’t make a lot of noise. One of the reasons that some of the shows like ‘Idol’ or hopefully ‘X Factor’ or whether it is ‘Big Brother’ or ‘Millionaire’ have been successful – it is because they are big. It’s that second tier of international formats that have worked well in the western countries that have not yet picked up for the Indian market.
<b>Shazi Zaman</b>, Editor, MCCS
If you chase TRPs, you never get it; if you chase credible content, you get the ratings and that is how it should be. Consciously, we never discuss ratings. Beyond a point one should not be chasing ratings on a micro basis, my experience shows that if you take care of the big picture and you chase good content, ratings would follow definitely. But if you consciously chase ratings like a statistician, very often they don’t come to you.
By e4m Desk | May 12, 2011 12:00 AM | 16 min read
Shazi Zaman joined Star News as Senior Executive Producer after moving on from his post of Executive Producer at Aaj Tak. He is currentl Editor at MCCS. As Editor, Zaman is responsible for editorial content of all the three channels of the MCCS network – Star News, Star Ananda and Star Majha.
A graduate in History from St. Stephen's College, Delhi, Zaman has received training in electronic media journalism at the Thomson Foundation, CNN, BBC World Service Training, and Film and Television Training Institute of India, Pune.
Zaman started his career as a correspondent with Doordarshan in 1988, and has over 20 years of invaluable journalistic experience. He had worked as a Producer with BBC World Service, London, from 1996 to 1999. He then moved on to Zee News as Editor, a position he had held till 2001.
With a flair for fiction, Zaman is also an established Hindi novelist. He is well known for his work – ‘Premgali Ati Sankri’ – a story that deals with the complexities of gender relations.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Shikha and Nitin Pandey, Zaman speaks at length about ‘Jan Hit’ versus ‘Jan Ruchi’ content, chasing TRPs, the formation of Broadcast Editors’ Association, journalistic talent and more… Q. Star News has been doing well in the ratings game for some time now, though it has not stayed on at No. 2, or even the No. 1 spot that it had reached a couple of years back. How do you view this?
We take immense pride in our credible content. As an Editor, it is my duty and responsibility to offer credible content. In terms of content, in terms of presentation, we think we are far ahead of anybody else and that is a matter of pride. When you see others following you, it further strengthens your belief that you are offering something that people like to follow. We take great pride in our thought leadership.
As a channel, we have given more formats to the industry than anybody else – whether it is 24-ghante-24-reporter format, the rapid fire format or the ‘Saas Bahu aur Saazish’, which is a sub-genre in itself, or ‘Anchor Hunt’. Nobody has thought of that before we did it in India. Nobody has yet followed the ‘Anchor Hunt’ format, but they might in the future. The rapid fire content or ‘Saas Bahu aur Saazish’ – these are the fields where we are the trailblazers and people have followed us. We take pride in reading the latent needs of the audience. Before we launched ‘Saas Bahu aur Saazish’, nobody could ever think that such an audience exists. We did that and it became a great success. Six years running and it is still the No. 1 programme.
We take pride in doing programmes that tap into people’s desire to know, people’s insecurities. Take for example a programme like ‘Sansani’. I don’t call it a crime show, I call it a security show. We could see that the Hindi speaking audience has security on its mind, so the programme caters to that. The kind of political debates that we do, nobody else does. We have liberated the camera from the tripod, the camera moves around like the human eye. You would see the camera moving around in an animated manner as if the camera is the person himself. So, whether it is the presentation or whether it is the content, we have great faith in experimentation, and people love our experiments and others have followed that.
Q. How beneficial or productive have on-ground initiatives like ‘Anchor Hunt’ been for you?
The very act of meeting so many people and tapping their talent was very fruitful. We got to meet so many people in different cities. Star News got to interact with so many enthusiasts and we could actually recruit quite a few of them. We had to recruit two of them, the winners, but when we saw that there is a wealth of talent, we ended up recruiting five. It was very productive.
Q. While this may appear to be a beaten down subject, but how often do discussions over ratings or TRPs take place in your editorial meetings?
See, I think if you chase TRPs, you never get it; if you chase credible content, you get the ratings and that is how it should be. Consciously, we never discuss ratings. Beyond a point one should not be chasing ratings on a micro basis, my experience shows that if you take care of the big picture and you chase good content, ratings would follow definitely. But if you consciously chase ratings like a statistician, very often they don’t come to you.
Q. Is it difficult to look at the Marathi market and Bengali market and understanding their nuances since Hindi comes to you more easily than Marathi and Bengali; or is it that the sensibilities are the same across all markets?
The person who heads the BBC World Service is presiding over no less than 40 languages at one time. I am not comparing myself with him, just that I have worked in that organisation so I know. If you know human beings, if you know politics, if you know journalism, then you can deal with any region in the world.
Q. As an editor, would you say that marketing of a channel also plays a key role in building its image with the viewers?
It definitely does. Primarily, the content has to be right and only then you can market it. Marketing would fail if the right content is not in place.
Q. Is there anything specific that you have seen in terms of the growth in the genre in the last five years? While you have explained to us about this whole constructive editorial that has come into play in the last one to one-and-a-half years, beyond that, is there anything in terms of approach or advertising partnership or media partnerships may be…
Regarding partnerships, I am not competent enough to answer that, but I would say that there is far greater consciousness now at this point of time of the social responsibility, there is far more maturity now than before. I won’t say that all that we need to do have been done, because even if you do, the situation is very dynamic. In the news industry, everyday is a dynamic situation, it is thrown at your face and you need to find an answer. No rule book, no code in the news industry is written in stone, because everyday there is a new situation for which you don’t have a precedent. So, you need to get together to discuss, debate, and evolve new codes, which is always work in progress.
Q. How seriously do you ponder over the concept of citizen journalism? Does it really help?
It definitely helps. I remember that during the Mumbai floods, Star News had pioneered it. People were marooned, it was a strange situation. Since we are a channel based in Mumbai, we were victims of the flood, but at the same time we had the responsibility of covering the flood and a greater responsibility because our hub was in Mumbai. This was in 2005, it was difficult for our reporters to move out, but they moved out in whatever way they could – even in boats. That was the time when we sent out a signal from our channel to everybody, telling our audience ‘wherever you are, you are our eyes and ears, you are our reporters , you have a camera, a still camera, a movie camera, a mobile camera – whatever you have, please shoot it and send it to us’. That was the time we got a large amount of footage.
Q. How do you think people are considering Hindi journalism given the perception; I know you guys have taken a lot of steps. Do you think for them – the good talent – Hindi news channels are a first stop if s/he wants to be a journalist?
Going by the applications we get, a large number of people want to be a part of us. As I said, it has become a habit to curse news channels. May be something that is dear to us we find easy to curse. Anybody who is near and dear to us and ready at hand – and TV news is almost a member of your family – you feel free to curse. Otherwise it is a great career option for people and people want to be a part of Star News.
Q. Shouldn’t the anchor have some journalistic background? Don’t you think it somewhere decreases the seriousness of news, or is the intention to decrease the seriousness of news so that more people watch election news?
The intention is never to decrease the seriousness, but the intention definitely is to convey the flavour of the elections. You look at any of our election programmes – be it ‘Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri’ at 6 pm, or the debate at 9 pm, or you look at Shera (the mascot for the Delhi Commonwealth Games) in our newsrooms during CWG. The content of what Shera said or what Chulbul Pandey says is not non-serious, it is thought provoking. There is a bit of lampooning in that, there is a bit of satire in that. I am very comfortable with satire, it has a legitimate place in journalism. Now, if that satire occurs on the front page of a newspaper, like if Chulbul Pandey appears in print, you are comfortable with that just because it is an animated character.
Q. Do you think that the talent for TV journalism that various media colleges are generating is qualitative? In terms of in-house training of newcomers, is there any strategy that Star News follows?
That is an area of deep concern. There is a huge gap between what is being taught in the institutes and what is required in the newsrooms of various channels. I don’t think the media institutes know exactly what is required in the newsroom. A journalist who enters television today needs far more depth and breadth than ever before, he needs to know politics, business, soaps, cinema, everything, and he needs to be far more tech savvy than ever before. The depth and breadth of technical and content, both are missing. I have a feeling that the syllabi of these institutes are still archaic. The language that we speak, the content that we put on air – that is something that they have not yet taken into account.
Q. Could you give us a broad aspect as well, while you have just said that copy-paste is happening quite a bit. Would you say that in television we are seeing ‘jan ruchi’ content dominating overall?
I would not like to comment on what others are doing. But there has been a trend of cut and paste. In the long run that will harm us, because why would people watch you when you are second to a GEC? People would be very happy watching the GEC in that case. Beyond a point that affects you negatively. If you offer a perspective to that content, if you offer an opinion or context to that content, then people will watch you. Then you evoke respect, and respect is essential to our profession. Because when you put something on air, people implicitly believe you because they respect you. There is an implied belief that what you are saying is the truth and what you are saying is correct. If you lose that respect, you hit at the foundation of our business.
Q. Is there any channel which is not adhering to this?
I don’t think so. The Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA) is a voluntary body that people have voluntarily joined, and nobody has voluntarily walked out. Actually, the message of the Ayodhya episode is that the industry is mature enough to self regulate and there is no need of the government to regulate.
Q. Apart from content regulation what are some of the other issues that are being discussed in the BEA meetings?
The issues mostly deal with sensibilities and sensitivities, anything that could cause harm to the image of the channel or cause harm to society. That we discuss, debate and decide upon.
Q. At NewsNext some time back, you had talked about ‘Jan ruchi’ vis-à-vis ‘Jan hit’ – in a sense, what is viewed and what should be shown. According to you, which kind of content is dominating these days in the Hindi news domain – ‘Jan hit’ or ‘Jan ruchi’?
Each channel has its own way of mixing the two. We have our own mix, on our channel you will find a substantial portion of ‘jan hit’ and some portion of ‘jan ruchi’ as well. Times have changed; I remember a time almost 10 years back when there was a huge debate in a particular newsroom about a cinema story in a bulletin, it was almost blasphemous that there should be a one. Now, you have bulletins based on cinema. This has happened because of two reasons – first, the news industry has taken into account diverse interests of the people and reached out to them. Secondly, the news universe itself has expanded and a lot more people are watching news channels.
So, you need to take into account the larger universe. If there is a substantial population that needs a particular kind of content – whether it is based on soaps, cinema, crime, business or politics – you can’t wish it away. You can’t subject people to a Victorian definition of news. If there are people who are watching soaps or serials, it is my duty to offer soap review. My discomfort arises when people cut and paste reality shows on news channels. I am very comfortable if as a journalist I am reviewing that content – that is an intellectual activity, it is journalistic, it is credible, it is acceptable because then you are adding value to the information needs of the people. Unfortunately, what has happened is people have found a shortcut of cutting and pasting, which is not a cerebral activity. So, my deep discomfort arises from that kind of non-cerebral activity. Otherwise I am very comfortable doing a soap review, a security programme like ‘Sansani’ or political debates. But doing it in a manner that is not done from an ivory tower. If you look at the frames that we use in television, we have become a channel of close-ups, we look at people in the eye, that is what television should be. And that is what Star News is all about.
Q. The way Star News is covering the Bihar elections, you have introduced Chulbul Pandey… Now, is this the way to maintain the balance between ‘jan hit’ and ‘jan ruchi’ to make the election news interesting?
It is very important to demystify political reporting or any kind of reporting, and to do that you should use all possible tools. After all, what is Chulbul Pandey? Chulbul Pandey is a cartoon character. Every newspaper has a cartoon character who speaks the common man’s language and that is what Chulbul Pandey all about, he is the common man of Bihar, raising the common man’s questions. So, if you are clear about your content, then you need to find the most effective ways of presentation – that could be Chulbul Pandey, that could be an animated character, that could be well be a guest or an anchor as well. These are just different ways of conveying a message.
Q. We have heard that during times of crisis, editors of Hindi news channels interact with each other. How do you go about it?
Actually, about a year or two ago, we realised that there was a crisis in the news industry and we needed to introduce some kind of self regulation. There is a body called News Broadcasting Standard Authority (NBSA), headed by Justice JS Verma. That is a body founded by all news channels and that is a body under whose jurisdiction we have submitted ourselves. Anybody who has a complaint against us can go to that body. They have to first write to us and if they think that we don’t offer the required redressal, they can go to that body and action can be taken against us. But we thought there is also a need for another body which is something on the lines of the Editors ‘Guild for the print media.
Television needed an editors’ body for self reformation, because there wasn’t any forum to discuss, debate, analyse, dissect, and reform, so we created that forum in the shape of Broadcast Editors’ Association about a year back. A lot of what we do under that body happens behind the scenes and you won’t get to know about it. We interact almost on a daily basis, and suppose there is a flare-up happening somewhere, then we take a decision not to show the visuals, which could further inflame passions. Those are the kind of interactions that happen on a daily basis via mails and we take decisions everyday. So, that is a major step in self reformation. If you look at the Ayodhya coverage, a lot of stakeholders were very apprehensive on what would happen. If you look closely, the news industry on the whole behaved in a very sane and responsible manner. That is because of this body.
Q. Do discussions on particular type of programming like the issue of copy-paste you were talking about also take place?
These also happen, but more emergent issues like I had mentioned, Ayodhya for instance. Ayodhya took up a lot of time, we had numerous meetings, somebody counted that more than 100 mails were exchanged between editors on Ayodhya itself. There were a lot of grey areas. What kind of discussions should happen, what should be the format of the discussions, how long should you have the discussions? Everything came up for a review and in the end what turned out was very constructive.
<b>Prem Panicker</b>, Managing Editor, Yahoo India
Prem comes with 17 years of rich experience in journalism with both print and online medium. As the Managing Editor of Yahoo! India, Prem is responsible for the editorial content for Yahoo! India, across its industry leading properties including- Yahoo! Home Page, Yahoo! Cricket, Yahoo! Movies and Yahoo! Finance amongst others.
By e4m Desk | May 12, 2011 12:00 AM | 20 min read
Prem comes with 17 years of rich experience in journalism with both print and online medium. As the Managing Editor of Yahoo! India, Prem is responsible for the editorial content for Yahoo! India, across its industry leading properties including- Yahoo! Home Page, Yahoo! Cricket, Yahoo! Movies and Yahoo! Finance amongst others.
Prior to joining Yahoo!, Prem was working with Rediff.com for almost 14 years at different positions and was a key member of the startup team of Rediff.com.
He started as an editor at Rediff.com in 1996 and spent seven years at that position. In 2002, he shifted to New York for 4 years to head the company’s American based newspaper for Indian-Americans ‘India Abroad’. In 2003 while in New York he became Editor for Rediff.com India Limited. He returned to India end of 2006 at the same position and worked here till December 2009. Prem has also worked with Sunday Observer, a Sri Lanka based newspaper as senior editor for three years.
Prem is also a renowned cricket writer and blogger. His blogs can be read on: http://prempanicker.wordpress.com/.
Yahoo! is a leading global consumer brand and one of the most trafficked Internet destinations worldwide. Yahoo! is where millions of people go every day to see what is happening with the people and things that matter to them most. Yahoo! helps marketers reach that audience with its unique and compelling advertiser proposition. Yahoo! is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.
Yahoo! India (www.yahoo.in) was launched in June 2000 and has established itself as leading Internet brand with highly engaging media properties and communication tools. Yahoo! India empowers you and offers a range of products and online tools to discover your world on the Web. Today, we are the market leader in some of the most popular categories in the online space, which includes Mail, Messenger, Movies, News, Finance & Cricket.
Q. In a website, there are situational conflicts for space between ad sales and content etc. Is there a time when you let go off content? How do you deal with that? I really don’t want to mention conflicts that happen in a larger organisation but within Yahoo, from the time I have been a part, we believe that all the partners mesh and interoperability building that we as an organisation kind of function at optimum, if everybody knows what everybody else is doing, we don’t necessarily take a decision from a content perspective or sales perspective. We make a decision from the Yahoo perspective. For example we just launched a microsite for Dove, sales-sales goes out and creates a high traffic section; somebody who, lets say, types cosmetics/beauty probably wants to associate it with entertainment etc and you have banners for stuff like that, and here we are good at creating content, thinking through story lines and narratives and talking through themes and thinking what content suits the theme. We don’t really have content which says XYZ brand is brilliant, you use Dove and your skin glows and whatever happens. But we are going to create content that is ‘themed’ beauty. Generally what does beauty means to you-how much of a co-relation is there between inner beauty and outer beauty and all of that stuff. We have been creating content now as far as space allocation is concerned we have let’s say Saina Nehwal talking about the beauty of sportsperson and that person’s life-how to stay beautiful in adverse condition, even if not concerned with Dove it gives a holistic approach about beauty, we don’t really want to get into debate about content or advertising, if it is a clear advertising pitch then it doesn’t belong to content space. We keep differentiating between content and between advertising content. I give you an example of advertising content that is content anyways, you will probably find that content anywhere in the world, in the lifestyle magazine. What makes you think about the content of the other kind, you know the editorial content. That does not have an advertising implication, somebody putting a banner, so we don’t really bother about what happened typically internally in Yahoo! and we have all these weekly calls where all the section heads are part of it, department heads are part of it, we make sure that everyone else is updated on what the others are doing and all these issues come up there. We don’t have a philosophical conflict.
Q. How important is content for Yahoo!? It’s the game that we have been leaders for the last number of years, why I joined Yahoo! because it has tremendous potential as it completely dominates the content space within India. Globally Yahoo! dominates the whole of lot of countries. Yahoo! is I think the number 1 in-terms of content consumption, domination and leads. I don’t want to comment on the figures, they are all on the public domain. We already know that the content space has historically been dominated by us. People keep asking about Yahoo! Is content crucial but a year from now you wouldn’t have to ask this.
Q. How important is news coming from the wires? We pick up news from the wires, but whatever we think as a news, so here let’s say there is a product launch on the wire, we have particular property coming, that will include a lot of lifestyle products, but there, let’s take a hypothetical example a big brand car launch, carrying the press release is a PR exercise. It might be in the luxury segment, we will probably do a story that concerns the larger universe about the whole industry and where this brand has a role to play, now that is the editorial content. So if you are very clear that what you want to do as a content head and largely as an organisation then issues don’t arise. Arun is very clear in what he will permit and what he will not, Sales has their line in place and we know what we have to.
Q. How is Yahoo! doing on the language front? We currently have Dainik Jagran, and we are so excited by what is happening with this that within the next few months you will find that vernacular is going to play a huge role and we are expanding our languages. For example, in five months, you are going to play World Cup- you come to Yahoo! to see the straight preview, below that you see larger narratives topical blogs, below that what have you had a smart search option; not exactly a search platform that integrates you to some 50 links but 3-4 of the links that relates to the exact same topic and below that- what if you could consume what your language newspaper of choice was actually saying about the match and larger narratives. What if all of that in one space? Like I earlier said, we don’t put things in basket; we work in a basket. So we see in this jigsaw, we begin to get our blogs right, we get opinions right, we are going to launch opinions for cricket as well within a month. We have got some new launches coming up, all of this falls in place you will see a picture which will spell content. But our definition of content is considerably more agnostic, considerably more far reaching than probably the industry developments.
Q. Editors and Sub-Editors are designated at desks. Where do you think Yahoo! gives a chance to the unsung heroes to showcase their talent in a better form? Yahoo! newsroom until very recently was almost like what you mentioned- that people sitting in the content, none of them had any hand in it really etc etc, I have been sitting in Yahoo! for eight months now and have been figuring out the Yahoo! content strategy- what we need to implement, steps from where we are right now and where do we want to see ourselves. For me, content is what I have done all my life. Because Yahoo! is interested and Yahoo! has platform that makes me believe that anything we do will go to far wider an audience. That made up my mind for me. So, you look at any content house, you don’t know who is working there, so now go to Yahoo! you have 15 people working there, you have all of their bylines and it’s all transparent in that blog which we launched in June. A blog can be seen as a niche thing but it can be seen as an attempt to voice the newsroom. We have an idea that where we are going to take the blogs- what kind of news will go out of that blog. Right now we are under training for that. Basically we had an opportunity for the people who have never had a public profile to acquire that and yesterday we were looking at some numbers. After the blogs were launched, we had about 8.6 million page views, there are may be about 20-25 blogs in the world who will play those sort of figures and these are established blogs. This was just in the first month of the operation. Once you give them a voice and a platform, we believe it works. Giving them opportunity to write and page views is half the story. For me content works with touch and feel, they want to engage with it. There has been a day which had 6,00,000 plus page views and all these blogs were by journalists, who were till then were never writing. That is the bet what we play with content. Couple of weeks before launching Yahoo! blogs we launched Yahoo! Opinion. We picked people who are good at what they do, like Deepak Shinoy, who lives on the market, knows what he is talking about.
Q. Is Yahoo! looking at integrating news with social media? No we don’t need to. See the thing is, you have a Facebook account and how is one integrating it? We have integrated that in a blog but we don’t necessarily have to integrate that in a ‘thing’. We will probably at some point, but what we do is we engage people in conversation, these people who are following us and increasingly we are getting followers added on at the rate of about 20 new followers every day. That’s been a recent noticeable trend. We do 2 things: 1- We don’t give them all the stories that are published on Yahoo! that is again plugged with new links that are nothing to do with them, but we throw on topical stories just when people are talking about it, secondly we ask people questions, we listen to their answers, sometimes we use that on our blog. We use that content to showcase and then we are back on the Twitter, we getting traffic from there and Facebook has also become a part of our strategy. We are not building a world garden-that nothing will come from outside and nothing will go out. We are completely an open space. We believe that users need to determine what they will do. And our job is to facilitate that discovery. We make sure the content the user wants is high quality and topical and relevant, but we also make sure that you can consume it in any fashion that you want. Through the medium of the blog, opinion, my job is to provide information; it’s your job to consume content.
Q. Is Yahoo! homepage dependant on subjects like that of bollywood, sex etc? For us internally in editorial, you have the space which is a carousal. Basically the carousal I structured in certain way that you can have four packages uploaded at a time and it has to be multiples of four. That is my FrontPage. Here is the deal that when we make these calls, we see the relevance of the news and add pictures and videos on our front page. When we make choices in the content we make them on the basis of- are they visually driven or not. For instance, videos are going to be a big part of our work going forward, and in this framework you have a choice. If someone goes and takes a video of the common wealth infrastructure, so will you upload the picture over there or will you review the news? So here on the carousal we put a small video. We as a journalist read about Bollywood, so why are we sneering about it. If only Bollywood content sells then I have a problem, but not if the content is balanced. If we thought that Bollywood only sells it then why not, why do I have columnists writing about foreign affairs? Today for instance about international stories, yesterdays was politics. I am clearly saying that Bollywood is not the only thing that sells. Cricket sells, bollywood sells- we need to know what sells and encash on that.
Q. Since they are confined into this, do you plan to give them standalone opportunities? When you start formulating a content strategy, you need to know where you want to be and you need to know what steps you need to take in order to achieve that. Yahoo!’s business has been dominated by aggregation, so we have a lot of content that is aggregated by lot of our partners. We needed to look at every single partner and make a call on business and actually the content that you want. So we started roping in other content providers who we think will create a more engaging bouquet of content, this is one part of the story. Once we have a content in place then the challenge is to surface them in a relevant manner which we can see on the front page; which is where the curation comes in- when we take the multiple elements of content from all our vendors and stick them together, may be through the blogs or may be through a news item. Today whatever is the hot topic, you can go to a newspaper or you can go to a standalone website and you can get what that site has done. Going forward you will come to Yahoo! and know what the entire spectrum of people are talking about- but not in terms of just giving you a lot of links. It’s in terms of summarising, providing precise information that is relevant for the story and then giving you all the tools to dig deeper supplemented by the blog- which is an opinion, supplemented with analysis and insights so that creates a package for you which is content, supplementary content and context. So your content is basically your story itself, supplementary content is something that can be done through the blog- you can go through the entire universe that relates to the content and put it there, but then somebody needs to create a context for that to give it a narrative brain. There is no such thing as standalone, it’s just going out and doing it. You know I started my career at the news desk and that is the place still where I love to be.
Q. Is space an issue when doing something online with Vernacular? No, space is never an issue, Dainik Jagran is sitting at a corner of a Yahoo! front page. If you look at it on the left side you will the Dainik Jagran link it’s getting you millions of page views and millions of users - so it’s about optimizing space, it’s about- do I want to have 10 headlines in 10 languages on my front page? NO. What if I want to have 10 languages attached to every single story, what if I want to create 10 packages? We tend to think that a package needs to be in English…Why? The package could be in English as a lead, but it can have multiple links in different languages for multiple targets. I don’t think space is an issue, I don’t think surfacing and engagement is an issue, I think it’s breaking down that mental barrier that if it goes in vernacular languages do we really want to park it; I think it needs to be upfront. We are a nation of multiple languages- we should be making best use of that.
Q. What kind of stories are important on a particular day for Yahoo!? Yahoo! realizes that there are certain events that will create news. Once the budget is announced- any news room will guarantee you a budget story. So what does an editorial person do? There are people coming in for a specific reason and there are those who are not coming every day. We are just coming here because today we feel- This is important therefore I go there. Likewise for cricket, Yahoo! has cricket content; it’s currently number one in the cricket space, so people are coming for that. Currently out of the 100 per cent cricket space Yahoo! shares a unique users of 47 per cent of unique users and cricinfo is 41 or 42 per cent. People go for cricket on X site, as a company why should it bother you? As long as you can provide compelling content people will come to you too. I don’t expect you as a reader, who comes to Yahoo!, to go nowhere else. I am fine if you got to 50 sites. What I need to ensure is that my site is relevant for you and that you have a reason to come to me. What you do the rest of the time is entirely your business. From June 2009-June 2010, there is a 35 per cent growth on the front page, greater than the market growth. It’s a well organized super market, for instance you come to Yahoo! only for cricket but I will show you five other reasons why you should come to Yahoo! which is apart from cricket. For me a cricket match, or a budget or a release of a new movie or anything is a great market to cross from.
Q. When you revamp your products like emails keeping in mind your competition, do you think that content plays a major role? It’s not relevant for me, Yahoo! as a company, talking about what other people in various places- is not our business. We never ever discuss about any other site when we plan, the minute you start thinking that somebody is doing this and therefore you are doing that, you are thinking is straight jacketed now. What Yahoo! does with its email, or messenger or its products is factor of Yahoo!’s strategy, It’s not necessarily a response to or a reaction to what somebody else is doing. When we take a property- there is a direction that we go on. Like I know what I want Yahoo! to be in the content space, I know what I want Yahoo! to be in 2 years from now on and everything that I am doing is basically planned and conceptualized around that. I don’t compulsively keep checking sites, I do not do it. Keep your focus on what you are doing; don’t worry about what competition is doing. The more you focus on your roadmap the better job you do.
Q. Are you planning to revamp any of your Yahoo! products? All of that is a part of revamping, like we have a new news properties coming up, we have new finance properties coming up, we have lifestyle property coming up, we have properties in the entertainment space coming up. Each of these would be a very strong segment. We are basically creating a bed rock, cricket also we are revamping very soon. Once we have done with all of that, by the first quarter of next year, we will have all these in place. Each of them is a very strong property in themselves. And then what we will do is, we will fine tune it and use the FrontPage to both showcase the product and also as an entry point.
Worldcup is coming in India, and Yahoo! is ICC’s partner, we are pretty much the official partners and the destination. We have been partners for the last seven months. We know right now that by next year February we will be hugely tight in that particular property.
Q. What are the plans in designing Yahoo! content for the coming year? Yahoo! has dominated the content landscape globally for more than 5 years now. Whatever search, mail, or messenger or whatever social media or content, Yahoo! has quietly done a lot of stuff and dominated every single thing. We are number one in mails and we are number one in movies, we are number one in cricket. If media can’t look at Yahoo! as content destination it’s not Yahoo!’s problem- it’s the media’s problem. Yahoo! has systematically historically ever been since inception has been top on content. We think that in the next few months we will be rolling out of lot new Yahoo! properties, verticals within the Yahoo! space each of which we believe that will take content creation in surfacing in that particular place to the next level.