Fremantle India will grow its presence in scripted and factual space: Aradhana Bhola

FremantleMedia India MD Aradhana Bhola spoke about content trends, challenges faced by production houses due to the pandemic, and the company's plans going forward

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Jun 16, 2021 1:21 PM
Aradhna Bhola

Fremantle India, the company behind hit shows like India's Got Talent and Indian Idol, is looking to build on its success in the non-scripted format by strengthening its presence in the scripted and factual space. The company, which has worked with companies like Sony Pictures Networks India, Viacom18, Star India besides digital giants like Facebook and YouTube, is also looking to bring international formats from Fremantle library to India.

Aradhana Bhola, who has been at the helm of FremantleMedia India for almost four years, is excited about the prospects in the Indian market. She spoke to exchange4media about the content trends, challenges faced by production houses due to the pandemic, and the company's plans going forward.

Excerpts:

How does Fremantle look at India as a market, and what is the game plan?
We have been here for long enough, which shows that it is an important market for us. We have got our shows established in the market and have led the way for common man entertainment through shows like Indian Idol or India’s Got Talent. And that’s the reason we have run so long. For us, the next step would be looking at scripted as well as factual content because we have our non-scripted strategy in place. While we have done shows in scripted space but what we are planning to do is high-end drama.

What is your content slate across TV and digital for 2021?
The 12th season of Indian Idol is running on Sony right now. We’ve got a quiz show called You vs YouTube that will be coming soon. It is a quiz show where people can come and test their knowledge against creators in the YouTube world. We will share more information about our slate in the days to come.

How do you see FY22 panning out for your company?

We expect FY22 to be definitely better than FY21. I wouldn’t call FY21 to be a disaster. It did bring in some amount of realignment. The pandemic has brought challenges to every business. And there will be challenges that everyone faced and everyone is facing, but the great silver lining is in the long term it has helped our business as more consumption has started, more platforms have opened up. So, I am keeping my eyes on the long term and hoping to ride by the short term.  

How did pandemic impact Fremantle India’s business?
Pandemic has affected all the business across sectors. Like everybody else, we also got impacted. However, the biggest concern for us was the safety of our people. Also, us being a global company also had certain advantages. We brought learnings from global markets to India. Some shows got delayed, some shows went back to the drawing board and relaying the plan.

To what extent has the content costs gone up due to the shooting ban and following SOPs?
There is no clear answer for the cost going up because it varies show to show. The cost did go up. In Indian Idol, we created a bio-bubble in Daman after moving out of Mumbai. We have worked very consciously with our partner Sony to do the best that we can within that environment. We have found solutions together with our partners, whether it is Sony or YouTube.

What is your content game plan across scripted, non-scripted, and factual? Any new formats that you are bringing to India?
It is a mix of new formats and Indian origin story. There are some formats which have done very well for us internationally, and it’s a whole range. We are working with our partners in terms of choices, what they want, what is the demand in the market and what kind of great stories we would like to tell. So, it’s a mix of all those things.

When you are creating content, has the conversation with your partners shifted from TV-only shows to an integrated TV + Digital experience?
Absolutely. There was a time when digital was supposed to be like an extension ‘so this is what we are doing, what could we possibly do on digital’. But now digital not an extension any more. In fact, it is far more core now. Digital has changed everything and the change is here to stay. Everything that has been created is seen with entirety with all of that.

In what way has digital thrown open newer opportunities for production companies?

It totally has opened up the opportunity. Earlier you could do long-form, now you can do short-form of the same thing and there is play within that. It is a new revenue stream for us. To us what is more exciting is it will reach out to that many people because now the same content will go out in different forms through different mediums to two different audiences. So, as creators, we are thrilled with that.

Tell us more about the OTT side of the business?
I can’t share anything on that right now, but it’s a mix of scripted and non-scripted that is happening right now. I would say digital is rapidly catching up, and it is becoming a very big part of the business.

One can observe that OTT platforms are not that big on non-scripted shows. Is it due to the fact that revenue monetisation is difficult due to the costs involved?
Well, digital players are talking about non-scripted now. So, it’s not like those conversations are not happening. I think it is also the matter of the content which is created so far because this platform is relatively new. For instance, in the UK we did ‘Too hot to handle’ for Netflix which is an unscripted show, and it did really well for them.

You are right, there is mostly scripted right now, and I think the reason for that is what digital has done is it has brought a world of binge-watching and has taken away the appointment viewing. Scripted as a format allows you to go out and shoot an entire season of six or eight episodes, and each episode could be of an hour’s duration. Digital allows you to binge-watch those eight episodes back-to-back. It is a different consumption pattern.

As we go along, unscripted will also evolve for that platform and have things like that. So, I think it’s a matter of time and unscripted will also.

How do you see regional space as a company?
We have done regional content in the past, and we have done it very successfully. Our shows have run on number one spot in the specific region. But to be upfront with you, there is nothing coming on that front because of the pandemic some of those plans have got delayed.

What are the key content trends on TV and digital?
With so much going around, people are really looking forward to authentic, heart-warming and inspirational content. It’s like something to give them something to look forward to. There is also an element of entertainment as shows helps us escape from all that is happening around us.

A large chunk of the content on factual entertainment channels is foreign. Will we see more local productions?
It’s going to be a mixed bag to begin with, but I think there will be more local production. As we have seen, that is relevant to our audience and works for our culture and our people. There are so many amazing things that are waiting to happen in factual in India. It’s a beautiful country with a very wide range of things that can be explored.

Does Indian content have the potential to travel abroad, and why has it not happened so far?

It is only a matter of time. Some things are now opening up, there is more exposure. Our markets are maturing, and we have also been sort of experimenting, learn from those and then with this whole thing opening up I say that it’s just a matter of time before that happens.

Is scaling up a big challenge in the content production business?
We own our IP, and it has worked well for us. I would say that people are becoming more and more aware of the fact that there is something called IP and as things are shifting and new players are coming, and more platforms are coming, these conversations are also becoming layers.

Read more news about (internet advertising India, internet advertising, advertising India, digital advertising India, media advertising India)

For more updates, be socially connected with us on
WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook & Youtube