In digital, the market needs content and not another platform: Sameer Nair

Nair, CEO of Applause Entertainment, explains that by the year 2022 there will be 500 million 4G customers armed with smart phones who will need premium content of all kinds

e4m by Sonam Saini
Updated: Apr 27, 2018 8:57 AM

After a stint in advertising and filmmaking for four years, Sameer Nair entered the nascent television industry in the early 90s with Star TV taking charge of Star Movies. Over a 12 year career at Star, he went on to handle a variety of portfolios. In 2014, Nair overlooked the strategy, operations and expansion at Balaji Telefilms as its group CEO, driving growth in television production, streamlining the movie studio and successfully launching the OTT-SVOD platform ALT Balaji.

Last year in July, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Aditya Birla Group appointed Sameer Nair as the CEO to restore Applause Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, which was closed down in 2009 when profits took a downturn. Now after a year Nair feels confident with the promising content line up that the production house is looking forward to this year.

Vision of Applause Entertainment

Over the years, the evolution of Indian television has been inclined towards the daily soap business. “When we started in 2000 on the back of 'KBC', 'Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi' and 'Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki', the entire Indian television market, both in Hindi and regional languages, became a daily soap market. In the fiction format, it was primarily driven by daily soap,” explained Nair.

Nair thinks India missed out on the HBO Showtime moment. “We don’t have 'Dexter', 'House of Cards', 'The Wire' and we never did such shows,” he said. He also added that the market has grown now, in 2000 when there were 25 million homes, today there are 165 million homes. “This has created first 100 million audience between ‘Naagin’ and ‘Narcos’. There is upper crust for the people who watch Star World or Colors Infinity and who are now watching Netflix and Amazon which caters to three to four million homes. After that comes your giant ‘Naagin’ audience which is another 65 million homes and there is another audience which is just not ready to watch English content and for them premium drama doesn’t exist. Every year, Bollywood and Indian cinema produce non- mainstream films, the non-Khan films; these non-Khan films are a pretty large number. Each year Bollywood does business worth Rs 300-400 crore on films which do not feature the big stars. That's the vision of Applause and we want to be in that place. There is big market and we want to create a big drama series,” he shared.

Content line-up for 2018

Applause Entertainment has signed partnerships and acquired rights of some of the series. Though the shows are still in production the aim is to create 20-25 shows a year. The shows green lighted so far are, political show ‘City of Dreams’, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor, two shows in partnership with BBC, ‘Criminal Justice’ and ‘The Office’. They will also create a 10 part series on the bestselling book 'India's Most Fearless' based on the surgical strikes in India. The production house has also acquired rights of the best-selling book ‘The Stranger Trilogy’ by author Novoneel Chakraborty in partnership with filmmaker Goldie Behl.

Apart from this they also have the rights of another best-selling novel ‘The Scam’ for which they have roped in Hansal Mehta to direct the series. The media house also partnered with Israel’s Armoza Formats for three hit Israeli shows, ‘Hostages’, ‘La Famiglia’ and ‘Honey Badgers’. Applause Entertainment is also doing shows in regional languages. “We are in the process of green lighting 6-7 shows in Tamil and Telugu. For those markets we are tending to do thriller and romcom,” Nair shared.

Nair further added, “I think, there are many platforms available in the market but very little content, so I think the need of the market is content and not platform. Also, because of the telecom and internet revolution, and most recently the big push by Jio dropping its internet data charges, the device connectivity has really increased. The estimates are that by the year 2022 you will have 500 million 4G customers; that’s a big audience with smart phones and that audience needs premium content of all kinds. We are talking to all types of platforms including telecom, e-commerce, wallet and device platforms because everybody is in the same space. There is an entire business between telecom and OTT platform and what they need is an engaged customer.”

Talking about distribution strategy and budget, Nair says, “Right now we are creating a bank of shows. Once the shows are completed we will have more clarity on our distribution strategy. The market has the capacity to observe thousands of shows so whatever we do and whatever everyone else does, combined, is not enough. The budget varies from show to show but it is somewhere between 100 - 200,000 USD per episode.”

Content in OTT space right now

It's a new genre and new format which is getting built and is growing gradually. Nair believes that everyone is experimenting and producing good content for OTT. He said, “For the last 20 years, the television fiction genre has been dominated by daily soap opera which is a different rhythm of writing. When we are talking about writing premium drama series, which is 10-12 episodes with no break, a 20-25 mins duration and multi season, it's a new genre and people are getting used to it. The only advantage this time around is that the creative community has seen Netflix, Amazon and everything else. I think creative community in India is extremely talented and it is just the question of getting it done.”

He further added, “This is the mass market of niches. Different people like different content. The beauty of whole digital business is that you can cater to the mass market. The kind of library been built has so much depth and variety. Not all shows are the same.”

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