launch of UTV's World Movies and Sahara's Firangi, the concept of dubbed content seems to have caught the fancy of many channels. NDTV Lumiere has announced plans to bring in movies from around the world.
But dubbed content is not a new phenomenon on Indian television. Almost 10 years ago, both Discovery and National Geographic launched Hindi versions of most of their documentaries to increase viewership. In the mid-1990s, Sony Television aired an international soap, The Young and the Restless, dubbed in Hindi, to compete with Santa Barbara and The Bold and the Beautiful being aired on STAR World.
Channels across categories have experimented with dubbed content. Set MAX (Hollywood Hungama), Zee Cinema (Namaste Hollywood), Sony SAB (Funny Videos) are only a few of them. Now, the players are getting braver. And the launch of exclusive channels means something big is happening. So, what makes dubbed content such a big deal now?
Dubbed content also gives audiences access to some of the best content from around the world in a language they understand. It offers more variety. The earlier notion that dubbed content was downmarket is also fast disappearing. Around 40 per cent of Indian audiences watch dubbed content. Thus, the market translates to about 53 million people, the average number of people who watch dubbed content in a month.
Rajani feels that adaptation depends on the content. "There is no set rule that adaptations will work. For example, we have seen that highly action oriented (with special effects) content is not easy to adapt and the cost is also a factor. Betty La Fea was much easier to adapt. But a Yes Minister would definitely not work as dubbed content because the stiff British humour would be lost in translation."
This business is high profile also, since actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan have lent their voices to some dubbed content in films. Bachchan was a voiceover artist for the movie Penguins - A Love Story, which had a worldwide release, while Khan dubbed for a cartoon film, Hum Hain Bemisaal, along with his son.
According to Rahul Bhatia, associate vice-president, business operations, North, for UTV Software Communication, "Because of DTH, the parallel language choice also has to be supplied. So many programmes are being dubbed in Hindi. Now, with a little extra cost, the producers can get it dubbed in Tamil, Telugu and slap it on the same tape." Moreover, says Bhatia, investment in dubbing content is not very high. One doesn't need to put up the infrastructure. It can always be outsourced from some studio once he gets the business. But apart from UTV, there are very few corporate players who regularly dub content.
UTV has done 1,400 hours of dubbing in 2007. It will be increasing that to almost 1,800 hours in 2008. But as an industry, there is not much revenue increase in the business. The content in terms of number of hours has grown, but not in terms of rates. A 30 minute episode cost about Rs 1 lakh some years back, but now that cost has come down to Rs 14,000-15,000. Though technical improvements have also taken place, the time taken for dubbing has gone down from one week for a serial to probably two days sometimes.
All channels in the fray claim that the dubbed content market will grow, but how much of the locally produced programmes' share will be affected remains to be seen.