The general entertainment genre is a difficult one to survive in. If it is the most viewed, it is also the most expensive, both for producers and advertisers. And since it is the daily soaps that make a GEC, channels have to find ways to beat costs and also win over viewers with newer soaps.
While all channels produce daily soaps, Tamil GEC Polimer TV literally survives on a 'dubbed' model. The fiction shows aired on the six-year-old channel are all acquired from Hindi GECs. Shows like Bade Achche Lagte Hain (Ullam Kollai Poguthada), Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha (Nenjam Pesuthe), Sasural Simar Ka (Moondru Mudichu), Bhagya Vidhata (Saamipottamudichu), 24, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi (Sakthi Pola Yarumilla) and Madhubala are all aired on the channel. Having said that, the channel airs non-fiction and reality shows to add local flavour. Polimer TV thrives on the dubbed format and claims to be the third biggest player in the market after Sun TV and Vijay TV.
Dubbing and remaking international content has been going on for long. Not only did this practice open the gates for fiction content to cross borders, it also attracted non-fiction and reality with the launch of shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Indian adaptation of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?), Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa (Strictly Come Dancing), and Bigg Boss (Indian adaptation of Big Brother).
What is interesting is that the Indian television market which was feeding on international shows and formats has over the years also started exploring ways to leverage content within different markets in the country.
Hindi GECs have good content and being the most viewed genre, a majority of the advertiser money goes into it. This explains why there is no compromise on the quality of content delivered. For a regular show on Hindi GECs, the channel is estimated to shell out around Rs.8-10 lakh per half-hour episode, which is much higher than what players in the regional market can afford. Regional channels are estimated to spend Rs.1-3 lakh per episode.
Experts believe that Indian TV viewers are welcoming dubbed content. All they want is good quality entertainment. According to Anand Chakravarty, managing partner, Maxus, the success of dubbed content really started with films. "The Indian audience has changed over the years and is far more acceptable of content as far as it is in their local language. It doesn't matter if the protagonist looks like them or not. If the content is relatable and resonates with them, it works," he shares.
Such shows work well in the Tamil and Telugu markets. Not many Hindi shows are dubbed in Marathi and Bengali because of the overlap in viewership. Sharada Sunder, EVP, regional channels at ZEEL avers that a network like Zee, which has taken its Hindi shows to regional markets has refrained from Bengali. "We have a strong lineup and there is lot of Bengali literature to dip into (Zee Bangla is now airing Chokher Bali, for instance). Having said that, we do keep our eyes and ears open if there is something more interesting in the network."
Are there any rules for picking up content for dubbing? Explains Sunder, "I have to be very careful that it should not be very different or jarring than what the culture of a region is. If I'm picking a Hindi show for Tamil market, I need to make sure that the story is in sync with the moral values and fabric of the Tamil Nadu market. The dress or the backdrop should not alienate."
Also, all content will not work in all languages. Some content is specific to regions. For example, a Shivaji-based show will work well in certain markets like Maharashtra. Content like this - historical and mythological - has to be relevant to the cultural backgrounds of the viewers. But comedy, for example, or English action, works well across markets in India.
Sony Aath, the Bengali entertainment channel from the MSM stable has been airing a few shows picked from its sister channels like Sony Entertainment Television and dubbed in local languages. Crime Patrol, Adaalat, Aahat are part of the channel's FPC. Karnataka, reportedly, is the only state where dubbed content is not allowed. The market sees it as a threat to local talent. Even in Kerala, dubbed content doesn't get much encouragement.
PV Kalyanasundaram, chairman and managing director, Polimer Media explains that at the time when the channel was launched, the fiction content in the Tamil market was very different as it used to be negative, talked about illegitimate relationships and other negative topics that mostly catered to the lower class in the strata. "We thought of launching content which could be more positive than what was being offered. We opted for dubbed content as it was cheaper."
He also adds that there was a dearth of creative talent in Tamil television market as most of the creative people moved to Tamil Cinema. "In the Hindi market, the production quality was good and hence it was more viable to acquire that content. Lot of creative people were working in that market and the content was richer than Tamil at the time we launched. We produce non-fiction ourselves and will soon be looking at our own fiction content as well," adds Kalyanasundaram.
Though he refuses to divulge any financial information, sources say that the cost that goes behind airing one dubbed episode on Polimer TV is almost half of what the original episode would cost. As for the advertising cost, it still depends on the viewership of the show, irrespective of its origin.
While all these years, regional markets have taken fictional content from the Hindi market, it has rarely been the other way round. It is only recently that Zee TV picked two shows from its sister channel Zee Marathi and dubbed them in Hindi for its audience. However, the two shows - Mohe Piya Milenge (in Marathi as Julun Yeti Reshimgaathi) and Mile Sur Mera Tumhara (in Marathi as Eka Lagnachi Teesri Goshta) are not shown in the evening prime-time band. They are slotted for leaner periods.
According to Abhishek Rege, COO, Television, Endemol India, if one is catering to markets like Hindi and dubbing content then the content has to be of super high quality or it has to be different. "I don't think regional daily soaps dubbed in Hindi can be successful in the long term. Movies yes. Telugu and Tamil movies are fun to look at even when dubbed in Hindi or I'll watch Hollywood dubbed in Hindi - it is by far better quality. For TV one has to be very careful. Channels have to deliver better content for bigger and more mature market. Dubbing shows and airing them is more for low value market," he says.
While fiction can be dubbed without actually remaking, non-fiction shows are usually remade to give local essence and relatability. The first-of-its-kind was the adaptation of Zee Bangla's Dance Bangla Dance (2008) by Zee TV in 2009 as Dance India Dance. The show became a huge success instantly. Another homegrown property, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, is being adapted in various other markets like Zee Punjabi (as Sa Re Ga Ma Pa) and Zee Bangla (as Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Gane Gane Tomar Mone).
What do broadcasters have to keep in mind when they remake a show? Explains Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors, "Cost effectiveness and production quality are two things that should be considered. For those remaking the content, there is a reduction in cost of creation since they gain access to previously created content which only needs to be adapted for their viewer segment. A fixed storyline and screenplay makes it easier for the channel since there are easy reference points. This further aids cost effectiveness because the broadcaster saves cost of investment in software development as well as manpower."
Three shows from the Colors bouquet of offerings have been remade for regional audiences on Colors Kannada - Uttaran, Balika Vadhu and Madhubala. Uttaran has been remade for Colors Marathi. The feedback for these shows, according to Nayak, has been tremendous from viewers, and since their launch on the channel a couple of years back, they have steadily climbed the popularity charts.
As for the reverse trend in the fiction genre, Sasural Genda Phool is one of the best examples. Star Plus' hit show was a remake of a popular Bengali serial 'Ogo Bodhu Sundori' that was aired on sister channel, Star Jalsha. The show was also dubbed in Telugu as Attarillu for MAA TV and in Tamil as Nandhavanam for Star Vijay. Satrangi Sasural on Zee TV is another example. It is an adaption of the Zee Marathi's show 'Honar Sun Me Hya Gharchi' and is running successfully on the national channel.
While the content play on television pleases the broadcasters, the production houses that create these shows don't find that satisfaction. A majority of the TV programmes produced in India are commissioned, which means that the IP rights for the content and the characters remain with the broadcaster. Increasingly, content producers are recognising the need for owning IP rights for content so as to monetise it better.
As far as advertising is concerned, experts believe that it is ultimately the eyeballs that the advertiser is buying. Therefore, whether it is a dubbed show or a remake doesn't matter as far as it is delivering the audience the brand needs. "Channels just need to redefine the content to make it relevant to the local culture. Shows like KBC and Big Boss raised the budget of regional shows due to the format and the regional celeb hosting the show. It's a calculated risk, but the chances of failure of these shows are less due to the known format," shares Imran Karim, national trading head, Motivator. He also adds that dubbed content is not a new story in Indian television. "The kids' channels pioneered the popularity of dubbed content followed by Hollywood movies. Zee TV pioneered the adaptation of regional content when they remade the popular Tamil daily soap ''Chithi'' as ''Choti Maa'' on Zee TV,'' he says.
A 2015 FICCI-KPMG Report reveals that many TV channels are shifting to dubbed versions of regional films to be telecast in prime time as they are comparatively cost effective. The cost of acquiring leading high budget South Indian films in their respective languages lies in the range of Rs.13-32 crore. For instance, Lingaa was acquired by Jaya TV for Rs.32 crore, a record price.
Neeraj Vyas, senior EVP and business head, Sony Max, Max2 and Sony Mix adds that of all the dubbed movie content aired in the Hindi movie genre, 90 per cent is from Telugu cinema. The trend is believed to have started 5-6 years back by the television channels, though dubbing movies for the Hindi market started in theatres first. Most of the South Indian movies on channels like Sony Max, Zee Cinema are action movies.
"If you see the kind of movies that work, even today, the quality that gets churned out in the South in terms of the technical or the scenic is unbelievable. The latest example is Baahubali. It looks like a film made in Hollywood. These dubbed movies then act as a novelty of our FPC," Vyas adds. Robot, Magadheera and the Don series are all well rated movies on Hindi movie channels. When it comes to viewership of South Indian movies, they are predominantly male oriented as a large chunk of them come from non-metro markets.
Generally, Hindi movie channels acquire around 6-8 South Indian movies to dub for HSM. However, the success rate of South Indian dubbed movies is higher than English movies dubbed in Hindi. It is also believed that only the action genre works in dubbed movie content. It remains to be seen when that interest translates - or is dubbed - to other genres as successfully.
A Note From the Editor
This Independence Day, we bring you a Cover Story that celebrates one of the most frequently mentioned positives of our nation - its diversity, and unity therein. In India, over 700 languages are spoken and for every 100 kilometers one traverses, the dialect changes.
Now, look through the media and entertainment lens. The market is as splendidly varied as the country. And dubbing affords cross-pollination of content across state borders.
And here's the best part - this is perhaps the most effective example to illustrate what experts in the media industry mean when they make clichéd statements like 'content is king', in seminars. If the content is good, it doesn't matter which region it was originally produced in.
Take for instance Baahubali, a film that has grossed over Rs 500 crore at the box office, in a matter of weeks. Few minutes into the film, it stops mattering that the actors are moving their lips to Telugu, while one hears the dialogues in Hindi. It's a bit like how, a few pages into the first book, the realist stops noticing that the characters in JK Rowling's bestselling Harry Potter series are flying around on broomsticks.
It's fascinating that language, something that helps us Indians forge instant and deep connections with one another, and discriminate against one another as well, is a mere surface level factor in the context of entertainment.
Our Cover Story looks at how content birthed in one geography works across alien markets, and the challenges involved in the process of re-packaging it. While for the most part, the 'transportation' is easy, there are exceptions. In some states like Kerala, and to a more severe degree, Karnataka, content that is dubbed is not encouraged; it poses a threat to local talent, goes the argument.
Thankfully, at a macro level, India, unlike many a nation, is wonderfully receptive to overseas content and has no rules per se about dubbing it into local tongues. This has a lot to do with the fact that our local media and entertainment industry is a thriving one. The business is not threatened by Hollywood.
To download the PDF version of the article, click here.