"This idea came from Content Day last year": Vodafone's Siddharth Banerjee on 'Stupid Man Smart Phone'

By Anirban Roy Choudhury , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | September 26, 2017
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A quick look at VOOT's new non-fiction show.

"Let's Google it" is the best answer to any question asked today. How to tie a knot, how to this and how to that... are the most common Google searches these days. Web series sensation, Sumeet Vyas, does the same in VOOT's new show, 'Stupid Man Smart Phone'.

In the show, Sumeet Vyas is assigned to scale treacherous mountain passes, traverse river rapids, battle wildlife in the forest, and beat the gruelling desert sun. The journey is divided into three terrains and in each he will have a companion. Whenever and wherever the duo get stuck, they can reach out to their smartphone, search, find a solution, and move on.

A screenshot from VOOT's Stupid Man Smart Phone A screenshot from VOOT's Stupid Man Smart Phone

'Stupid Man Smart Phone' is a British drama which Viacom18's video-on-demand streaming service, VOOT, has adapted and recreated for Indian audiences. Produced by BBC Worldwide India, the nine episode series stars Evelyn Sharma, Sahil Khattar and Karan Kundra as Vyas' companions. Three of the nine episodes are currently streaming on VOOT.

Sahil Khattar and Sumeet Vyas in Stupid Man Smart Phone Sahil Khattar and Sumeet Vyas in Stupid Man Smart Phone

India is accustomed to watching international formats on television, especially those that garner good ratings - Kaun Banega Crorepati, Bigg Boss, Indian Idol - all of which are non-fiction adaptations of international formats. But what drives the digital platform's attention towards it?

Gaurav Gandhi Gaurav Gandhi

Monika Shergill Monika Shergill

"Fundamentally, the digital streaming world is now becoming fairly mainstream. In this world we have seen quality scripted content being produced so far and in the last year, be it our shows or Inside Edge, the quality is getting better. In the same streaming world no one really did a non-scripted reality show, whereas Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi and Roadies does very well. So we thought, why not create a reality show for the digital platform and set a new benchmark," informs Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures.

"This format won at MIP last year and we were very keen on picking it up. Instead of bringing a music show or any other formats and doing it on digital, we decided on this one because in this show, digital is organically embedded into the format itself," adds Monika Shergill, content head, VOOT.

On the British show, comedian Russell Kane plays the anchor and the show is heavily dependent on its cast. Vyas' funny bone sense of humour made him the Stupid Man in the adaptation, "The flavour of the show is adventure with comedy; it's a light-hearted reality series where survival is the challenge. The brief was that we need to have people whom you won't imagine in such places. Vyas is not a regular stand-up guy, he doesn't need a script, his natural reaction has comedy in it and that's what we wanted," informs Shergill.

Social media popularity was also a criteria, says Gandhi, adding, "We wanted people with huge social media following because even when the show was being filmed, they were constantly interacting with their fans and the fans were guiding them; that's the format of the show."

The show has roped in Vodafone as 'title sponsor' and Motorola as 'powered by'. In the show, Sumeet Vyas and his companion use MotoG smartphones powered with Vodafone's network. "They were a natural fit for this format. When you're doing a show like this you can't stuff in more brands; the digital audience is very discerning, if you push a brand they will reject the show," opines Gandhi.

While content has improved a lot in the last year and a half - has the improvement helped AVOD platforms get more money from advertisers? "Advertising will get better with time. Next year when BARC starts measuring streaming services, digital advertising will take a different turn altogether," feels Gandhi.

Siddharth Banerjee Siddharth Banerjee

"This association is one of the top selections from our Content Day last year," informs Siddharth Banerjee, EVP marketing, Vodafone. The telco was excited about the central premise and storyline; the brand found the script to be a natural fit to promote Vodafone SuperNet as a data-strong network.

When it comes to web-series integration, Banerjee and his team at Vodafone like to get in on all the discussions, "...right from the concept stage."

Vodafone has its own Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) through which it will calculate the return on this investment, "While some of the input KPIs will be views et al, the core metrics will be on mind measures and whether it helps our business outcomes," says Banerjee.

Soniya Kulkarni Soniya Kulkarni

The production quality is a key factor and the terrains were not only challenging for the cast but the crew as well, ensuring production teams had to deal with many difficulties while filming. "In Tamil Nadu we had heavy rainfall to deal with; in Rajasthan we had to deal with distance as locations are far apart; in Arunachal Pradesh the roads are so steep that just getting around from one place to another was the biggest challenge," recollects Soniya Kulkarni, head, creative and business development, BBC Worldwide India.

She further narrates, "On the second day in Tamil Nadu the cast was supposed to cross a waterfall; we were ready to shoot but we were hit with torrential rain and orders were given to evacuate immediately. That is how challenging it was shooting the series."

Night vision and GoPro cameras are key when shooting a survival series like this, "Lots of incidences happened at night or when they were on the move and those moments were very necessary for the essence of the show. That's where night vision and GoPros played a vital role," Kulkarni informs.

Apart from the night vision and GoPros there were three cameras filming the journey, "A small crew of 30 people were deployed in the field. We intentionally kept the crew small so that we could maintain the essence of tracking. Just to give you an idea, when we shoot at a studio in Mumbai, we have a crew of around 300 people."

Only recently, digital content creators Arré, launched 'The Real High', a show that featured young urban Indians fighting for survival in Arunachal Pradesh. It remains to be seen if 'The Stupid Man' manages to stand out and Sumeet Vyas' tales from the terrains manage to make a mark in it the viewers' minds.

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