Reality shows in India are widely popular; all Hindi General Entertainment channels have a strong portfolio of reality/ talent hunt shows. Regional channels also have a significant presence of reality shows in their programming line-up. Since the last four weeks, the reality show that's doing the rounds in social media does not air on any television channel but streams on Prime Video, e-commerce giant, Amazon's video platform.
Seattle headquartered Prime Video recently got a lot of critical appreciation for its India-original suspense thriller 'Breathe' and immediately after that they released the non-scripted format 'The Remix'. The show features 10 teams, each consisting of a singer and a music producer. The teams recreate Bollywood titles and present it in front of the panel of judges featuring music director Amit Trivedi, popular singer Sunidhi Chauhan and famous music producer, Nucleya (Udyan Sagar). At the end of each episode, the judges mark the performances and the team/ duo with the least marks is eliminated from the show. While this reads like any other reality show on TV, 'The Remix' has its differences too. The contestants in the show are no rookies; they have all made a name for themselves in their respective field. The producers being on stage and getting equally involved in a performance is a different aspect too and so is the fact that there is no voting, judges' verdict is final.
The Remix, as a format, is created and owned by Greymatter Films and it has already done rounds in Vietnam and Indonesia and the producers are producing it for other markets too. "We were talking to different people in India and Amazon was one of them; they liked the idea and there was a fit in what we are trying to do and what they are trying to do and sometimes, some things are meant to happen. It was a quick go-ahead from them and then we started working hard with the creative team to put all the nuts and bolts together," says Chandradev Bhagat, founder and CEO, Greymatter Entertainment. For Amazon, it was a decision driven by the customers says Vijay Subramaniam, director, Content, Amazon Prime Video. He adds, "We wanted to create something which is different and viewers had not seen before."
Prime Video uploads an episode every Friday for viewers to stream; it's something the platform did for its earlier Originals too. "We were very happy with the amount of conversation we could generate between the two episodes during Breathe, so we decided to go ahead with the same format. Also, here there is an elimination at the end of each episode, so during the gap, viewers think about what's going to happen in the next episode and who will be eliminated and such conversations on social media create a buzz," Subramaniam explains.
While the weekly format is again, something similar to what happens on TV; here too, there are some differences. TV reality shows are shot an episode (or two) per week; the entire season of 'The Remix' is already shot, which is a big difference. "The big difference is in the approach," says Bhagat. He explains, "Here, we are not reactive, we don't live Thursday to Thursday; here the focus is on delivering the goals we have set before. Because we shot on-the-run and the series was done before the first episode was even streamed; there is no voting in the show."
A senior producer in the fraternity feels because it's not shot per week and there is no voting, the audience-connect lacks, he says, "It is great that there is so much experimentation happening around content and if players like Amazon don't experiment who will; so full marks to them for experimenting. Having said that, reality shows in India are all about the journey of a talent from the audition to the finale. Viewers become part of that journey by voting. Here, there is no journey, it is like an hour-long YouTube video where performers come and perform. The drama is missing and so is the involvement."
Subramaniam tells us that Amazon has purposefully kept the drama away from the show, as the core idea was to put music at the forefront of everything. The show actually has very little dialogue; even the judges' comments are short and crisp. An analyst from Deloitte feels this is how subscription-based video on demand platforms treat content. He says, "Voting and the sentimental drama around the show, the background stories shot in the hometown of the contestant, are all tricks to keep the viewers intrigued on the channel, which, in return, generates value for the advertisers and ratings for the channel. Here it's a different game; subscribers have subscribed for a year, they don't need to have all the drama... in fact, a quality song or a quality performer might get a new subscriber on board."
The production house and Amazon together scouted the talents after rounds of sampling, "What we are trying to do here is create something new with the existing songs, so it is very important to have experienced people who have reached a certain level of quality. We have also looked at their digital presence, so they should have a certain level of fan-following so that they can get their audience on the platform," informs Bhagat.
The Remix is a music reality show, but it is a visual delight too. The show is shot in a studio in Mumbai, famous designer and director, Omung Kumar, designed the set and every song is coupled with an act on stage performed by professional dancers and artistes. "We believe that if it is just the contestant standing and singing it might get boring, so we have put in a lot of time and effort in creating the act part. There is a visual design involved and we have designed each song differently," says Bhagat.
If sources are to be believed, then Amazon has spent over a Crore per episode (Rupees) of which about Rs 80 lakh is invested on production and rest on talent acquisition. "Yes, they have spent serious money and it is clearly visible from what we see," says a producer with the experience of creating top reality shows in the country. But he feels we need to question ourselves if we really need to spend so much money. "Rising Star (Colors) is a great experiment on TV, it is live voting; did they spend astronomically? No, they did not. Look at the top five shows of the week - Super Dancer Chapter 2 (Sony) is one of them," he says, adding, "Then you have examples like India's Next Superstars, featuring Karan Johar and Rohit Shetty, on Star; they spent a lot of money but got 0.8 ratings. TED, on Star Plus, had Shah Rukh Khan and fetched 0.2 ratings. So splashing cash is not the answer to creativity; it has never been that. What is it that you are trying to do with the show and are you satisfying the need of your target group, is the bigger question. 'The Remix', I think, has wasted more than it has used."
The analyst from Deloitte refuses to agree with the producer's opinion; he feels it's a great business decision taken by the e-commerce giant. He says "See, everybody in the digital space today is losing money, but the right efforts today, will help you make money tomorrow. Prime subscribers are TV viewers too; they would like to see a significant difference between the TV show and the ones on Prime; for me, they have managed to create the difference which justifies the cash-splash. Also, remember that Amazon has set its goal really high with Prime Music and they will make these tracks available there."
Subramaniam confirmed that the tracks will be available on Prime Music, "In fact, a few of the tracks are already streaming on Prime Music and after the show is over we will make several playlists which subscribers can explore," he adds. Prime Music is the recent launch of Amazon in India. It's an ad-free platform and bundled with Prime membership which is priced at Rs 999 per year. Prime Music competes with the likes of Gaana and Saavn in India.
Four of the 10 episodes of 'The Remix' are already up and streaming on Prime Video. For music lovers, it's worth exploring; for others, it's a loud one-hour long laid-back experience, which can be both rejuvenating as well as scratchy.