Anirban Roy Choudhury

"At this stage, what I really want to do is make a mark in the digital space": Ekta Kapoor

An interview with Ekta Kapoor, joint MD and creative director, Balaji Telefilms.

As Zee TV gears up to release 'Kundali Bhagya', a spin-off (new show with existing characters) on its popular fiction property 'Kumkum Bhagya', we spoke to Ekta Kapoor, joint MD and creative director, Balaji Telefilms.

Kundali Bhagya will go on air July 12 onwards, at 9:30 pm on weekdays.

Edited Excerpts

What prompted the idea of a spin-off for Kumkum Bhagya? Are you a fan of the concept?

The show had this simplicity, an innocence... that we lost over time. There is no way we can get that back in Kumkum Bhagya. I was missing the simplicity, so I suggested, in a jamming session with Zee, the idea of bringing these missing aspects back in a new show. That's how Kundali Bhagya happened.

"At this stage, what I really want to do is make a mark in the digital space": Ekta Kapoor

I am a fan of Shonda Rhimes and after watching 'Grey's Anatomy' (American TV show that led to a spin-off, 'Private Practice') I always wanted to do a spin-off. So it's a long awaited innovation. We've seen spin-offs doing well in so many American series.

I thought about doing a spin-off with 'Yeh Hai Mohabbatein' (Star Plus) but it would have been very difficult to execute. It was the same with my other shows too.

If this one (Kundali Bhagya) works, we'll try it with other shows too.

Kumkum Bhagya got good ratings. There must be pressure on the team handling the spin-off to match up...

We are making it with the same intent and execution. Will the show match the ratings of Kumkum Bhagya? We cannot say anything at this moment. It all lies in the future...

One of the characters in the show is a cricketer. An attempt to ride the cricket wave, some may say...

Whenever Sachin Tendulkar played a great innings, it meant my shows took a hard beating. We would see a significant drop in the ratings of our top rated shows whenever he played... that was the only time we used to get affected. So I thought, 'Why not give an ode to cricket by including a cricketer (character) in the show?'

I am not a cricket fan, but have heard a lot about this IPL sensation Hardik Pandya... so we decided to make him part of the character.

How closely do you observe your competition? Are there shows you wish you had created?

Recently, Gul Khan made some fantastic shows. I love Mahi Way (produced by YRF). I always wished I had done Jassi (Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin). Rashmi Sharma and Benaifer Kohli are doing some great work.

You now have a digital platform of your own and are creating content for online viewers. How different is the creative process, as compared to TV?

Completely different.

When I am making a show for TV, I am reaching out to the entire family; I have to respect the moral values therein... but on digital, I am reaching out to a single individual. That changes everything.

Broadcasters are now putting their shows on their digital platforms. In what way has this changed the equation between TV channels and show producers? Now that multiple platforms are involved, should producers try and own the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights)?

There is an ongoing war on who should own the IP, and the common thought is... yes, the producer should own it.

But we need to understand that there are some shows through which channels make huge profits and some through which they make huge losses.

There is another aspect to it: Say, tomorrow, producers own the IP... monetising it would become a huge challenge because you will have only one show to monetise, whereas the channel has the bulk of them. A channel can monetise (shows) much better, because they can offer discounted rates and play the volume game.

Profit sharing is a debate that we producers must take up; owning the IP may not be the best thing at this stage, given the way TV economics are today.

I also feel the quality of the shows would be much better if the producer owns the IP or some part of the software.

As of now, their (TV channels') digital monetisation of a show is not a part of the discussion when it comes to the economics between channels and producers... In fact, show budgets are way lower than they were four years ago.

Why so?

All shows across all channels are garnering similar ratings. Star spends a lot more, Colors is a bit conservative... these are choices taken by the respective channels.

Every now and then BARC India tweaks its universe. To what extent does this impact producers?

A lot.

Every time there is a change in BARC's universe, the content has to change. We have to be unbelievably adaptable. With deeper penetration, you need to make your shows very simplistic so that everybody understands. If you have an 'urban thought', it won't work with the universe we have now. So it's a constant struggle to make your show work.

What is the next big challenge for Ekta Kapoor?

You know, when we started discussing our app (ALT Balaji, a video-on-demand platform), I was told things like, 'This is not TV, I hope you get that, it's a different ball game, all the big players are international, they understand content very well because they are from America, you are a TV person...'

Yes there is a new India out there on digital, yes I am from TV... and TV taught me the art of storytelling. At this stage, what I really want to do is make a mark in the digital space.

They (international players Amazon, Netflix) have more money, they are subscription driven, they have more talent, but I cannot look at the negatives and do business. I will look at my positives, work on my strengths and accept the competition.

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