Anirban Roy Choudhury

"It took BBC Studios eight years to find a screen for The Office in India," says Myleeta Aga

SVP and GM, South East Asia and South Asia, BBC Studios speaks about the content ecosystem in India.

After adapting BAFTA-winning British drama 'Criminal Justice' BBC Studios' global hit, 'The Office' is now streaming on Hotstar in an Indian avatar. "It took BBC Studios eight years to find a screen for The Office in India," says Myleeta Aga, SVP and GM, South East Asia and South Asia, BBC Studios.

"It took BBC Studios eight years to find a screen for The Office in India," says Myleeta Aga

Myleeta Aga

The British broadcast conglomerate merged its production arm, BBC Studios, with its distribution and monetisation wing - BBC Worldwide. Since April 2019, BBC Studios handles production of intellectual properties, monetisation and distribution of its formats. BBC sold many of its formats to Indian television channels which were remade with a new cast, but most of them were in the unscripted space, i.e. 'reality shows'. The video streaming boom helped BBC Studios find takers for its scripted formats. 'Criminal Justice' season 2 is in production, 'The Office' is streaming and crime drama, 'Luther' is in the pipeline. "We see our formats becoming a powerful proposition for OTT players in India. India is a key market for us," says Aga.

In South East Asia, BBC has its own channels - BBC Earth, BBC Lifestyle, and CBeebies. In India, it restricted itself to only selling and producing for other broadcasters. "In South East Asia, there is an appetite for our content through a branded service and so, we have the channels. In India, our business is a production business because it is a very local content market. Our formats only appeal to Indian audiences when they are adapted for the local market with a local cast. In China, we do a lot of content sales as there are a lot of platforms that like our content exactly the way it is," shares Aga.

BBC Studios pitches its formats to broadcasters and studios in India and once it's commissioned, they produce the series. "We attach a director and writer whenever we pitch and in close association with our partners, adapt it for the target audience," she explains. Using 'The Office' as an example - BBC Studios pitched the show to Applause Entertainment, Aditya Birla group's production arm headed by Sameer Nair. Applause then commissioned it and BBC Studios used its production expertise to make the show, which is now streaming on Hotstar. "This is how it happens all over the world; it is great that the studio culture is now growing in India. It is a sign that the market is maturing," she added.

Myleeta Aga has more than 25 years of experience in the media and entertainment business. She worked at UTV Studios in India and Singapore, Pearson Television in Indonesia, and Discovery Communications and the Travel Channel in the US. She is about to complete a decade at BBC and feels that the experience as executive producer in Discovery and the Travel Channel, where she did a lot of talent-driven shows, will come in handy to handle the demand of shorter series.

In India, it is a different challenge, BBC Studios is renowned worldwide for its factual entertainment shows - Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Dynasties, Frozen Planet etc. - which are only watched by a niche audience. "It is not that the shows did not work... the response has not been great. In a way, it is related to economic development - you only worry about the environment once you have fed your family. It could all change very fast as people start consuming more on their handheld devices," Aga opines.

Another challenge in India, according to her, is the "star-driven culture". Aga says, "Whether it is on or off-camera, there is a personality-driven way of working. Professionalising it is sometimes what we need to work on. You can keep on writing, but there is no such thing as a perfect script so, at some point, you stop writing and start making. In OTT, we do not have a telecast deadline as we have on TV, so one could go on and on. It is important to match the craft with discipline and that is very challenging."

While BBC Studios has its eye set on finding takers for its format, Aga believes it is very important that the shows, which are already streaming, are commissioned for new seasons. Unlike TV, where one show runs on for a long period of time, on OTT, the development process gets over in three months. "That is also a challenge for us when we search for talent. They know that they will have to find something new in three months, while once they sign for a TV show, they are sorted for a far longer period," Aga states, adding that this challenge, nonetheless, excites her.

BBC Studios appointed Sameer Gogate as its India business head. Gogate will join from video-on-demand platform Viu. "We would like to grow our presence in the scripted and branded content space and he comes with a lot of experience in that space," Aga mentions.

Aga believes that one day India could have OTT shows airing on television channels. "At this stage, the dramas streaming on digital platforms follow a very similar way of working as the weekend shows do. So, can I imagine something like 'The Office' airing on weekends on TV? Yes, why not! All over the world it actually happens," she concludes.