Phil Hardman, SVP and general manager, Asia, BBC Studios speaks about content partnerships, localising content, and content formats that work on OTT platforms.
Last month, ZEE5 announced a partnership with BBC Studios India, the production and distribution arm of British media conglomerate, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) for building a content slate for the video streaming service. The first of it, an original drama series titled The Broken News, will be launching on June 10.
In April, BBC Studios released its Telugu-language crime-thriller Gaalivaana on Zee5. In March, it launched Bloody Brothers on the same platform and Ajay Devgn-starrer Rudra on Disney+ Hotstar. Bloody Brothers, Rudra: The Edge of Darkness are produced by Applause Entertainment in association with BBC Studios India.
In an interview with afaqs!, Phil Hardman, SVP and general manager, Asia, BBC Studios, says, these deep partnerships in India are very important to BBC.
“In the last couple of months, a lot of senior management have met met with a lot of our global partners who have operations in India, like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar. We’re working on how these global relationships can translate in India for the business on the whole. Our content strategy for India is working for us and we continue to bring UK-produced dramas into India through the distribution business,” he says.
Our Production arm in India, which is a part of the International Production and Formats business, led by Sameer Gogate, has produced over 11 shows for the Indian OTT audience in 2021. Sameer and his team have some terrific partnerships with Key players like Applause Entertainment, Disney, Amazon, Zee, Viacom and Doordarshan. Some of these shows have been adaptations of successful international shows.
For example, The Edge of Darkness is an official adaptation of Luther (2010). Criminal Justice is based on a British television series of the same name Bloody Brothers is adapted from Scottish thriller Guilt. Rudra:. All these titles were produced by Applause Entertainment in association with BBC Studios India.
“Our Production arm in India has had a lot of success with format adaptations. During the pandemic, it really helped with production timelines. In the last two years it was so incredibly complex to make content due to prevailing covid issues. So adapting an existing show was quicker and safer from a content perspective for our partners.” he says.
With Gaalivaana, BBC Studios has made its foray into the regional space. Hardman says that making content in South Indian languages is also reflective of the shifting demand in the market.
“Reaching a wide audience is equally important for us as it opens up new markets and new audiences for us. There is demand for premium quality, cinematic storytelling in that space, and we wanted to fill that demand and we see these opportunities even in South East Asia along with what India is doing in the regional market,” he says.
However, he adds that international players need a local Production team or partner to create content in individual Indian or even South Asian languages and we can see the success of local language unscripted format shows Asia.
BBC Studios globally has a diverse content slate. After bringing Green Planet to Sony BBC Earth in India early this year, it intends to launch the second season of Frozen Planet later this year. It also launched Prehistoric Planet in collaboration with Apple TV+ as part of a global deal last month.
In the scripted space, new seasons of Doctor Who and Top Gear are expected. For kids there’s the popular animated series Bluey.
According to a recent FICCI-EY report, the number of smart connected TVs will exceed 40 million by 2025. Hardman believes this offers BBC Studios opportunity around free ad-supported streaming TV services (FAST) channels.
“We can bring new services, like AVoD. Connected TVs also give easy access to the big screen experience for these OTT players. We have invested time, money and energy in making this content and sometimes it is better enjoyed on a bigger screen than on a 4.3-inch mobile screen. It gives us an opportunity to bring that content on the big screen for a family audience. One of our big strengths is to be able to provide a family viewing experience. Connected TV provides the opportunity for that kind of OTT viewing. We are already in some discussions in India with some global partners and also some locally relevant ones. We have already launched some services in markets like the US and Europe,” he says.
Connected TVs also help deal with an industry-wide challenge- that of discovery. “It also changes the dynamics of where people find their content as it allows complete search of all subscriptions. Otherwise people have to go into each platform and look for the title. As we are present across linear television and OTT, the connected TV ecosystems could make it easier for an audience to find their desired content,” he adds.
The pandemic has brought about shifts in consumer behaviour and OTT platforms have responded to the change by altering its content strategy. Hardman says the media landscape had been shifting even before 2020 and they were already moving their business towards a more digital-focused strategy, particularly around the way content is commissioned.
“With regard to consumer behaviour, there is so much more consumption, and so much more choice in where you consume. Ten years back, we were competing between channels, now we are competing between TV, OTT, gaming, and other experiences available online and offline. There is also a shift in the type of content that is being commissioned. Seven to eight years back it would be long running serial dramas that are relatively low budget, and therefore relatively low quality, in terms of production value. But now we see big budget, cinematic content,” he describes.