India’s oldest music label owned by the RP Sanjiv Goenka group, Saregama has been foraying into areas outside the music IP business. In 2017, it launched a portable audio device that looked like a transistor radio, and which could play 5000 preloaded songs. The tech innovation targeted at the over-35 demographic was an instant hit. In the last quarter ending June 2019, Saregama sold 2,19,000 units of Carvaan in India (as per its financials).
Alongside Carvaan, Saregama launched Yoodlee Films, a studio business which commissions films. This was not the first time Saregama was getting into film production. In 2010, it released ‘Jhootha Hi Sahi’, a Hindi feature film starring John Abraham. That did not work very well for the music label which then stayed away from movies for almost a decade. Then why again with Yoodlee? “Insights from research,” says Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice president, films and television, Saregama India.
In its bid to move from being a music IP business to a content company, Saregama was evaluating various options. Research was conducted to find appropriate solutions and Kumar shares that the music label found that while the older audience (35 plus) were very happy with Bollywood content, the younger ones who have grown up on a staple of torrenting interesting, differentiated and niche stories from around the world were underserved. “There was a gap and the entry into films was a no-brainer. Now should we be putting all our eggs in the big Bollywood basket which Saregama had tried 10 years ago or should we try a slightly lower model with indie films? Our research showed that the Indian audience is very hungry for non-star driven films in their vernacular language, be it Hindi or any other regional language,” he says. Thus, Yoodlee was born in 2017.
Saregama announced that it would produce 100 films by 2023 at the rate of approximately 20 per year under Yoodlee. It launched with 'Brij Mohan Amar Rahe' with international streaming giant Netflix as its streaming partner. Gradually, five other films became available on Netflix while its latest title, 'Nobleman' had a theatrical release.
In FY-19, Saregama reported a revenue of Rs, 524.37 crore, to which Films and Television Shows (for linear TV channels) contributed Rs 47.6 crore. Its film and television business has grown in the first quarter of FY-20, ending June 2019. The revenue from film and television stood at Rs,14.3 crore, compared to Rs 11.9 crore in the previous quarter.
“Right now, we are going through a boom. There is a lot of demand as all platforms are in a subscriber acquisition phase. It is a good time to be a content creator in the country,” says Kumar.
But Saregama’s Yoodlee is not the only one trying to capitalise on the rising demand. There are the likes of RSVP promoted by Ronnie Screwvala, Applause Entertainment headed by Sameer Nair, Banijay Asia, a joint venture between French studio Banijay and former Endemol Shine India chief executive officer Deepak Dhar among many others. Then there are well-established mainstream studios like Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani's Excel Entertainment, Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom and others which are getting into the digital video space.
It is Yoodlee’s unique strategy that differentiates itself from the others, opines Kumar. He says, “We decided to formulate a strategy where we would help independent filmmakers to tell their stories and produce their films, take them to festivals and then put them on platforms or do small theatrical releases whenever necessary.”
Like its music business, Saregama follows a royalty sharing model in films too. “There is profit-sharing perpetuity with the talent, which is up to 30 per cent,” says Kumar. While Yoodlee encourages independent filmmakers to share their scripts, it has an internal team too which brainstorms to figure out filmable ideas. When it is a script coming from outside, a 12-member script reading team combs through each and every word. If that team finds merit in the script, then Yoodlee commissions the project. After it is made, it goes to platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Saregama sells the license for a certain period. If it is an internal idea, then the studio identifies a set of directors which it thinks could do justice to its concept. These directors are then given a six-pager about the idea and they are asked to come back with a 12-page elaborated version of their own. The director with the best 12-pager gets to hire writers of his or her own preference and after final tweaks, Yoodlee commissions the film.
“85 per cent of the time, we take the risk and commission films before even discussing with any platform. There are a few occasions when we go to platforms with a script which takes us nine months to develop and share with them. Our pitch to them is that if they do the deal before the film is commissioned, they will get the first right to stream it,” informs Kumar.
Even in cases where the deal between platforms and Yoodlee is inked before the film is made, the IP rests with Saregama. “We are in the business of IP which investors value as an asset. A few times, we have decided not to do a deal with platforms as they wanted to retain the IP. We don’t know which films will become future classics. We have all heard the 'Sholay' story, how it did not work when it first hit the theatres and then went on to become the most iconic film in the country. If you make a lot of movies, you don’t know which one may become a classic and so you retain intellectual property rights of all,” Kumar asserts.
While initially, Saregama thought it would make around 100 movies in five years spending around three to five crore rupees on each, it has relooked its strategies. “We are now aiming at 12-15 movies a year, which means it would take us seven years to reach the 100-film mark,” Kumar concludes.