Aiming to produce 50 % of content outside of traditional non-fiction space: Gaurav Gokhale

Elaborates on how Endemol Shine India is meeting the high demand for content.

An accomplished professional with an MBA from INSEAD (France/Singapore), and over a decade-long experience in the industry, Gaurav Gokhale has been at the forefront of handling the day-to-day operations for Endemol Shine India since October, 2018. The content production company has been credited with the success of several large format shows including Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi, and MasterChef India in multiple languages. As the chief operating officer (COO), Gokhale is also responsible for the long-term strategy and P&L of the content production company.

In his career spanning over 13 years, Gokhale has worked with several organisations including BCG India, where he helped organisations solve strategic issues and improve business performance. Later on, he went on to work with Nimbus Communications as head of strategy and business development. In his previous stint at Star India, he handled the strategic mandates across sports and distribution businesses. He also played a pivotal role in launching the Indian Super League and Hockey India League, and was instrumental in managing the business transition of Star Sports.

As the OTT boom brings a content revolution in the media and entertainment industry, got into a freewheeling conversation with Endemol Shine India, COO, Gaurav Gokhale to understand how the company is gearing up for this evolution. Gokhale also delved upon the challenges in meeting the burgeoning demand for content, growth opportunities in regional markets, and how the company is executing multiple scripted productions in parallel.

Edited excerpts

On the OTT boom and how it has changed the consumption patterns of viewers? Also elaborate on new opportunities that it offers in terms of content production.

We’re seeing more of a big-bang moment in the OTT space rather than a boom. Digital content consumption is going through an exponential expansion phase. At one end, cheap data and entry-level smartphones have made streaming content easily accessible. Today, we have about 800 million smartphones in India priced from Rs 1,000 onwards. One hour of watching streamed content consumes about 500-700 MB of data and costs around Rs 7. Monthly, that’s around Rs.210, which is the average cable TV bill in the country. We can say that watching quality streaming content has now become truly democratised in India.

Moreover, consumption of content on personal mobile devices offers better privacy and convenience over communal TV viewing. At the delivery end, streaming services and OTT platforms are bettering their streaming infrastructure and content supply to meet this burgeoning demand. A billion-dollar industry today, the OTT content ecosystem is estimated to grow 15X in the next nine years! These numbers are indicative and convey an upward move in demand and supply. As creators of content, we are happy to ride the wave and do what we do best - churn out quality content to satiate the rising consumption.

On how media entertainment companies can meet this burgeoning demand for fresh, high-quality content, and the underlying challenges

We need to re-invent ourselves constantly to feed this burgeoning demand and keep making investments into the sector. Media companies, producers and broadcasters need to re-think their existing models and come up with more efficient work-flows to accelerate content creation. Unlike a manufacturing process, AI and Robots cannot replace human creativity. One machine cannot substitute 10 writers and create 10X output. The only way to scale up production in a human-intensive industry such as ours, is to quickly build skills and efficiency and try and shorten the turnaround timelines.

On the production setup, there are genuine supply-side constraints. There are a limited number of trained writers, technicians, artists and HODs who can work on OTT shows. It’s a problem the Indian IT industry faced 20 years back, and they solved it with concerted skilling initiatives across over two decades. By 2025, it is projected to become a $100 billion industry contributing in excess of five to seven per cent GDP. We need to push ourselves and aspire to reach there one day. This requires fresh thinking in the way we plan shows, the turnaround times for development, the post-production cycle and so on. These are real challenges today and over time, we need to find ways to optimise them.

On Endemol Shine India’s plan for TV, OTT and cinema going forward

As a production house, we produce quality content agnostic of form-factor and medium of consumption. Over the last decade, we have produced shows for TV – both fiction and non-fiction and in the last few years, we have ramped up our production for OTT platforms. We are also steadily building our films slate and have announced a few interesting collaborations in this space.

On the balance between non-fiction factual, drama, dailies and cinema

We have historically been known for our large format non-fiction shows such as Bigg Boss, MasterChef and Khatron ke Khiladi. These shows have given us the experience and expertise of delivering big productions in tight timelines and to a budget. Platforms prefer us for this proven track record, our audit transparency and clean operations — an emerging new factor for international platforms as they commission marquee scripted shows in India. That is a natural extension to our existing skill-sets.

Over the last couple of years, we put in place a very efficient modular setup for executing multiple fiction productions in parallel. This year alone, we have more than 10 fiction shows on the floor. Over the next few years, our ambition is to produce 50 per cent of content outside of the traditional non-fiction space.

On the growth opportunities in regional markets

Regionalisation is critical for all content creators. OTT has made content language-agnostic and as we have seen from shows like Money Heist and Narcos. Good content finds its takers all around, irrespective of the language in which they are created. We must also remember that in India, nearly 40 per cent of TV viewership comes from regional markets. Over time, regional budgets have also gone up and today we have streaming services and OTT platforms dedicated to regional content. We are currently producing five versions of Bigg Boss for the regional markets (Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam), four regional versions of MasterChef and four regional daily fiction shows. We are producing both theatrical and finite fiction content in Tamil. There is a lot of talent and creativity in regional that is waiting to explode and the potential is huge.

On whether co-production will become the new norm, and if yes, then the kind of financial structuring deals we might see coming in this area.

If you look at the macro trends, we have a roughly Rs. 25,000 crore TV content industry growing at 10-12 per cent annually, and a nascent Rs. 2,000 crore OTT content industry growing at over 30-40 per cent annually. To fuel this kind of future growth in volumes of production, we need to create content hubs and content factories that can churn out shows on a large scale. This will require innovative ways of working and new kinds of investments and partnerships that bring together different individuals and entities with diverse and complementary skill-sets. In such a ‘co-production’, idea-generators join hands with execution experts like us to pitch and create multiple shows. The ‘creative producer’ then takes over development and the overall creative onus while the ‘line producer’ takes on execution onus and delivers the financial target. Such a partnership is based on implicit trust between the stakeholders but if done well, the synergies can yield hugely positive outcomes and most importantly, faster turn-arounds.

Apart from the traditional commissioning model where platforms fund development and production and are deeply involved in creating a platform original, we are seeing a growing demand from platforms for ready-for-sale shows that help fill content gaps at relatively lower costs, especially given the longer turn-around of commissioned shows. A natural need-gap situation has emerged and offers a very interesting opportunity for an institutionalised fund play.

Today, wealth managers and funds in India are sitting on undeployed capital and need a differentiator to sell to their HNI clients. Now, if done right, here is an opportunity to invest in a low-risk vehicle with fairly guaranteed returns and a fundamentally strong demand cycle and with an implicit X-factor. With the right production partner to bet on, I see a lot of organised financial investors wanting to participate in this asset class.

On whether Endemol Shine India is looking at the studio model too, wherein it will work as an aggregator and distributor for smaller producers

Strategically, our interest lies in producing shows we can actively shape. While tactical distribution opportunities may arise due to our strong relationships with platforms, our core business is to develop and produce shows that we strongly believe in, with talented writers and accomplished show-runners.

On the company’s positioning in India

Endemol Shine India is today an end-to-end content production powerhouse. We produce premium fiction and non-fiction shows; regional daily fiction shows and also factual content. We manage some of the largest shows produced in India and our USP is managing large productions within agreed timelines and budgets. We are well positioned to take advantage of the growing demand for more original fiction content from India. We are producing shows for all leading platforms – Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ Hotstar, Lionsgate, MX Player, Discovery Plus and AltBalaji.

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