BBC Studios India has seen massive growth in scripted series, particularly on OTT, says Forde
Matt Forde, managing director, International Production and Formats
In a global market dominated by large Hollywood studios, the £1.2-billion BBC Studios manages to stand on its own. Its perennial hits such as Top Gear, Doctor Who, The Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing along with the more recent ones (Criminal Justice, Doctor Foster) can be found in some form or the other in 200 countries. Earlier this month, Rudra: The Edge of Darkness launched on Disney+ Hotstar. The Indian version of the successful BBC series Luther is produced by Mumbai-based Applause Entertainment. Vanita Kohli-Khandekar spoke to Matt Forde, managing director, International Production and Formats, on what BBC Studios is all about in India. Edited excerpts
How is BBC Studios placed in India?
BBC Studios India has seen massive growth in scripted series, particularly on OTT. We’ve had 12 series commissioned for OTT in the last 2-3 years. There is Rudra, Bloody Brothers (being released on Zee5 later in March), Out of Love seasons 1 and 2 (the Indian remake of Doctor Foster), One of Us (the first regional scripted for Zee5). These original BBC shows are produced either by us or in association with Applause Entertainment. The idea is to bring all our formats, scripted and unscripted, to India.
You have produced a lot of shows with Applause (Criminal Justice, Rudra, The Office, Out of Love). What is the arrangement?
We are good friends with Sameer (Nair, CEO, Applause). He is sympathetic to British content; he understands our shows, protects their DNA. He has the contacts and the experience to adapt it for India. So, he is a good creative partner. We don’t have a deal with Applause; we take it project to project.
How does BBC Studios Productions make its money?
There is a format fee on any show. The rest of it works deal by deal.
What are the major changes the India business has seen?
First, four years ago, it was an absolutely nascent market — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar had just come in. Now these brands are no longer about experimenting (by consumers); they are established. Also, demand is stronger.
Second, in the second wave of OTT, the players are more local. We are enjoying profitable conversations with several regional players and will be announcing a couple of regional shows.
Third, four years ago, the opportunity in unscripted was more documentary-focused. There is now more optimism about what we can do in this. If 80 per cent of the programming we sold in India last year was scripted and the rest unscripted, in two years this will rebalance to two-third (67 per cent) scripted and one-third (33 per cent) unscripted. The kind of shows that have succeeded in India have succeeded elsewhere — The Office, Criminal Justice. Some of those are dark. If SvoD (subscription-driven video on demand) has to increase, it cannot remain premium or dark; it needs to be more mainstream.
How is linear TV doing for you as a studio?
Four years ago, the business on linear was decreasing. It is now bouncing back. A strong brand like Dancing with the Stars (the American version of Strictly Come Dancing) is in more than 60 countries; (The Great British) Bake Off is in 35 countries. These are meaningful for linear networks. So, our heritage brands are important to both broadcasters and OTTs. There is a blurring of lines between the two. Linear (TV) wants more premium, new stuff, while OTT is becoming more mainstream. It is a really exciting time to be in TV (business).
What has the pandemic meant for BBC Studios?
Just before the pandemic, the change in the international business had begun with the reorganisation from various regional businesses to a single line of business. To make it more coherent, we exited some joint ventures (All3Media in 2020). We have been building a strong, multi-genre presence for both our scripted and unscripted content in key markets that connect with the BBC. The pandemic was problematic but very uniting. I spoke to the India office every week instead of once every month earlier. We realised what a huge amount of work could be done on Zoom. The delay in production gave us an opportunity to create and engage in locally relevant content. It also gave local teams a huge amount of time for developing shows.