Rajiv Bakshi, CEO, Big Synergy speaks at length about creating differentiated content for TV and digital and why co-existence of everything is the norm.
After his 13 year-long stint at Discovery Networks spearheading content across genres and serving as a CMO at Intex Technologies leading brand strategy, Rajiv Bakshi joined Reliance Entertainment’s Big Synergy as CEO in December 2018.
With over two decades of experience across TV, Internet, Media, Telecom and consumer durable industries, Bakshi’s mandate at Big Synergy included taking forward the mantle of enhancing multi-platform reach, driving strategic partnerships & developing the Original Content portfolio.
In conversation with Social Samosa, Rajiv Bakshi sheds light on his journey and challenges so far, evolving viewers’ demands, the OTT scenario and more.
From Discovery to Intex to now Big Synergy. It has truly been a roller coaster ride. How has the journey been so far?
I think every experience prepares you for the next challenge. Most of the things that I did in my various roles are transferable. Especially the spirit of entrepreneur attitude and the general approach to creativity.
Reliance Big synergy is no different. We are in our transformation stage which is largely celebrated in India for our non-fiction expertise. Now we are adding or rather have added tremendous efforts on fiction. We are a full house studio with an equal amount of fiction and non-fiction, national and regional, television and OTT content. From being one genre television platform, our mission is to become multi-platform, multi-genre, multi-geographical studio.
In this age of rapid digital evolution, what vision did you bring on the table for Big Synergy and how has it panned out so far? Also, your key focuses areas so to say?
I am not one of those who believe that digital will finish off television or broadcast industry. Television and digital are going to co-exist. Now the relationship they will have is – comparative, collaborative or competitive- it will be seen by each market. Broadcast and digital will have a very symbiotic relationship.
My general approach to digital is that it is not like TV at all. It is absolutely fresh – your approach, mindset, creative power and thinking, execution has to be very different. The audience and behavior is different. So you got to have the flexibility to think differently on digital and TV. My one day in Discovery used to be from morning to night discussing shows for kids, then we used to talk about females, males, families and diverse subjects- archaeology, survival, tattoos, sex, travel et al, the day was so diverse every day that I never had a dull day. My mind is prepared therefore to distinguish from one medium to another.
Naturally digital is exploding right now as it has got the smaller base and the growth will be faster.
How have today’s viewers evolved and its impact on TV?
When we say consumer, we broad base it a lot. A consumer is divided into multiple forms- age, geography, gender and then there are multiple combinations. One has to be very sure which platform is working for which consumer and we don’t generalize. Then when we go forward to our channel, the show is often customized for certain audience. Women oriented shows are designed for different TG and therefore they are programmed at different times and eras.
Each platform has its own USP. When you dissect each channel or OTT– all of them have their own specialized niche and brand perception. The beauty of the production studio is we realize the differentiation. Largely we are all fighting for differentiation. Only when you are differentiated you will have demand and that is true for a personal and professional relationship without which you can’t add value. So every partner is expected to know that and enhance that differentiation.
Talking about the on-demand entertainment in India and content creation, how would you compare the ‘storytelling’ of Indian OTTs Vis a Vis it’s foreign counterparts? What more still needs to be done?
I need a platform which focuses on Gujarati and Punjabi market. Now their approach will be very different from those who target pan India. Similarly, a platform which wants to focus on Indian Diasporas will have a different module of the audience. For ads there is a model of business which is AVOD, SVOD, DVOD which further gets differentiated. Therefore each platform either by TG, geography differs their approach by content. They create content from the point of view that they think is the best for their audience.
So I don’t differ content necessarily on the basis of the budget – everybody does it as per the changing models. I typically don’t compare x show on x platform with another because both have been conceived in different times and TGs and with different business models in mind. Everybody can’t do the same.
Do you think the OTT space is cluttered and the race to sustenance is going to be a challenging one?
Not at all. When we say the market is cluttered, we undermine the intelligence of the audience. They are the ones who are going to decide we are cluttered or not. How many coffee shops do we have in Bombay- you mean they are cluttered? People are still visiting more and more of them. Sometimes it increases demand not necessarily decreases demand. Consumers are only expanding and growing. I don’t think there is any data which proves that the consumer feels that the market is cluttered. Your favorite channels change over the years, similarly, your favourite platform will.
Also, do you think India is ready for a subscription-based OTT entertainment? What business model actually works?
Today’s Indian consumer is absolutely ready to pay for quality content which is differentiated in terms of storytelling, consistent in forms. They don’t want to pay for an exception but for consistency. Entertainment is more like a necessity nowadays.
In November 2018, Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) released its ‘Code of best practices for Online Curated Content Providers.’ As a creator contributing to the OTT community, do you think self-regulation and censorship on digital are considerable?
I have been in the media business for close to 20 years now. There is something that I and my colleagues have followed for years which is called self-censorship. We have always observed certain Do’s and Don’ts of creating content and I think that has worked. Some people may have not been able to push the boundary and therefore what you see is nothing but the reflection of society. Also, those who change over a period of time – I certainly look at these two spots when I look at content creation.
‘Movies’ have found themselves a new platform to get premiered, some even before their theatrical or satellite releases. Moviemakers are directly opting for OTT platforms for digital premieres of their films and skipping the idiot box. The digital-only films for example. Do you think it is theatre vs OTT explosion waiting to happen?
I am not personally a believer in the versus world. I think co-existence is the norm. The digital premieres are a great idea but the kind will be different from the theater world. Both will co-exist and I think it is great that we have another platform to express talent and creativity.
We often confuse India with many markets in the world but India is a largely underserved market where the consumers in billion-plus are wanting entertainment everyday spending close to 60 minutes. No one type of content is sufficient, we need a lot more.
How is your approach towards TV content different from the online space? What consumer insights help you in ascertaining the differentiated offering for both mediums?
The TV is a lean-back medium where you sit back and enjoy whereas digital is very lean in medium where you interact and engage every minute. Once we have a lean-back media the kind of storytelling, duration and length are very different, the screen size too. The setting that you are watching the content in differs too. Everything is contrasted. Hence content presentation and of course the models are very contrasting. One is an ad/subscription model while the other is either subscription or free- so the needs to attract consumers on both the platforms vary.
My biggest challenge while managing content for both the mediums is prioritization since there are so many options and time is limited.
What is the roadmap ahead in terms of content and production line-up?
A very large proportion of fiction content both on OTT and TV. Secondly a lot of content in Hindi and regional languages. Also, collaborations which we will do with creators and directors- whether regional or national markets and a lot more strategic tie-ups with platforms to become more like a preferred partner.