GUEST INTERVIEW- IN CONVERSATION WITH MANSI DARBAR, VICE PRESIDENT, CORPORATE STRATEGY AND DEVELOPMENT-NETWORK, IN10 MEDIA

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I am pleased to bring to you our next guest interview with Mansi Darbar, Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Development at IN10 Media who was instrumental in the recent successful launch of the channels Gubbare and Ishara. She’s been a founding member of Applause Entertainment which is currently India’s largest web series content studio. She has also been the founding member of Alt Balaji, India’s fastest growing OTT platform.

In this interview, Mansi gives some interesting business insights on the ever-evolving OTT market in India, the growth potential of international format acquisitions and some learnings from her successful journey.

1. Mansi, you have had a diversified portfolio of leadership roles from being a founding member of one of the leading OTT platforms and content studios in India to now being a network vice president of a broadcaster. Could you tell us a bit about your journey?

My journey of 13+ years in the M&E industry has been exhilarating, as I have worked across diversified portfolio. I began my career as a creative professional moving onto the business side of things in the media industry.

I was fortunate to begin my career with Rosa (Anita Kaul Basu) and Babu (Siddharth Basu) at Big Synergy, which I fondly call my ‘Home Turf’ as an Assistant Director on ‘Dus Ka Dum’. At Big Synergy I walked the path from an Assistant Director to becoming an Associate Creative Director working on multiple tent pole format shows and especially the 5 seasons of the iconic, evergreen show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC).

My next stop was Balaji Telefilms, where I worked on ‘Nach Baliye 7’, post which the Vintage Media Maverick who remains young at heart and in mind, my mentor Sameer Nair brought me on board at ‘ALT Balaji’ as a Founding member.

Initially at ALT, I was leading Content Engine for the OTT Platform, a few months later I was promoted to being the Head – Content Operations for ALT Balaji, which we launched on 16th April, 2017.

A few months later post the launch of ALT Balaji, I joined Sameer Nair’s founding team at Applause Entertainment, a venture by the Aditya Birla Group. I was leading multiple verticals at Applause – Acquisitions, Legal from the Business side, Operations and a Partial Commercial role looking into development & headline talent costs across 50+ series.

Post the experience of production & digital, it was time to move onto a larger role with a 360 perspective which came in the form of a Network Vice President for Strategy & Development at IN10 Media network, a start up owned by the Mahindra & Pittie group being helmed by Aditya Pittie.

2. Applause Entertainment is one of the pioneers in international format acquisitions in India which division was being headed by you. Could you tell us about your experience in the international format space and its growth potential in India?

The international format space had not been explored, or utilized to its full potential in India till Applause strategically tapped onto acquiring remake rights of the most dazzling shows from all over the globe. Hence one can say that ‘Sameer Nair is the pioneer who helmed this idea of ‘Remake in India’.

Dealing with International Formats was a larger than life experience as there is an ocean out there full of formats of all types and kinds available in varied shape and size, which can be customized as per requirement and content need. Additionally, I ensured we engage with Esteemed Format Holders from different parts of the world – US, Israel, France, Korea, Australia, UK, Russia etc.

It was a ‘global’ experience as I engaged and worked with top notch media professionals from all over the Globe identifying, acquiring and closing deals for remake rights for scripted shows like Fauda, Luther, Criminal Justice, Call My Agent, Hostages, Your Honor, The Office and multiple other global formats. One can say, this was the very first time remake acquisition deal for scripted formats was being done in India hence there was no precedent to follow but the philosophy of ‘make or break your own deal’.

The growth potential is vast as one gets a wide variety of ‘global stories, which can go local’ and the opportunity to collaborate with the creative & business community worldwide.

3. According to you what is the importance of IP ownership in content and the future of IP ownership versus merely procuring license in content?

IP ownership in content is the present state of affairs for networks and platforms but a distant near future for creators, which will drive innovative business models exponentially at a global scale, including India.

The future is building on an extensive library of IP that will drive valuation for companies in huge figures depending on the content line – up and brand they build of their respective company in the market.

4. Has the Indian OTT market warmed up to the studio model which was prevalent in the film industry but is still at its nascent stages in India? Do you think the studio model will work in the Indian market with OTT platforms like television broadcasters increasingly commissioning their own originals?

The Indian OTT market has been more than receptive and warm in welcoming the studio model, as I am sure they understand that a Content Studio is a complement to their ecosystem of creation of content for digital audience.

From a business lens if you ask me I would surely collaborate with a Content studio as the OTT game is about the volume of content, binge watch culture and the increase in subscriber base, which is a tough task if only relied upon commissioning basis. As a viewer finishes one series in 48 or 72 hours post, which scouts for a new series in their local language, with this math one requires a minimum of 2 series monthly, which adds upto 24 in a year. To achieve this I would say having a Reputed Content Studio is a blessing in disguise for any OTT Platform.

5. How does content and commerce go hand in hand?

I believe our entertainment business is run by 2 C’s – Content & Commerce. For every audio – visual content being produced there has to be value for money in exchange for a Broadcaster, Platform or Studio in order to commission or license a show. One has to make sense of the currency conversion in terms of a high production value coupled with a good cast and crew for commerce to run efficiently with creation of content.

6. You also actively participate in the contractual negotiations with key players. What have your learnings been on handling negotiations?

I am a big fan of legal teams and paperwork which solidifies a business understanding in our or any business. If, one communicates clearly, is polite, is persuasive, can sweat the detail then one can seize the biggest negotiation possible on table.

7. According to you where does the future of OTT lie in India?

The OTT game has just begun in India, we are still in the nascent, exploratory stage where new OTT platforms are mushrooming up in our country. I would say we are still discovering the type of content which the digital audiences are accepting and open to, the new breed of talent which should be and is being featured in series making big with their digital debuts and the stories which people want to see, hear and feel.

The future of OTT is the future of content as digital dependence is bound to grow multifold in the coming years worldwide.

8. The government recently introduced the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 for regulation of content on OTT. Will this create any significant difference in the way OTT content was being made in India?

With the regulation guidelines for content there will definitely be a change in creation of content but there won’t be drastic transformational changes as the rules pave the way for creation as per the medium of the format.

9. From a business perspective, any specific legislative change you would like to see?

A legislative change, which I would like to see, is for the creative community to get a ‘creator’s share’ i.e. an upside on their creation of work.

10. Any passing thoughts for our readers?

Very early in my higher educational years I was told by an Industry expert ‘Once you begin your professional journey, do not chase money but the work you do’. I adhere to this principle till date.