Channeling Content

Channeling Content

At a time when Doordarshan was synonymous with the idiot box, the Alva brothers -Nikhil and Niret – started Miditech India 17 years back to fulfill a dream of bringing in the infotainment genre into television programming. “We started in a small room in my mother’s house when I literally brainwashed my sibling and a few friends into giving up their careers to start Miditech,” reminisces Nikhil. And it has surely paid off. Today, Miditech has grown from making just documentaries to mainstream drama, international formats, sports, lifestyle and children’s entertainment and current craze of reality shows like Indian Idol. In an industry that works on relationships and trust, Miditech has managed to carve a niche for itself with all the big names in television like Star Network, BBC, NGC and Discovery.

Living on the edge

When Doordarshan was setting its pace with Hindi soaps, Miditech took a bold step and produced a cerebrally inclined travel show Living on the Edge. The primary challenge in devising offbeat content was to convince the only mainstream, government-run channel to adopt this genre. Doordarshan was not completely convinced about the commercial viability of a show on environmental degradation. But by some quirk of fate, the show was aired at the most opportune time. “As luck would have it, we got sizeable viewership, owing to 1994 Football World Cup Final,” recounts Nikhil. “We managed to launch the first episode of Living on the Edge just before the match began and got phenomenal ratings for the show,” he adds. The show garnered just the right kind of attention and breathed fresh life to TV that was flagging under the drama of Hindi soaps and Bollywood buzz.

From a fledgling to a swan

Miditech pooled in the collective resources of talented in-house technicians to produce technically slick programmes and charmed the Indian audience with its contemporary approach. It is no surprise that channels eagerly lapped up the Alva brothers’ offerings. Although the company was not known for its mainstream content, its high-end and quality format enabled easy transition into popular entertainment segments. After nearly seven years of working on environment and lifestyle programming, the company went mainstream when it established a Mumbai office in 2002, as hub for its entertainment formats. “Our foundation was a sound one as the early years saw us work with very tight budgets and very difficult conditions, so we were able adapt easily to newer formats,” believes Nikhil. From there on, there was no looking back for the company. The entertainment format gave Miditech not just fresh programming but also larger budgets and bigger aspirations.

We started off in a small room in my mother’s house when I literally brainwashed my sibling and a few friends into giving up their careers to start Miditech” – Nikhil Alva, founder, Miditech

The company is adept at adapting international formats and customising it to suit Indian requirements. That’s how Sesame Street, a popular children’s program in the U.S. became Galli galli sim sim and American Idol became Indian Idol. The list is almost endless with Fame Gurukul, MTV Roadies, Deal or No Deal and Wheels; It also gave Hospital series for BBC and documentaries on earthquakes and tsunamis for NGC. Not to be labeled a mere copycat, Miditech also conceptualised original content for a number of mainstream serials for almost all of India’s top channels. Once aware of the channel’s strategy, ideas are tailor-made and put in place keeping in mind client requirements. “Our strategy has never been a calculated or deliberate one,” Nikhil believes, “Our content is completely original but backed by market movements. We are backed by a solid team with know-how on every aspect of broadcasting.”

Funding

The company’s ability to adapt its skills to newer media platforms and a solid growth pattern caught the eye of many investment funds. In fact, in 2005, ICICI ventures bought a 25 percent stake in the company, which later changed hands to Turner International, a unit of Time Warner Inc. Currently, Miditech is an independent production house that is owned by Alva Brothers Entertainment, which was started by Nikhil and Niret along with immediate family members. The company retains controlling interest of 71 percent in Miditech and Turner owns the remaining 26 percent. Most of the content is managed in-house and production work is distributed among their offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The venture helped Miditech to leverage Turner’s expertise in operating broadcast networks globally. With regards to IPO, Nikhil does not think a production company is a viable option as revenue streams are not predictable and experiences large dips.

Future plans

The company has a strong presence in Karnataka as it is the largest producer of content in Kannada. Miditech is now aiming for a pan-India presence. And to strengthen its position further, it has partnered with the Sun Network to manage content and to produce high-end quality formats for Southern leaders. “We forayed into regional content with Zee’s Sa re ga ma for the Tamil and Kannada audiences, which sparked the idea to partner with the region-best, The Sun Network,” opines Nikhil. Miditech is currently producing a few high-end, non-fiction shows for Sun Network’s Tamil channels and has plans to penetrate into their Telugu channels. “We are really excited about the development in the South in terms of innovative, low-cost formats and believe that these shows can be easily adapted into mainstream Hindi channels. Miditech plans to expand its operations by setting up hubs in Cochin, Hyderabad and Kolkata this year. From a growth perspective Miditech is looking for a pan-Asia footprint, especially south Asia where there is lot of synergies in programming content. “Although we are primarily focused on India, from a global perspective, we will establish a foothold in South Asia,” adds Nikhil. Content-wise, the company plans to foray into animation. The company has already successfully tried its hands at producing a Bollywood film jointly with UTV called Aamir. Another film with Disney is also in the offing.

Miditech has gone beyond the call of just commercial programming by tying up with UNICEF to launch a series for Doordarshan called Kyon Jeena isi ka naam hai. Fundamentally a social messaging soap, it has not got critical acclaim, but research done by UNICEF shows that the series has brought about a social transformation in the mindsets, on issues like HIV and female infanticide. “We are reestablishing a connection with social causes with this program and we are looking at using television as a medium to bring about social change in a big way,” explains Nikhil.

Understanding the need of the hour and thinking outside the box to fill that need is what Miditech has done by catering to an audience that is getting increasingly globalised, more aware and with more exposure to international entertainment. By making Indian entertainment more than a mindless pastime, Miditech has ensured that TV viewing is an experience.