SAB Group will remain in the core media business as it evolves: Markand Adhikari
Sri Adhikari Brothers Group (SAB Group) today is a leading Indian M&E conglomerate with interests in Broadcast, films, content production and publishing. The company, which was started as a small family-owned partnership firm by brothers Markand Adhikari and late Gautam Adhikari in 1985, became the first publicly-listed television production company in India when it was listed on the BSE in 1995.
SAB TV (which is now part of the Sony Pictures Networks bouquet) recently completed 20 successful years in the industry, while SAB Group’s popular music channel Mastii has completed 10 successful years in the industry, maintaining No. 1 position in India during most years (more than 60%).
In an exclusive interview with Adgully, Markand Adhikari, Chairman and Managing Director, SAB Group, takes us through the journey of the group in its 40-year history, the evolving content consumption scenario, impact of COVID-19 on M&E industry and much more.
Four decades in the market – how has the journey been for SAB Group? What have been the key landmarks in this journey?
We are in the business since the last four decades. We have been in broadcasting for the last two decades. I and my late brother Gautam started with a small advertising agency. At that time, I was a beginner and a struggler, but Gautam was an Art Director in big ad agency. So, it was normal for me to book The Times of India Classified Ads and getting businesses from retailers for cinema slides and small art works. But for Gautam, the working environment was quite a cultural shock! We had approached Doordarshan in the early 80’s at the time for the ASIAD in Delhi for the sponsorship of entertainment programmes. That time, it was totally a new idea of sponsored programmes. We did programmes for Doordashan – National and Regional – for nearly 10 years. In 1991, when first satellite TV channel Zee TV was launched, we were the first to be approached by them to produce programmes. ‘Commander’ and ‘Philips Top Ten’ were Zee TV’s initial programmes produced by us.
When Doordarshan launched DD Metro, we once again were back to Doordarshan, DD Metro and National and had produced a number of serials spanning around 3,000 episodes for Doordarshan. Some of the serials included ‘Shrimaan Shrimati’, ‘All The Best’, ‘Waqt ki Raftar’, ‘Suraag’, ‘C.I.D.’, and many more. In between, we had produced fresh programmes for UK-based channel TV Asia as well. Also in 1995, we were one of the first media/ production house to be listed on both the Stock Exchanges – BSE and NSE.
In 2000, we decided to launch our own channel. That’s how SAB TV was founded. We created a niche by changing the entire programming into comedy. This was one of its kind. Programmes like ‘Office Office’ and ‘Yes Boss’ created waves. In 2006, we launched current affairs channel Janmat and Mi Marathi. Subsequently, we sold it to an industrial house for quite a sum. In 2010, we launched Mastiii, again with a new concept of comedy and music, which became an instant hit and was No. 1 in just one month. In 2011, we launched Bhojpuri channel Dabangg, Marathi music channel Mai Boli and Dhamaal and Dilagiii to target LC1 and rural audiences. These all five channels are on air now.
In between, we ventured into film production as well and produced and distributed films like ‘Pyar ka Panchnama 2’, ‘Missing’, ‘Great Grand Masti’, multi-starrer ‘Total Dhamaal’ and some other regional productions.
In 2010, we also launched niche English fortnightly journal ‘Governance now’, which is now in digital form. ‘Governance Now’ has created its credibility, respectability and loyalty amongst who’s who of the country. At present, it also conducts lots of webinars on different subjects.
Our next gen, Ravi and Kailash, started their content production career with web film ‘Dheet Patangey’, which premiered on Disney+ Hotstar on March 2, 2020. They are now busy with 4-5 web series and films under production for different platforms.
We also have our VFX department, where we create special effects for many feature films.
What was the initial vision of SAB Group and how has it evolved over the years?
When we started, initially there was no existence of commercial television. We initiated the same and things started getting rolled out as mentioned above. The rest is in public domain.
In 2017, Sri Adhikari Brothers had announced its plans to create a bouquet of over 20 channels comprising diverse genres in partnership Pantel Technologies. Could you tell us at what stage are these plans? How many of these channels have been already launched?
We already have five successful channels running under our company, TV Vision Ltd.
Yes, the same company approached us in 2017, but they have not taken it forward. In businesses, one come across many proposals and as a businessman, your duty is to explore any workable opportunities.
What are the other areas that Sri Adhikari Brothers is looking at for expansion?
We at SAB Group have always been in media and will remain in the core media business as it evolves.
How has SAB Group been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns?
SAB Group has been impacted by the lockdown, just like other media companies. April was terrible, revenues were down to 85 per cent; May was little better than April; while from June it is increasing in percentage, but still far away from the pre-COVID level.
We are quite hopeful about the festival season, but I think festival revenues should be considered as a temporary boost. The real analysis will be from January 2021 onwards.
According to you, how has the overall Television industry been impacted by COVID-19 – in terms of viewership, content, ad revenues?
Regarding revenues, what I have mentioned above will remain more or less the same. I think during the lockdown, the viewership has travelled with Bhagwan Sri Ram, I mean ‘Ramayan’. When ‘Ramayan’ was on DD, it broke all viewership records of the last decades. When it shifted to Star Plus, the channel became No. 1. Other GECs took a beating due to all repeat content. I think other genres like Movies, Music, Infotainment, Travel, etc., remain the same.
With India now entering Unlock 3.0, how do you look at the Television industry’s revival? What do you see as the factors driving this revival?
The opening up of the economy and more unlocking of the Metros will drive the mainstream business, which will convert into revenues.
What are your key observations on the content consumption seen during the COVID-19 and lockdown period?
Definitely OTT platforms have gained tremendously in this period, thanks to their new and unexplored content and even thanks to cinema halls remaining shut.
Where do you see Television’s place in an ecosystem where OTT is gaining popularity?
Nowadays, Television, particularly TV screen, is just a monitor. With the introduction of OTT, you can watch your favourite channels on OTT platforms on one screen. If you mean Television, by say TV channels, then of course, TV channels are here to stay, because typical Indian families have a traditional culture to watch TV while having dinner. This will not go away so quickly and easily, but OTT has a clear cut advantage of being digital, as digital is a moving object and not static like typical television. Digital is infinite, while TV channels have a disadvantage of appointment viewing.
But when the same TV channel viewers watch on OTT platforms, it has the same digital advantages.