Banijay Asia Growth Plans Become More Ambitious

Mumbai-based Banijay Asia has struck a deal with ITV Studios’ Armoza Formats to bring an official adaptation of the award-winning Canadian mini-series, “Vertige,” to screen.

The high-profile French-language show deconstructs the alleged suicide of a young girl, Daphne Roussel. Banijay Asia will reimagine the psychological thriller for the Indian audience.

With a remit focused on India and, increasingly Southeast Asia, Banijay Asia is a joint venture between Banijay, Stéphane Courbit’s TV production and distribution powerhouse behind “Survivor” and “Peaky Blinders,” and veteran producer Deepak Dhar.

The Banijay parent company this week announced that it is set to go public and launch on the Amsterdam stock exchange through a newly-created special purpose acquisition company or SPAC.

Banijay Asia got off to a flying start four years ago with “Hostages” and “Survivor” and has quickly built a business that combines reformatted content from other parts of the Banijay empire and Indian originals. These allow the firm to cater to both the explosively-growing Indian streaming sector and the still crucial Indian broadcast market. The company has not yet disclosed the intended broadcaster or streaming platform for “Vertige”

The story of “Vertige” follows Roussel as she miraculously wakes up from a three-month long coma with no memory of the 24 hours prior to her alleged suicide attempt. Struggling to put pieces together about the events, the question is raised – was it a suicide attempt or was it a murder? The original six-episode thriller was produced by Pixcom and directed by Patrice Sauvé. It received multiple awards at the prestigious Prix Gémeaux in 2012 for categories including best direction, best writing and best original music.

“Armoza Formats’ ‘Vertige’ is spellbindingly suspenseful, and the way the story catches you in the thrill-storm of the main character is extraordinary. Our audiences love strong narratives and solid characters, and Vertige is a series that fits the description seamlessly – it’s great to be collaborating to create our own, localized version of the show,” said Dhar in a prepared statement.

Dhar says Banijay Asia’s origins four years ago were a messy scramble that moved very quickly from a handshake deal to production. “I said, for once in my life, I’d love to do this for myself, rather than do this for somebody else. And then in came [Banijay CEO] Marco Bassetti and [Banijay COO] Peter Langenberg, and a whole lot of other people I have met earlier in earlier phases of my life,” Dhar told Variety. “After I took a flight back to Mumbai, we pretty much had the first couple of productions on floors. I had to go to my clients and literally say ‘hold on, I don’t even have a checkbook at this point’.”

First up was stand up and sketch comedy show “Kapil Sharma Show.” It was followed by the Indian retread of Israeli scripted-format “Hostages” in partnership with Applause Entertainment, where two seasons were produced back-to-back. The company also quickly began docu-drama “Roar of the Lion” for Hotstar, the Fox-conceived streamer that has now expanded to become the market-leading Disney Plus Hotstar.

In four years, Banijay Asia has produced over 1,000 hours of content including more than international format adaptations, 15 Indian originals and 20 reality shows. Key titles include: “Call My Agent: Bollywood” and “Tribhanga,” while it also made record-breaking reality show “Into the Wild with Bear Grylls” with Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn & Vicky Kaushal for Discovery+.

And, even with the COVID pandemic falling in the firm’s second and third years, Dhar says the timing of the business launch was “pitch perfect.” That is a reflection on the business disruption caused by the arrival of a large number of local, international and joint venture streamers in India, and also by the changes in film and TV grammar that they have brought.

“Till literally about five years ago [in India] we used to make largely serialized shows and telenovelas and daily running soaps [not the scripted- premium- and limited-series that the global streamers focused on],” said Dar.

While that has meant that Indian content has not yet achieved the exportability of Korean and Spanish-language content, the seismic shift has also helped to level the playing field within the country. “We’re all unlearning and learning simultaneously. It’s going to take some time to really learn new tricks,” says Dhar.

“Banijay Asia may be new entrants in the game, but we understand both the broadcast side of the business and the streaming side of the business and we are creating content for both,” Dhar says, pointing to one for the outfit’s USPs.

He says the Indian video market is still undergoing rapid change. “We’ve created a lot of unscripted and reality content for the broadcast side of the business. And we created lots of unscripted reality and scripted series for the streaming side,” said Dhar. “But suddenly the proportions have changed. Now there’s a lot of demand for reality, for factual and documentary and docu-dramas. Stories and scripts that can’t be told in scripted format are now being told in more factual and documentary formats.”

Asked whether the boom time for Indian TV producers still has further to run, Dhar is confident that consolidation is some way off and that it need not hurt those that have foresight.

“We want to create more and more content and the landscape allows for that. But, yes, at some point in time, pressure will be on the budgets [in streaming]. We’ve seen it on the broadcast side. We’ve seen it on the regional TV side. As a group we need to be very nimble and flexible,” said Dhar. “There are early signs, and the tide is [still] with us at this point in time, but we can really adapt to different situations.”

And international diversification may provide another growth vector. “We’re now looking at phase two of our growth strategy, which is the rest of the region in Southeast Asia,” said Dhar.

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