For the love of good content: Amazon & Hotstar now rely on adaptations of Israeli shows
Adapting foreign shows by infusing local flavours is a key part of the strategy for originals.
Since 2018, the remake rights to at least six Israeli scripted shows have been acquired for India, and more are likely to follow. Two of these shows — 'Hostages' and 'Mind the Malhotras' — premiered earlier this year. Mind the Malhotras, an adaptation of 'La Famiglia', is a comedy on Amazon Prime, starring Mini Mathur and Cyrus Sahukar.
Prisoners of War, first aired in 2010, was the breakout series that put Israeli television on the global map, thanks to its US adaptation, 'Homeland'. It has been remade in India as 'POW: Bandi Yuddh Ke' on Star Plus. The popularity of Israeli shows, like the thriller 'Fauda' on Netflix, has made people curious about Israeli content. Action-thrillers are a genre it is particularly good at, but it is increasingly becoming known for its rom-coms and dramas as well.
“Israelis are incredible storytellers and their shows travel very well across countries,” says Sameer Nair, chief executive of Applause Entertainment, which has coproduced 'Hostages' and 'Malhotras'. Applause, a part of the Aditya Birla Group, has also acquired the rights to two more Israeli series, Honey Badgers, which is being remade as 'Udan Patolas', and 'Your Honour', which is being adapted with the same title.
This comes at a time when streaming platforms are looking for original content to feed their growing viewers. In 2018, there were an estimated 240-300 million viewers for video streaming in India, of which 12-15 million paid for a subscription, according to a report by industry body FICCI and consultancy EY. Paid subscribers are expected to swell to 30-35 million by 2021. Similarly, video-streaming subscription revenues are projected to rise from Rs 1,340 crore in 2018 to Rs 5,050 crore in 2021. While building a library of movies is crucial for streaming platforms, equally essential is original content. Netflix made its name with shows like 'House of Cards' and 'Narcos', and Amazon with 'Transparent' and 'Mozart in the Jungle'. They are keen on locally produced originals in India, too, like Netflix’s 'Sacred Games' and Amazon’s 'Mirzapur'.
Adapting foreign shows by infusing local flavours is a key part of the strategy for originals. The reception to these adaptations, though, has been mixed, going by reviews and online comments. Viewership data for these shows is not available and Hotstar and Amazon declined to comment for this story.
Viu, a streaming platform, has acquired the rights to remake The Baker & the Beauty, about a baker falling in love with a supermodel, and The Stylist, about a smalltown girl’s journey in the world of fashion. These Hebrew shows are being adapted in Telugu and Hindi, respectively. Vishal Maheshwari, India head for Viu, says he did not go looking for Israeli shows. “Our approach is to look at stories from across the world. The shows we choose are based on their adaptability in India and their fit to our millennial target group.” The Indian adaptations will be ready by the first half of 2020.
Indian streaming platforms and content studios could spend $100,000-10,00,000 (Rs 72 lakh to Rs 7.2 crore) on acquiring the remake rights to a foreign show and incur up to $300,000 (Rs 2.2 crore) in production costs per episode.
Filmmaker Goldie Behl, who is the showrunner for The Stylist adaptation, says Israel is similar to India in its mix of strong local traditions and western influences. Moreover, the depth and complexity of the characters add to their appeal in other markets, says Louise Melzack, sales director for Asia Pacific at Tel Aviv-based Armoza Formats, the company which sold the adaptation rights to 'Hostages', 'La Famiglia' and 'Honey Badgers' to 'Applause'.
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While there have been Indian adaptations of Israeli non-fiction programming like the game show Who’s Asking?, Gary Pudney, Asia general manager for Keshet International, believes the demand from streaming platforms is primarily for scripted shows. Keshet is the Israeli distributor of Prisoners of War, The Baker & the Beauty and The Stylist.
The availability of original Israeli shows in Hebrew on streaming platforms could act as a gateway to local adaptations, says Melzack. Meanwhile, Pudney, who is in Mumbai every six weeks, says Keshet is in talks for more Indian adaptations. Clearly, Indians will be spoilt for choice when it comes to local takes on Israeli shows.