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MTV India To Launch A New Channel That Will Focus On Indian Alternative Music

Music, short films, visual art, adventure sports and maybe even a music app a la Shazam to track Indian music – all this and more on Pepsi MTV Indies that kicks off this month

Rolling Stone India Feb 10, 2014
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Swarathma. Photo: Sumukh Bharadwaj

Swarathma. Photo: Sumukh Bharadwaj

When MTV launched in India in 1996, Indian audiences were starved for videos. Nirvana, REM, Wham!, Elton John and Michael Jackson videos were lapped up with the same enthusiasm as Alisha Chinai and Lucky Ali’s hits. Although the noughties were the worst year for music with a rash of Bollywood music remix videos taking over both radio and TV, the tide turned for the worse with reality TV programming on MTV.

Over the past few years, MTV shifted its focus back to music with shows such as Coke [email protected], MTV Unplugged, MTV Roots, MTV Rock On, The Dewarists and Sound Trippin’. With enough music festivals to pack a gig calendar, MTV realized that the time is ripe for a channel dedicated to alternative music.

Executive Vice President and Business Head of MTV India, Aditya Swamy tells us what’s in store for their brand new channel, Pepsi MTV Indies.

Why a separate channel? Why couldn’t you start with programming alternative music on MTV than starting afresh?

I think it’s a commercial challenge. Ratings are a key part of a television business and I still believe that this will not give you ratings from day one, so why not create a separate destination, which can build slowly and organically, rather than start eating into stuff that’s giving you big viewership? The idea is to have both ”“ have something that caters to pop culture and have something that caters to the sub culture. And that’s how we see both. MTV is pop culture and Indies is sub culture. So whatever becomes bigger here floats onto MTV.

Do you think MTV India’s target audience will spill over to this channel eventually?

So MTV goes into 50 million homes which reach about 150 million people in a year. Can 10 percent of them come to Indies in the first year? Maybe. That’s the objective. I don’t expect all the MTV audience to come in here.

Which bands will be featured on the channel?

Oh, we have a bit of everything. From [electro rock band] Sky Rabbit to [pop rock band] Spud In The Box to [electro rock band] Pentagram to [electro pop band] Shaa’ir + Func to [punk rock band] The Lightyears Explode to the grandfathers of the indie scene, a little bit of everybody. We are going to focus on metal as well as it’s a big part of what’s happening here. EDM will be a big part as well with Dualist Inquiry, Sandunes, Nucleya, Midival Punditz who’ve had a big connect with MTV for so long. [Delhi producers] Ashvin [Mani Sharma] and Ash [Roy], who’ve done some interesting work for us in the past and now Calm Chor [Sharma’s experimental techno sideproject], are superb and they’re doing some very interesting work. We’re also going to have indie music in all languages, including Hindi, English, Punjabi, Malayalam bands like Avial, The Raghu Dixit Project, Swarathma, Papon.     

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 How and when did the idea come about?

I think about three to four years ago, we started creating a lot of our independent music projects. We actually started with MTV Roots which featured videos from the sub-continent and it started off as a very small community but I think somewhere, Roots is the birthplace of Indies. Roots started as a weekend block on MTV four years ago and over time, you see this force building up as we’ve seen a lot of traction. A lot of things changed ”“ not that we’re just a part of everything but we’ve seen people attending fests, iTunes launching in India, a lot of clubs have a little stage for a performance, which just says that there is an appetite for this. The idea was born with MTV Roots but over the years, three seasons of Coke Studio, MTV Unplugged, Sound Trippin’, the VMAI’s [Video Music Awards India] really said that the time is right and we should take it to the next level and so the platform was born.

Do you think that you have enough content to run a 24-hour channel?

No channel runs on original content the whole day. They usually have about 150 videos in the programming. We already have 500 videos which include everything from Lucky Ali’s “O Sanam.” I’m not going to play all 500 from day one but going to hold it back and spread evenly but that’s a rich bank that we have. I think there’s enough content to curate.

What’s your programming structure going to be like?

Since it’s made largely for multi-platform, all the content that we’re pretty much starting with is all short format snacking content. So we have music videos, small features on art, everything is just made for your three-10  minute viewing experience. For example, we have a show #Open Files featuring artists making album art and one features Swarathma frontman Vasu Dixit: what’s his inspiration, what is he doing, what is he working on currently, a brief history. This generation’s got no patience to watch half-hour or one-hour episodes. We just want to change the rules on this. We don’t want to treat it like a channel or a TV service. It has to be a service that is agnostic to the platform. And it’s more about what the audience’s habit is, which is “shorter the better”.  All the content on the channel will be 100 percent available on the website as well.  So the channel pretty much streams live on the website.

Could you tell us more about the content?

Sixty-seventy percent will be music because that’s the largest subculture that we see today, and the rest will showcase other subcultures. There are a lot of independent films out there, so we’re acquiring everything from five-minute films to one-hour films. We’re working closely with IndieEarth, based out of Chennai, so they’re sending us a lot of content. We have a lot of stuff happening on the art scene, not traditional art but more graffiti, street art and album art, so that’s a third. And the fourth are really activities that are just taking off ”“ parkour, surfing, skateboarding, motorcyclists, bike pimping.

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We have shows like#Don’t kill my vibe, #Morning Jam which are all playlists that will move to TV, web, mobile and social. A lot of the formats are breaking. And the playlists are also very mood-based. So you don’t see rock songs together. If you’re driving in the morning to work, you’ll have songs that will help you beat the jam. There could be an indie song, there could be a metal song, pop song, that’s how it kind of flows. So every Monday won’t be the same playlist.

Pepsi MTV Indies promo featuring music by Delhi EDM act Dualist Inquiry:

Will the channel feature VJs?

No, not at all. There’ll be hosts but all comics or musicians who are funny. So Jai Row Kavi [drummer] for example is a funny guy, he’s just hilarious. [Bassist] P-Man’s funny. You have Rohan Joshi [stand-up comic] on this. Neville from Schnitzengiggles who also works with us is in. So that’s the way we’re looking at things.

Tell us a little about the people behind the scenes of MTV Indies.

So I run the channel. Music content programming is handled by [singer-songwriter] Ankur Tewari and his team of three people. Bobin James [former Executive Editor of ROLLING STONE India] leads editorial. There’s Shilpa who handles music content creation and there’s Jagjit Singh, who’s been with us for a long time now who also does music programming and talent management.

What do you think of 9XO music?

Well, I think there is only so much in the English music space that you can do, and they seem to be chasing pop music. And I think that people who are into English music have so much more that they can do. They seem to have chosen a very sharp cut into international music. I don’t know the reason why, but I’m sure there’s more to English music than Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. That’s their core of the programming.

Are you going to organize events as well like gigs that were organized for Unplugged and Coke [email protected]?

Our first step would be for a lot of the festivals that we support. We’ll now do them as “Pepsi MTV Indies support” and build an indie experience, program an indie stage. Secondly, we’ll start doing college fests, which both Pepsi and MTV are a part of and start curating that and build an experience there. Once we get that sorted, that itself will give us 15 festivals, 50 colleges. That’s a big task by itself now.

Pepsi MTV Indies goes on air this month. Check out their website here and their facebook page here.



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