TED, the company renowned for its talks and conferences, is the latest U.S. player bidding to attract Indian eyeballs.
In February, the company greenlit “TED Talks India: Nayi Soch” in association with 21st Century Fox’s Star India and the FremantleMedia Group, a show hosted by Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan. The Hindi-language show, TED’s first not in English, is now in post-production.
TED’s head of television and the show’s executive producer Juliet Blake told Variety that there will be eight episodes, with each featuring 4-5 speakers, 35 from India and a few from the U.S. and the U.K. Speakers include Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Indian media personality Karan Johar, screenwriter, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar, controversial television producer Ekta Kapoor, and Indian women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj.
TED is owned by the Sapling Foundation, a private non-profit organization established in 1996 by publishing entrepreneur Chris Anderson. The company had revenues of $62 million in 2016 from a mixture of conference registrations, business sponsorships and philanthropic donations. Revenue surpluses are reinvested into the company’s programs that include TED Talks, TEDx events around the world, and TED-Ed educational initiatives.
Blake, whose producing credits also include “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and “Farscape,” says: “It’s been an extraordinary experience finding these miraculous people doing unbelievable work. We’ve also found lots of other people who are not so well-known but are doing really interesting work, whether they’re working in slums, photography, or science, or people that are involved in the space race in India.”
Each episode will be an hour long, including 15 minutes of commercials. Every episode will have a specific theme. They range from the power of women, to the future of technology, to the power of the spoken word.
“The themes have been developed so that we are giving a really interesting cross section of speakers the opportunity to talk about something that they really care about, that is interesting not just to India but to the rest of the world,” says Blake. The precedent in the socially conscious television space in India was set by “Satyamev Jayate,” hosted by Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan that enjoyed three successful seasons on the Star and Doordarshan networks between 2012-2014.
“TED is more than just being socially conscious. ‘Satyamev Jayate’ is an absolutely phenomenal show, but ours is different,” says Blake. “That show was very much focused on social problems within India. It was a problem based show. Our program looks at ideas. We want to uplift people. We want people to see solutions.”
Blake says that Khan was deeply involved in the curation of the show and the choice of speakers. And, while he was provided with questions to ask speakers, more often than not he went off script and asked his own questions. Khan’s previous television hosting stints include the formats “Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain?” (“Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”) and “Kaun Banega Crorepati” (“Who Wants to be a Millionaire”).
“We chose him because he has an enquiring mind. He wants clarity, not just for himself but for India,” says Blake. “We are hoping that we get a mass audience. It is meaningful content done in an entertaining way.” The show will air from late November on the Star network, which has a reach of 650 million. It will also be available on the TED website.