Disney focusing on four lines of business in India around five brands: Andy Bird

MUMBAI: The Walt Disney Company, which gobbled up UTV Software Communications last year, is building four specific lines of business in India centring around five brands.

Television, Film, Digital Media and Consumer Products will be the four verticals Disney will focus on. "We have five franchises - Disney, UTV, Marvel, Bindass and the newly acquired Star Wars - to play around in India. The acquisition of UTV has given us 250 million new consumers in this market that we couldn‘t reach before," said Disney International MD Andy Bird.

Consumers already have a strong relationship with two of those five brands, and seek them in at least three of those core businesses.

Delivering the keynote address at Ficci Frames 2013, Bird said that with the acquisition of UTV and the creation of the new Walt Disney Company India, Disney became India’s leading film studio and TV producer. "We are now one of India’s leading broadcasters, reaching more than 100 million viewers every week across the country. The UTV deal also positioned us as a significant player in the digital media space, thanks to Indiagames, the number one mobile gaming company in this market. And, just as importantly, the deal gave us the brilliance and vision of Ronnie Screwvala – the man behind UTV’s incredible rise – to build The Walt Disney Company in India.”

What was the thinking behind buying UTV? “When we made the decision to buy UTV, we did it with two considerations in mind – the first was to create a diverse company in India; but also importantly it was to acquire the talents of Ronnie Screwvala to run the new company. As many of you know, Ronnie is a rare breed of entrepreneurs who has successfully built UTV and embraced Indian and Western cultures. I am so proud to count Ronnie as one of my friends and to have him lead the Walt Disney Company in India with his magnificent creative management team,” Bird said.

He also spoke about Disney in India being different from what it is elsewhere. “The Walt Disney Company India will be unlike any other Indian media company: none will have the breadth of brands and franchises that TWDC India will have. No other Indian media company will have the breadth of businesses we will have and no other Indian media company will connect with generations of consumers like The Walt Disney Company India will do.

“In India, we have built a creative prowess, second only to that found in the U.S. We have creative teams here in India who produce a slate of diverse films, produce a spectrum of original TV programming across our networks, build mobile games and applications and create style guides for our consumer products business. We are building a company that is far greater in scope than just one business, or being defined as being just in distribution and marketing. We are building the Indian Walt Disney Company.”

Bird is excited about working with Indian talent, in-front and behind the camera, to create local franchises and look to export this talent to markets outside of India - offering opportunites for talent in Hollywood movies. “The Disney-UTV team is already working with their colleagues at Disney, Pixar, Marvel and now Lucas to innovate and produce even better product for here in India. Our Interactive team is working very closely with our Japan team - where we do the most amount of innovation in interactive and mobile outside the US - to really take this space in India to the next level and be ready for the Broadband wave that India will no doubt see."

The aim at the end of the day is to build a content, creative, brand and franchise company in India. “ Of course, I have not touched on our Live Entertainment business as that is a work in process..so watch this space,” Bird added.

He also spoke about the rapid rise of new technology and the fact that India’s more recent focus on this sector means that the country is capable of the kind of instantaneous shifts and opportunities in the media and entertainment space that simply are not possible in countries like the U.S. that will literally have to rip out existing infrastructure in order to replace it with the new technology that will drive the future. “ That’s an expensive proposition and one that will slow critical change in some of those more established markets – while India has the chance to define itself with the latest technology and innovation unencumbered by the remains of technology that defined the last century.”

Differences in Markets: Disney recognises that there are different markets around the globe and it is no longer “domestic” versus “international”.

“We recognize that each market we enter essentially needs its own “Disney” company – with strategies and products and messages that are compatible with the culture and relevant to local consumers. And we see tremendous opportunity in rapidly emerging markets like China, Russia, Latin America, South Korea – and, of course, India – so connecting with consumers in these regions is a key strategic priority for Disney, and will be integral to our future growth," Bird said.

That’s why Disney‘s strategy for each region reflects local market realities and opportunities. "Our approach here in India is focused on media and entertainment – because that’s where we see the greatest potential for Disney, not only because the industry here is poised for a huge leap forward, but because of the rapidly rising middle class of consumers and their traditional focus on the family," Bird noted.

“This is radically different than our strategy in China, for example, which is much more restrictive on the content imported into the country. In China, we’re focused on building our presence and our brand by telling Disney stories through theme parks and a strong retail effort. Likewise, our China strategy is quite different from our approach in Latin America, where we’re transitioning Disney from a high-end, rather elite brand, into the broader mass market.

“The Disney brand will remain strong and clear and everything we do anywhere in the world will reflect the brand values consumers know and trust – but each market will dictate how consumers access and interact with that brand. At the Walt Disney Company, we believe that in stories we find the imagination needed to envision a better tomorrow, and the inspiration to make that vision come true. This belief guides how we act as a company, and how we connect kids, families, and friends first with each other, and then with the causes they care most passionately about,” Bird stated.

Meanwhile, Disney Media Networks co-chair and Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney spoke about the importance of understanding audiences and what they aspire for. That is why Disney is in the field everyday listening to kids, parents in terms of who they are what they do and what they aspire for. Then Disney builds stories around this. This is the strategy that Disney decided to do back in 1996 when Sweeney joined the company. "At that time there was confusion about the brand identity of Disney Channel. By doing research which focused on the quality of conversation with kids and parents rather than on the quantity Disney channel was able to become a powerhouse," she said.

Sweeney also noted that to make great content at times one has to make unexpected choices. She gave the example of ’Hannah Montana’ where Miley Cyrus, an unknown, was cast as the channel spotted her potential. “We decided to take the riskier road and that led to greater reward," she said.

Speaking on localisation, Sweeney said Disney started doing local shows in India in 2011. "We have five local shows in production," she added. "We also have a further four pilots in the pipeline. We celebrate cultural events like Diwali and Holi.”

Sweeney said that it is important to strike a balance between adapting foreign formats and creating truly original content. She also touched on technology saying that one can make feature film content on a television budget. "One could do things that a few years ago were considered unthinkable. The drama ‘Lost’, for instance, used CGI," she averred.

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