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Viacom18 looking at regional play and more channel launches: Bob Bakish

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MUMBAI: Viacom18, the equal joint venture company between Viacom and TV18, is looking at launching more channels, expanding into regional markets and creating content for new media.

Viacom is conducting a due diligence on the ETV general entertainment channels (GECs), Viacom International Media Networks President, CEO and Viacom18 board member Robert Bakish said today. "The regional markets are seeing fast growth," he added.

Indiantelevision.com was the first to report that TV18 had offered Viacom the option to buy 50 per cent stake in five ETV GECs and 24.5 per cent equity interest in ETV Telugu. If Viacom decides to buy stake, the ETV GECs would move to Viacom18.

When asked about what kept the joint venture alive (the only surviving one in the M&E space between a global media giant and a local company), Bakish said that it is not enough to have a shared vision. “The success of a JV is all about having a cultural fit. Our venture has had challenges and we have been forced to evolve. We decided to get into film production. We launched more channels like Sonic. Then we created IndiaCast to take advantage of digitisation. We see an opportunity to export content from India. We created a channel in the UK, Rishtey, using content from Colors and MTV.”

The aim of Viacom partnering with Network18 was to make a local cultural connection. “In 2006 we realised that India offered opportunities we could not ignore. Viacom has resources but we felt the need for a local partner. JVs are a tradeoff. You don’t have complete control. Therefore it is important to have productive dialogue. In Korea, we have a JV with SBS which started a year ago,” said Bakish.

In India, the company realised that brand positioning would be key. Therefore the decision was taken to make Colors edgier and more of a risk taker. “The good news for India is that more local production money is coming in. Out of this will come quality content.” He also noted that a hit television format is the most valuable IP. “After all, a local version of ’Fear Factor’ played a key role in Colors’ launch and success.”

Network18 Group CEO Sai Kumar said the joint venture had been helped by the alignment between the two companies in terms of the scale of ambition and challenges that would have to be met. He noted that IndiaCast has allowed for reverse migration. Colors is now in 70 countries. “It is not just about the channel going abroad. Even shows like Ballika Vadhu have been being picked up abroad,” he said.

Talking about new media, Sai Kumar said while platforms like OTT and VoD represent a risk and an opportunity, Viacom18 prefers to focus on the latter. Kumar noted that 13 years ago distribution became king as there was a lack of platforms to showcase content. Today the good news is that content is once again king. "The challenge today is that while consumption of content is at its highest it has gone multi device. The different platform windows are each a kingdom. With these platforms the possibility of milking content for revenue has gone up. The long tail will stand a better chance in the future,” he averred.

Kumar called IndiaCast the second phase of the JV partnership.

“Indiacast has a global multiplatform mandate.” Bakish said. “Star and Zee surprised people by coming together. We responded by creating one entity and partnered with Disney UTV to unlock the value of digitisation. While Nickelodeon and Disney compete fiercely with each other globally, the fact is that you have to look at each country differently."

Referring to film business in India, Kumar noted that it is a great adjunct for Viacom18’s other businesses. “There are opportunities for synergies in our film business with Colors and other channels. At the same time, our exposure to film will be strategically limited. Having two films that are hits does not mean that the next three will also work. With each film you start from ground zero.”

Bakish noted that film production business is not for the faint at heart. “We had long conversations about why we were in the film production business. We have had hits and misses but that is the nature of the game. Not everything will work.”

In terms of the challenges facing the media and entertainment industry, Bakish spoke about the lack of reliability in measurement globally due to multiple platforms. “India is great to do business in but it isn’t perfect. Could digitisation have happened sooner? Sure. Could Phase one of DAS have been a solid four cities? Sure! Phase two is now happening and the industry needs to keep up the pressure to see that things work”, he noted.

Kumar noted that advertising is now at its softest. Things will not change unless the measurement system improves. More homes for SEC A could help the niche genre, he added.

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