HBO defects from Zee, joins Sony platform

MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: Give this to SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta - he does not lack for dogged determination. Today Dasgupta pulled another rabbit out of his hat with the announcement that HBO, earlier part of the Turner bouquet of channels along with Cartoon Network and CNN on the Zee platform, had defected to Sony Entertainment's One Alliance.

Effective 1 January, 2003, SET India will manage the advertising sales for HBO and distribute the service through its SET/Discovery One Alliance joint venture in India and the Maldives.

Turner International India had been the exclusive distributor and ad sales representative for HBO since its entry in India two years ago.

Dasgupta has been on record as far back as 1999 that he wanted to have HBO on his platform but it had seemed that his plans had come a cropper once and for all when Turner joined the Zee platform last year in December.

In effect what has happened is that HBO has exited Turner after its two-year contract, which runs till the end of the year (31 December) came up for review. HBO was able to exit from the Turner-Zee deal since its contract was with Turner and formed no part of the 74:26 JV distribution entity between Subhash Chandra's company and the AOL Time Warner subsidiary.

When contacted, Anshuman Misra, managing director of Turner India, told "When HBO came to India, Turner International India had the distribution and ad sales right for HBO here. The contract was not renewed on the grounds of commercial terms."


Though Misra refused to give out any further details, according to cable industry sources, Zee Turner is looking at finding a "suitable replacement" for HBO, which has been positioned as a premium movie channel.

The sources aver that Turner is looking at starting a movie channel of its own. It is highly unlikely of course that TCM, which had been yanked off the air in South Asia, including India, will stage a comeback. 

The sources also indicated that amongst the other options before Zee Turner are channels like Showtime and Cinemax and the time frame for the replacement would be "as soon as possible," as Zee MGM, another English movie channel in the Zee Turner bouquet, is not really seen as a replacement for HBO.


Meanwhile, Zee is doing some poaching of its own as regards CNBC India. The Zee Turner board is slated to meet on 30 November to ratify the decision of getting on board CNBC India, which is all set to come in from the Sony bouquet once the contract comes up for renewal in March 2003.

Queried as to the reasons for the move from Zee, James P Marturano, MD HBO South Asia, would only say that the commercial terms that Sony was offering were attractive.

Asked who would be heading ad sales and distribution of HBO in the new dispensation, Dasgupta said the announcement would be made tomorrow. Elaborating on the ad sales functions, Dasgupta said with the ICC World Cup coming up in March, there would be three different sales teams managing Hindi channels, English channels and cricket.


Dasgupta also confirmed that there was a subscription hike in the pipeline but would not offer any clues as to pricing except to say that it would reflect the high value properties that were now with the channel, namely cricket and HBO.

Asked to comment on persistent talk in the industry that the two Viacom channels MTV and Nickelodeon were also joining the network, Dasgupta would only say that talks were still on.

Marturano said that HBO viewers could look forward to a heavy-uty movie package in the coming months, with such blockbuster movies as The Cell , Universal Soldier: The Return , Romeo Must Die , Hollow Man and The Perfect Storm coming on the channel.

The really big ticket offering that will be on air in the new year though is Mission Impossible 2 with Tom Cruise in the lead role. A major marketing and promotional campaign can be expected around that if what was done for The Mummy at the beginning of this year is any indicator.

HBO South Asia, which entered the India market in September 2000, is a joint venture in which Time Warner Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment all have equal stake.

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