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Disney revs for India, China may take time: Iger

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MUMBAI: Even as Walt Disney is working overtime to have everything in place for what now looks increasingly like a year-end coming out party for its three channels in India, the going is not quite so smooth in neighbouring China.



The timeline of the launch of Disney in India appears to have been advanced to the year-end (December-January) instead of the March-April timeline that was earlier being talked about.



Additionally, the three channels that will be launching are also now clear. The Disney Channel will be the flagship. Alongside it are Toon Disney (to directly take on Cartoon Network) and Playhouse Disney (for pre-schoolers).



And what of the localised version of ABC, which German business daily Handelsblatt had quoted David Hulbert, president Walt Disney Television International, as saying would definitely happen within a year?



The thinking appears to be that with three well entrenched players in Star, Sony and Zee having pretty much carved out most of the ad pickings in the Hindi general entertainment space, that is an idea that can wait.



Meanwhile, regulatory hurdles to starting a television channel in Guangdong may mean a Disney channel in China isn't imminent, Disney president Robert Iger has been quoted in media reports as saying.



Guangdong is the most open media market in China and has a population of 86 million.



Rivals Viacom and Newscorp are ahead of Disney as far as China ventures are concerned. Viacom expects to launch ventures in Beijing and Shanghai in the near future while Phoenix Satellite Television, 38 per cent owned by News Corp, broadcasts into China from the SAR.



Iger has been quoted as saying in London on 29 September that Disney plans to expand its television presence in China, India and Europe as part of an effort to extend the Disney brand and drive growth in its movie, DVD, theme park and other businesses. The company will start a TV channel in India next year, Iger said.



DISTRIBUTION STILL THE BIG QUESTION



That Disney India has been on an aggressive recruitment drive to shore up its team ahead of the launch of its three channels is well known. But the ad that appeared in a leading pink paper on Tuesday certainly raises some queries.



While the ad Disney placed seeks suitable candidates for the full gamut of channel activities - distribution, ad sales, programming, S&P, legal and finance - the focus was clearly on distribution.



Disney is looking for an India distribution head as well as regional heads (east, west, south, north) who will report to the national head.



It may be just a coincidence, but the attention of indiantelevision.com had been drawn to this very fact earlier by the distribution head of a channel. According to him, this could well point to the possibility of Disney not hitching on to any platform but going it alone the way the just launched Times Group channel Zoom has chosen to do.



What did lend some substance to this thesis were of course the recent recommendations issued by broadcast regulator Trai suggesting that all new pay channels should not be packaged as part of an existing bouquet but should be priced separately.



If implemented, what this would do is remove any advantage that a strong platform will provide a new channel.



Of course, it could also be simply that Disney head Rajat Jain believes that whether on a platform or otherwise, a dedicated distribution team is essential to have a clear handle on the exact status of the channel/s on the distribution front. Having come from Sony, he would obviously be aware of the how NDTV's channels only picked up after a dedicated distribution team was set up by Dr Prannoy Roy's network to push the two channels.



For the record, though there is still no official word on the matter, the industry expectation still is that it will be the Star Network wagon that Disney hitches its distribution fortunes to.

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