Sahara treads uncharted terrain in movie deal with Star

MUMBAI: Sahara One CEO Shantonu Aditya calls it a path breaking strategy that could change the way movies for satellite television are bought and sold in the country. His reference: a deal in which Sahara has agreed to sell to Star India satellite broadcasting rights to 64 movies for limited telecasts between October 2005 to June 2007

Never before has a broadcaster syndicated movie content to a rival network which includes such recent hits as Sarkar, Page 3, Dil Maange More, Phir Milange and Lakshya.

Admits Zee Cinema business head Bharat Ranga: "It is an innovative deal. Such deals can happen in the marketplace."

Coming just over a month before the launch of its movie channel Filmy, Sahara's move, however, has raised a few eyebrows among those involved in the trade. "It is an unusual deal. We have heard of broadcasters selling their rights for a limited screening to regional channels. It is difficult to see the reason behind Sahara's decision unless it is a short term objective," says a leading broker who has sold movie rights to satellite channels.



Aditya brushes aside such criticism. "It is a smart way of maximising the worth of our movies. And we still retain the rights after a short window," he says.

Sahara, after all, will have the rights to telecast the movies at least twice before it moves on to Star. Page 3, for instance, is airing on Sahara One this year. For the new movies like Sarkar and Subhash Chandra Bose - The Forgotten Hero, Star will have two screening rights. On over 50 movies, Star will have four telecast rights. The rights are exclusive to the territory of India, Singapore and Middle East and non-exclusive to US, UK, and Europe.

Aditya also believes that it is the best way to integrate Sahara's Motion Pictures and television businesses while exploring opportunities to exploit value. The price Star has paid for these rights, according to industry sources, is around Rs 110 million. A media report however, puts it higher at around Rs 200 million.

Aditya says the supply pipeline for new movies will be rich with Sahara's plans to produce 40 movies. "We have a war chest of movie titles. We are the biggest in Bollywood in the number of titles we produce. We are doing away with the traditional concept of showing the movies we own rights to only on our channel," he says.

Will this spoil Filmy's entry into a highly competitive market? "We have a strategy for Filmy which we will disclose close to launch," says Aditya.

Some industry observers, however, say that the sale of limited rights to Star will help push Star Gold up. "Sahara's Filmy channel ideally should have taken on Star Gold as it is the weakest of the three main movie channels. Perhaps, they are planning a slow and gradual build up of the channel," they say.

As for Star, there are aggressive plans to revamp and ramp up Star Gold. In a parallel deal, Star recently bought out 31 movies from Time Group. The movie titles include Hero, Gambler, Khiladi and AK47. During the early part of the year, Star bought Vashu Bhagnani's library at an estimated cost of Rs 150 million which included movies like Silsiilay, Shaadi No 1, Coolie No 1, Hero No 1, Om Jai Jagadish and Deewanapan.

The mega movies Star has bought this year are Swadesh, Virudh and Paheli. For the Amitabh Bachchan launched AB Corp movie Virudh, the acquisition price is around Rs 40 million, industry sources say. Paheli, produced by Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment, attracted a price tag of around Rs 50 million.

"For Star, it is a winning deal. This is despite them getting a limited screening opportunity of the movies. The payout to Sahara is less and they can exploit some of the successful movies to boost ratings on the channel," says an industry observer.

So will this cross-syndication of movies to rival channels be a trend for other broadcasters to follow? Says Max business head Albert Almeida, "If I have a competitive advantage, I will not fritter it away by making my library available to a competitor."

The movie acquisition business is taking interesting twists and turns even as the battle among the movie channels is intensifying.

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