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Viacom looking to co-produce films in India: Freston

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MUMBAI: The start of something new! That is what Viacom president and CEO Tom Freston is looking to achieve in India. The company is looking to co-produce films in India instead of merely exporting its films in to the country though its partner United International Pictures (UIP).

Speaking this morning at the convention for the business of entertainment Frames Freston said, "It is no secret that Paramount has seen a struggle over the past few years. It is now going through a process of reinvention and while changes are not going to happen overnight we are excited about the future. We are expanding our global portfolio through acquisitions.Viacom was split into two entities last year. This has allowed us to be more focussed and not get distracted by areas like parks and distribution."

“The area of intellectual property is one that we are looking at. We want to co-produce films in India. We want our relationship to be a two way street. We strengthened our films business by acquiring Dreamworks. Steven Spielberg will make four to five films a year for us. Mission Impossible III will release in India in June.

“Another area that we are looking at growing our business is in the home entertainment arena. Where there are many television sets there will also be a huge avenue for DVDs. We are also looking to take Indian and Asian culture to the US. We are doing this through a new New York based channel MTV Desi. This showcases Indian and Asian music and caters to the South Asian population in the US.”

Freston pointed out that by operating MTV India, Viacom learnt a lot. “When we came in, we partnered with Star in the early 1990’s. Then we re-launched on our own and stumbled badly at first. The audience was simply not interested in Pearl Jam and Beastie Boys. We went back to the drawing board and came out with a channel that showcases Hindi pop. Our VJ's speak in Hindi and English. This way we express local culture while at the same time exposing the audience to what is going on elsewhere.

“This strategy was followed elsewhere. Hence, no MTV channel is like the other. In China, it reflects family values. In Indonesia, it is a call to religion. In Italy, it is stylish while in Brazil, it is sensuous. In India, it is colourful and street savvy. When I got a job in the early 1980’s as marketing director at MTV, I knew that it was the beginning of a trend of having a branded channel for specific audiences.”

Not many readers may know that Freston came to India in the 1970’s and set up a clothes company. “It was a way for me to bring Indian culture to the world. India at the time was the one country outside the US that had a thriving local pop culture. The film stars were larger than life. Today, when I am in India I see my past and future.

"India has had a huge influence on me personally and my perspective certainly changed those days. I hope that in five years time, Indians see Viacom as a good partner and a better friend. India has 700 million people below the age of 35. This is twice the population in America. This population is multi spiced and is used to accessing information from different platforms like the small screen – the mobile. It is the promised land for content creators and distributors.”

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