Television

'After TV, the next stage will be consumer products and theme parks' : David Hulbert - Walt Disney TV International president

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He may not look like a born fan of Mickey and gang, but is passionate about increasing the reach of the gang as also the Disney brand equity. And he does it with as much sincerity in the various markets as he is honest about the different levels of regulations in various countries. Meet David Hulbert, president of Walt Disney Television International, who has the responsibility for the consolidated international free and pay television activities of The Walt Disney Company in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific.

These activities include branded and non-branded programme distribution through Buena Vista International Television (BVITV), production and broadcasting, including the development and management of 24 world-wide Disney Channels that can be seen in 67 countries, and other media investments in Europe.

Through Disney Clubs and Disney animation, WDTV-I provides 100 branded shows per week in 65 countries around the world. BVITV licenses internationally successful series from Walt Disney Television and Touchstone Television, feature films from Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures and Miramax Films plus ABC News, entertainment, sports and children’s programming. In total, BVITV licenses more than 30,000 hours of programming world-wide annually and services the distribution of the FKE (Fox Kids Europe) & BVS portfolios of children’s programming.

WDTV-I’s portfolio of investments in Europe includes Super RTL and RTL2 in Germany, Multicanal in Iberia, and GMTV in the UK. WDTV-I is also well- positioned to respond to growth in the emerging markets of central Europe through equity participation with HBO in Poland, Hungary, Romania and Czech Republic/Slovakia.

Previously, Hulbert was managing director for European Broadcasting for WDTV-I, during which time he managed the launch and roll-out of six European Disney Channels. Prior to joining Disney in 1995 as senior vice president and managing director of business development, Hulbert ran his own consulting and venture management company, Ravensbeck plc. Between 1983 and 1986, he was vice president of business development for Europe and general manager for Benelux at Seagram Distillers. He also worked for international consulting company McKinsey & Company after beginning his career with the Unilever subsidiary Lever Bros.

Indiantelevision.com’s Anjan Mitra caught up in Delhi for a short but freewheeling conversation with Hulbert, a graduate of Caius College, Cambridge and Stanford Business School in the US, where he was a Harkness Fellow. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Management Accountants.

Excerpts:

On an overview of Disney’s global functioning.

The division of Disney that I head comprises the international TV business, excluding ESPN which handles the sports business. We are in the business of selling TV programming through broadcasters and we create TV channels, both free-to-air and pay. In different countries, we follow different models. We are present in all the major markets through our channels and other business ventures like publishing, films, theme parks, merchandising and exploiting new technologies.

India is one of the major markets for us and I think it fits in very well with our global plans.

On the bullishness shown in the Asian market by Disney and some drawbacks in this region.

If you have a global business, then Asia is an important hub. For example, we are focussing on the Disney theme park, which is scheduled to open in Hong Kong next year. That is likely to pave the way for the growth of other businesses. TV (industry) is growing fast in Asia, but it also has a long way to go. As for Disney, we are pretty aggressive in almost all the segments in Asia, except, probably, films. May be piracy is a reason for this because we are very particular about our properties and intellectual property rights. However, it’s a trend we have been witnessing: as the local industry grows, piracy has been coming down and that is pretty encouraging for us.

On Disney’s entry into the Indian market despite controversies with Indian joint venture partner in the past.

The population of India, as in the case of China, makes it an attractive market for those in the TV business. We are starting off with TV, but the next stage is to bring other businesses like consumer products, theme parks and tap various media. As a group, we are very interested in India. But I would not be able to comment on how the other businesses would unfold here over a period of time.

On using other media and new technology in India.

We do have some plans but for that Rajat would be the best person to answer the query.

(Rajat Jain, MD, Walt Disney India: As the business grows in India fuelled by TV, we would look at tapping newer technologies and mode of delivery to exploit the Disney brand to the fullest. For example, with the rise in awareness about Disney, we may offer Disney characters as a download on computers and hand-held devices. Downloads may also include ringtones, wallpapers and, thus, help in creating the total Disney experience.)

On Disney’s plans to have (or not have) a full-fledged Disney Playhouse.

We had planned the channel launches for India for a long time and in the original plans there were no moves to bring Playhouse Disney as a (full-fledged) channel. There are markets where Playhouse is a dedicated block in the existing Disney channels, while in other markets it’s an independent channel. Everything should be done step by step. This (bringing two Disney channels,The Disney Channel and Toon Disney) is a big step. But I won’t rule out an independent Playhouse channel (for India in future). There are some distribution challenges that need to be addressed first.

'We expect the Indian venture to be profitable in 4-5 years '

On whether Disney plans to have an Indian version of ABC.

We recently launched ABC1 in the UK, but there are no plans for India (at the moment).

On some of the “challenges” of running the channel business in India.

Agreed, India is a growing TV market, but there is a large number of cable operators. Then there are many TV sets with limited capacity (to receive TV channels). I’d say, India is a complicated, but vibrant market in terms of structure and creativity.

On the various targets for the Indian business venture.

I cannot talk figures, but the initial target is to bring two channels to India and seek awareness about them and consumer satisfaction quickly. Also, bring in advertisers and work on that effectively. We would also like to do well in both areas (of advertising and distribution revenue).

(Rajat Jain: The Disney channels would be carrying advertisements. Since the concept of a pay channel in the strictest sense doesn’t exist in India at the moment in the absence of addressability, we too are likely to follow the general trend of having dual revenue streams through advertising and subscription in the ratio of 70:30. Over a period of time, it should form an equal split in revenues. Initially, we may not have ads during the Playhouse block.)

On the likely breakeven point for the Indian venture.

Generally speaking, such business ventures of Disney in other parts of the globe take four to five years to turn profitable. Since we expect to invest every year (in India), I guess the same should hold true for the Indian market too.

On Indian regulations for the broadcasting industry.

I am not really an expert on regulations in India. But we have found that those markets develop well where there is less regulation. To help a market grow, it should be fairly less regulated.

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