Television

'If we bag BCCI rights then there would be enough cricket to justify a separate sports channel'' : Kunal Dasgupta - SET India CEO

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There is an unwritten rule for those in Delhi, who cover the media: don't miss any event where Sony Entertainment TV India CEO Kunal Dasgupta is present. Reason being that the gentleman is a journalist's delight and seldom disappoints media professionals. Though Dasgupta, these days, shies away from giving long interviews, his observations on the industry --- along with his ability to laugh at himself --- makes him one of the most sought after media CEOs.





Take, for instance, his reference to SET India's attempts to lay its hands on the telecast rights of Board for Control of Cricket India-organised cricket. With candour, he informs a bunch of nodding journalists in the Capital that this is one time he's using the media to get across his message to BCCI and whoever else has a say in the matter. Later, he tells indiantelevision.com that if Sony manages to get the cricket rights, many other plans would fall in place between now and the next cricket World Cup in the West Indies in 2007.

On the sidelines of a press conference in Delhi on 6 July --- mainly organized to announce the launch of Animax channel, something that was first reported by us in December last ---- indiantelevision.com caught up with Dasgupta for a brief while on some issues related to the company and the industry. But not before he had made some wisecracks on 'rona-dhona' (mushy and emotional) serials still ruling the TRPs on Indian television (an indirect hint to the still-chart-topping Balaji serials on Star Plus) and how Animax was NOT being launched to overtake Star Plus.

Excerpts-

On other launches after Animax...



There are several gaps in the bouquet and we are looking at them. A sports channel is missing. There's definitely a need for a shopping channel. May be regional and business channels too.

On Sony making forays in Indian languages, apart from Hindi



Yes, we have been talking about a regional channel or more than one for some time, but you cannot rush me into launching one. I don't see Sony making any move in this direction before 2006-07 (by that time, probably, Dasgupta's contract would have been renewed, again). We are looking at both type of alliances, equity and distribution tie-ups.

On whether SET India would bid for the BCCI cricket telecast rights



We are very aggressive on that, but it would be tough for everybody. Though, unlike other cricket bodies, BCCI hasn't given any details and there is no formal tendering that takes place. But we would invite ourselves to the bidding process, in whatever form, as we keep on having talks with BCCI at both formal and informal levels.

On the likely contenders for three BCCI cricket rights



ESPN is certainly there and has the bidding power too. But the biggest factor is Doordarshan (the Indian pubcaster), which had the rights for the last five years (the agreement term came to an end earlier this year).

As the rights holder last time, DD has the first right of refusal. If it decides to go ahead and bag it this time around too, others would be left out in the cold. Sahara (the sponsors of the Indian cricket and hockey team) can be a rank outsider in the whole bidding process.

On the amount of money that SET India is ready to cough up for such cricket telecast rights and whether the asking sum could be in the region of Rs 6,000-7,000 million



I cannot disclose the financial details, but we will try to make an offer that BCCI would find hard to refuse. But we need to have some details like the number of matches that would be on offer, the type of countries India would be playing and so on. I think, the asking sum may be even higher than what you all are quoting. (Last time, DD paid approximately Rs 2,250 million for a five-year contract.)

On Sony's plans for a sports channel in the bouquet



As I said, there's definitely a gap as far as a sports channel is concerned. But having a separate sports channel would also depend on whether we manage to bag the BCCI cricket telecast rights. If we manage to do that, then between those cricket matches and the ICC-organised cricket rights, which we have till the next World Cup, there would be enough cricket to justify having a separate sports channel.

We can look at splitting the feed for SET Max separately for (dedicated) sports and movies then. And, if Sony bags the cricket rights, the terrestrial feed would be shared with Doordarshan. I have been saying that all along and I am reiterating it. But all these plans depend on whether we manage to get the BCCI cricket and that's a BIG if.

"The idea is to keep launching channels or keep adding channels to the bouquet and this way you can raise prices"

On Sony's plans on exploiting the broadband/wireless business



What others (again hinting at Star India's announcements on creating a separate wireless division recently to tap the emerging business opportunities) are talking about now, we have been already doing. Our 2525 number has been generating good business and along with the site there are various services available, including Jassi (Sony's successful serial, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin) ring tones and downloading of serial clippings on MMS-enabled cell phone (in association with Orange).

For the last two years, we have been generating revenues between Rs 120- Rs 150 million through our wireless endeavours. For the wireless business, which is part of the main channel venture, we already have tie-ups with various service providers, except Reliance. Wireless is a good business proposition and is exciting too.

On Sony's bid at having a reality show and the success rate in India.



We have plans to launch a reality show, but we also understand that there are certain negatives attached to such shows in India. We need to understand why reality shows haven't been very successful in India and then address them. Maybe, India hasn't had a real reality show on TV in that sense.

On whether Sony's distribution revenue would get hit if the sector regulator-mandated freeze on cable prices continues.



It's an issue as distribution has been a revenue driver. If the price freeze continues (announced by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India earlier this year), then we'll have to live with it. But, don't you realize that to beat the price freeze, people are launching channels these days? So, the idea is to keep launching channels or keep adding channels to the bouquet and this way you can raise prices somewhat.

On whether Sony is planning a high-end Hindi entertainment channel, a la Star One which debuts in October.



There is something big that is coming up, but I cannot tell you the details now. It would not be a third-party channel, but very much Indian. After all, we have to do something to counter Star One (a channel being launched in October by Star to tap hi-end advertisers like auto companies through programming that would appeal to the young and upwardly mobile young India).

On whether Sony would join DTH platforms started by others



If DTH platform operators give us good commercial terms, we are open to giving our channels to everybody. Dish TV (promoted by Subhash Chandra companies) is talking to us, but hasn't yet given good commercial terms. However, we would not like to join a free DTH platform or anything that is free. (This in a way almost rules out Sony channels on the proposed DTH platform of DD, which, if launched, would come free to subscribers.)

On whether SET India is looking at replacing Rajat Jain who left MAX to head Disney operations in India.



NP Singh (SET India CFO) has been given Rajat's responsibilities and we are not immediately looking at finding a replacement for him. NP would be given a team and he can supervise the work. As and when, if at all, we do look for a replacement, then it would be preferable to have somebody from within the company.

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