Television

'Working on an umbrella brand strategy is a good way to build a presence in the entertainment space' : Rajesh Sawhney - Reliance Entertainment President

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As 2007 comes to a close, Reliance Entertainment president Rajesh Sawhney is an apt choice for our year-ending interview, not necessarily in the context of what Anil Ambani's company has done in the broadcast space this year, but because of the expectations from industry, going forward.

On the television front, the journey of being a broadcaster starts next year with the launch of two movie channels (first Hindi and later English), a logical extension from Reliance ADAG's existing film production and distribution business. The broadcast piece will add to a list that ranges from multiplexes to movies, home video, FM radio, direct-to-home (DTH) and IPTV.

On radio, the aim is to consolidate its position. It will also be active in distribution with its DTH platform coming up. Thomas Abraham and Ashwin Pinto caught up with Sawhney to find out about the plans and the kind of impact that Reliance is looking to have on the entertainment space.

Excerpts:

Firstly, 2007 was the year when Reliance Entertainment sowed the seeds for what is to come. What were the landmarks for this year?

We are a young player only two years old. Our journey into entertainment kicked off with the Adlabs acquisition. Then we moved into radio in 2006. We started rolling it out by the end of last year. Then we moved into other ventures like Zapak, our gaming portal. From my perspective, we are still in the incubation phase and the larger consideration is that the entertainment and media industry is where telecom was five years back. The media industry will be worth $25 billion in five years time. A lot of value creation will happen in the coming five years similar to what was seen in telecom.

The second big thing will be the emergence of digital entertainment. Platforms are now set. This will be a large driver.

The third thing is that with the economy growing at 10 per cent, the Indian consumer is spending more and more on entertainment. The first indication of this is the multiplex boom. Now even monies spent on entertainment at home like DVD rentals, pay per view are growing.

The entertainment industry is worth $ 11-12 billion out of a trillion dollar economy, which means 1 per cent of the economy. Globally it is 3 per cent. In the US, it is 5 per cent. If we take the telecom parallel, revenue is 3-4 per cent. In India it is 2.5 per cent. India has a convergence deficit in this sense. This is where the real opportunity is going forward.

I see Indian players having strengths in certain verticals. Some are strong in print, others in movies while others focus on radio. Nobody is building a comprehensive brand presence across media. This strategy would allow you to capture the three per cent deficit. This is what we are chasing.

What is the kind of impact that Reliance is hoping to have on the entertainment space across the different verticals?

Let us take the movie industry. It is on a huge cusp of change. If you go back 10 years there were no multiplexes, no DVD formats. Home entertainment will be the next value driver for the movie industry in the coming decade. DVD and home entertainment revenues are the biggest source of revenue for Hollywood. Here it is less than 10 per cent. We are going through the first phase which is theatrical revenues. Home entertainment will be the next phase.

For this you need concepts like Big Flicks which will make organised retailing possible. It will make home entertainment delivery through broadband, DTH, IPTV possible. Pay per view revenues will be created for the Indian movie industry. Content in the long tail form across different platforms will offer more choice. The companies who are preparing for this will gain big time as far as the movie industry is concerned.

The second revolution happening in the Indian movie industry is on the content side. So production values have risen. Talent is getting a huge amount of value which is getting aligned to global values. Content will get value from overseas markets, home entertainment, satellite markets. A $10 million movie has become the norm. I can see a situation where $100 million movie is viable but this will take time to happen. You will see Hollywood and Bollywood collaborating more.

How will Reliance benefit from the synergy between Reliance Communication and Reliance Entertainment?

Reliance Communication is building distribution capabilities on mobile, DTH, IPTV and broadband platform. Reliance Entertainment is building a presence and capabilities on the content side across different verticals - content, broadcasting, themed entertainment and new media.

A large part of your plan involves targeting the youth across different verticals. How are you going about this?

We are a youth focussed company. This has a commercial reason. We believe that youth drives entertainment. Youth is driving the movie consumption business. India has the best youth demographic platform in the world. We are the youngest country in the world. We keep youth in mind in whatever we do whether it is radio with Big FM or making movies or Zapak.

'The government should allow news and current affairs. This is why you do not have talk radio'

You have taken the brand name Big for your businesses like Big FM, Big Flicks. Is the aim here to convey to the consumer an idea about the size and scale of the brand?

Unlike many companies that work with a house of brands strategy we believe that working on an umbrella brand strategy is a good way to build a presence in the entertainment space. The choice of the name is predicated on three reasons. Firstly it is simple to understand. Everyone, regardless of language, understands Big. The second reason is it is simple to communicate. A mass brand needs to be understood by everyone. And third, the brand name must give people an understanding of the scale at which we want to bring entertainment to consumers.

How important is the broadcasting space for Reliance?

It is very important for us. Our first investment has been in radio with Big FM. We won 145 licenses in 2006. We will take part in the next round of bidding when the government goes ahead. We are the largest radio station in the country with 40 stations. With the execution of radio we have shown a clear commitment by executing the fastest. In Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai we have emerged as a top player. We have created a leadership position not just by the number of stations but also in the markets where they operate, including those that are entrenched. We want to consolidate our position next year.

Radio needs to differentiate itself instead of just going after the widest lane with popular Hindi songs. Why isn't this happening?

I do not blame the private players for this. I blame government policy. The government should allow news and current affairs. This is why you do not have talk radio. Multiple stations should be allowed. At the moment only five to six stations are available in the Metros. The government should ensure that 30-40 stations are available. One company can run five channels in a state. The government should introduce policies to facilitate the next growth phase. Niche formats become viable if frequencies are made available at lower rates. Running a Gujarati channel at a license fee of Rs 30 crores (Rs 300 million) does not make sense in Mumbai.

Are you also looking at online radio?

Yes! In the West, radio is a mature industry. Online is a growth industry there. In India FM and online are coming at the same time. The biggest opportunity is in FM. It is hugely underserved India should have 10,000 FM stations. Now there are less than 300 stations. I can run stations in different languages in Mumbai with viability as long as I am allowed to do so. There is also an opportunity to serve the non resident markets.

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