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'Strategic investor will take stake in the broadcasting entity' : Shantanu Aditya - UTV Global Broadcasting executive director and V&S Boardcasting CEO

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UTV is lining up nine channels and is planning to bet Rs 6 billion in it. The company is in talks with strategic investors to support its broadcasting venture which will be under the umbrella of UTV Global Broadcasting.

The aim is to try and carve out a place in the youth and niche segments. The three TV verticals UTV wants to operate on are Genx Entertainment which will roll out the four youth-centric Bindass channels, UTV News for the business news channel, and V&S Broadcasting for movie and Hindi speciality channels.

The company expects the Hindi movie channel to drive this bouquet of pay channels along with Bindass.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Sibabrata Das and Renelle Snelleksz, UTV Global Broadcasting executive director and V&S Broadcasting CEO Shantonu Aditya chalks out the road ahead for UTV's plans in the broadcast space.

Excerpts:

How is UTV arranging funds for the slew of nine channels it plans to launch?
The total investment requirement for these nine channels is Rs 6 billion. While UTV will be investing Rs 1.5 billion as part of its contribution, the balance will be raised by a combination of equity at a premium and any other suitable instrument.

Is UTV in talks to rope in strategic or financial investors?
We are in advanced talks to get a strategic investor who will hold minority stake and come in at a premium.

Will the strategic investor take stake in UTV Software Communications, which is the listed entity, or in the broadcasting arm?
It will be in the broadcasting entity and not in UTV Software Communications. The broadcasting initiatives are under UTV Global Broadcasting. It has three wholly owned subsidiary companies - Genx Entertainment, V&S Broadcasting and UTV News Ltd. I wouldn't be in a position to comment on exactly where the investor is going to take a stake.

Does UTV Software Communications have a stake in UTV Global Broadcasting?
UTV Global Broadcasting is privately held. But this equity ownership arrangement could change after the investor is roped in.

UTV had earlier announced that Genx, which would launch the Bindass channels, would be a joint venture with Astro as an equal partner. So is it that the three subsidiaries would be having different partners and still you would have an investor in the parent company?
It is premature to discuss this at this stage.

Is there a possibility of Astro picking up stake in UTV Global Broadcasting?
As I said earlier, we can't comment on this at all.

Will UTV News Ltd. have a separate structure as news channels uplinking from India come under a 26 per cent cap on foreign investment?
We will abide by the current guidelines on investment in news channels.

Speculation is that a group of Indian investors are going to invest in the news channel?
We are speaking to a number of interested investors. It will be premature to mention any specific names at this stage.

Will you be launching Bindass it in the first week of September?
We will be progressively rolling out all the nine channels by mid-2008. Bindass, the youth Hindi general entertainment channel, will be up soon. This will be followed by Bindass Movies.

Will they be pay channels?
All our channels will be pay from the first day of launch. The first two channels are priced together at Rs 20 in non-Cas (conditional access system) and Rs 10 in Cas markets.

'If you have a good acquisition and syndication strategy, you can build a successful Hindi movie channel'

What are the other two channels to be launched by Genx under the Bindass brand?
They will be in the regional space. Most probably they will be Tamil and Telugu language channels. But we are currently conducting research to support this.

What are the four channels being launched by V&S Broadcasting?
We will be launching a Hindi movie channel which will drive our distribution bouquet along with Bindass. We will have a world movie channel and there will be two Hindi speciality channels. We are also launching an English business news channel as we feel there is a considerable gap between viewer expectations and what they get right now.

What are the scheduled dates for these channel launches?
We are launching the World movie channel in November. The two Hindi speciality channels should be up in January and February. The business channel is targetted for a January launch and we should be ready with the Hindi movie channel in February.

UTV had tied up with Palador Pictures for the world cinema venture with Olive as the brand. But with the split and Palador getting back all the titles, isn't it a setback for UTV?
We have already acquired 150 titles and are looking at 300 at the time of launch. We will be screening the best of contemporary cinema and see a big opportunity in this. There are award winning titles and there are also good films from Bosnia, Iran and Argentina.

Will high-priced DVDs be an important source of revenue and support system for this kind of cinema which will in any case attract niche audiences?
We will have DVDs and theatrical release. We haven't decided whether we should go in for a high pricing or a volume strategy. But the channel has to drive by itself.

How will you make a mark in the Hindi movie channel space when the existing players are entrenched, many more are on eve of launch, and acquisition costs are high?
We are looking to launch with a bank of 300 titles, of which 50 films have already been acquired. The dynamics of the business is also changing. I see a syndication model coming into place and a lot of sharing of titles across channels. You may not see clean straight exclusive deals over a longer period as in the past. There will be a variety in the way you purchase movie rights.

If you have a good acquisition and syndication strategy, you can build a successful model. Movie channels are platform agnostic and audiences are loyal to titles.

While several broadcasters are eyeing the GEC space, why is it that UTV decided to foray into the niche genres of special interest channels?
We have consciously decided to stay away from launching a general entertainment channel primarily because there has been a drop in viewership of 30 per cent in the Hindi GEC space in the age bracket of 15 – 35 years. The market needs segment-dedicated channels - and that is the domain we are entering into.

Distribution of the new channels is a critical area. Have you set aside huge carriage costs?
Carriage charges are a challenge. However, we have signed contracts with almost all the multi-system operators (MSOs) for our first set of channels.

Have you stitched deals also with the direct-to-home (DTH) operators?
I can't comment at this stage.

Given the current media boom that the industry is witnessing, how are going to attract and retain talent?
We have already recruited around 170 people for our broadcasting business. We are drawing in talent through a combination of compensation and stock options. Retention is a big part of our strategy.

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