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'Cable companies should start thinking like DTH operators' : Seemanto Roy - Sahara One Media and Entertainment CEO

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After taking charge, Subroto Roy's younger son Seemanto Roy has drawn up an aggressive plan to grow Sahara's media and entertainment business. His target: launch of five channels over 6-8 months, revival of the motion pictures business and setting up of a film institute.

In this his first interview to the media after becoming Sahara One Media & Entertainment CEO, Roy spells out his plans to Indiantelevision.com's Sibabrata Das.

Excerpts:

Media companies have seen opportunities and been on aggressive mode in the recent past. Why haven't we seen that sort of game being played out by Sahara?

We have just launched Firangi, a world TV channel dubbed in Hindi. We are also going to launch five more channels over the next 6-8 months. This will include a Bengali language channel, details of which I can't specify now.

Won't this be in the entertainment space as the channel will be under the Sahara One Media & Entertainment umbrella?

In that sense, yes. It will be in the non-news space. But we can't spell out the positioning of the channel at this stage. We are finalising the details.

There were plans of launching a music channel and Sahara had also initiated talks to buy out Music India. What is the status?

Launching a music channel is on our agenda. Though people say it is a cluttered and thin-revenue market, we believe the space is growing. There is an opportunity, if the positioning is done well. We are figuring out the positioning of the channel.

Sahara had announced in late 2004 an investment plan of Rs 15 billion for its media and entertainment business and Percept was put in an operational role. Are you happy with the speed of the progress since then?

We relaunched our flagship Hindi general entertainment channel and ramped up our movie production business. We also launched a Hindi movie channel called Filmy. Our focus now is to widen our channel offerings.

How much money Sahara is going to pump in for this?

We can't give you the financial details. We'll announce them early next fiscal.

'In the news channel business, alliances are taking place. But in any case, we are not interested in diluting majority'

Is there a move to transfer the broadcast operations of the entertainment channels into Sahara One Media & Entertainment?

The process is on. We want the entertainment business to be in a single entity.

Obviously this will enhance the turnover of Sahara One Media & Entertainment. Now the listed entity does not capture the advertising revenues which is with the broadcasting entity. But is it that the past liabilities of Sahara India TV Network, the broadcasting arm, will not be transferred to Sahara One?

No, we are not transferring the liabilities.

How do you separate the broadcasting arm of the news channel business?

The news channel operations, because of the regulations on holdings and other issues, will need to be separate.

Sahara One was planning to raise up to $50 million through foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCBs). Are you going ahead with it?

We have no plans of raising money at this stage.

Sahara One had diluted 14.98 per cent to Sivasankaran's Aircel Televentures (later renamed Siva Ventures) for Rs 1.2 billion. BCCL (Times Group holding company Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd) also acquired close to 6 per cent stake in the company. Are there plans to further dilute equity?

No.

Sahara had mandated Ernst & Young (E&Y) for offering suggestions to restructure the news channel business. What were the recommendations?

They were appointed to look into the growth prospects. We appoint consulting firms to get their perspectives.

Are you looking at diluting equity in the news business?

There is nothing.

Are you in talks with investors?

It is difficult to comment on this. In today's market, alliances are taking place. But in any case, we are not interested in diluting majority.

Why did you drop the Sahara name from Samay, your national news network?

We gave the channel a new look. Besides, we are developing the sub-brands. Having lots of brands with the Sahara tag can be confusing. We did it in Filmy as well. We are maintaining Sahara as a network brand.

Isn't the Hindi news space getting too cluttered and hurting channels like yours?

There is a lot of sampling happening at the moment. Our region-centric channels continue to perform well.

One area where Sahara had a big opportunity but let it slip was the motion pictures business which had several hits at one point of time. What went wrong?

The movie business doesn't always give you hits.

But the movie production business stayed dormant for a long time as there was an exodus in the team?

There was a gap in between. Film production is futuristic - actors are not always available, nor even directors. But it is not that we lost momentum. We went back to get our plans in place. We will be getting back into it big time in the next fiscal. We will be producing 10 movies in 2008-09, out of which 4-5 will be big budgets and the remaining in the medium range.

Don't you think Percept hijacked the motion pictures platform?

Not really, we are still working with them. We are acquiring movies - so we could be buying from them as well.

Earlier you did a long-term deal with K Sera Sera where you even took an equity in the company. Are you looking at such deals again?

We will follow all kinds of business models - producing films ourselves, acquiring, locking directors, co-producing (including international). We will have the studio model. We have a strong team and will also be in film distribution. Besides our own movies, we will also be acquiring for distribution. We are, however, not looking at overseas distribution now. We feel the home turf is an important market.

What about home video?

We are not getting into it. Nor will we be launching our music label.

Sahara has not been going slow on movie acquisitions for satellite TV rights. Why is it so when the other movie channels have been more aggressive?

Acquisition prices have gone up, but we have brought some big titles like Guru. We have also been buying syndicated content.

Is it that you believe in syndication of titles rather than acquisition?

We do both. Though we have introduced programming as well, we realise that movie channels will have to revolve around films.

Is Filmy in course for its revenue target of Rs 500 million in the year?

I don't want to comment on the financials. But we are doing well and reaching our targets.

What are the plans of beefing up content on Sahara One which seems to be hovering around 60-70 GRPs?

The market is evolving and we have plans for the channel. In future, the fight in the Hindi GEC (general entertainment channel) space will be for slots. We are targeting slots.

Do you have a strategy for regional channels in the entertainment space?

We may launch two channels in the regional space. We want to test the regional market. But we don't plan to grow in every direction.

What made you launch Firangi and how do you see its growth potential?

We are looking at the birth of a new genre. In the general offering, it is like a GEC. And it also can be looked at like Star World. Firangi is somewhere in the middle. We can attract audiences from both sides. The content is picked up from across the world, is fresh, contemporary and bold. And its strength is that the stories end in 6-8 months.

Have you shelved plans to start a film institute?

We will be in it. We are talking to strategic partners. For location, we are weighing various options including Mumbai.

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