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Need to keep communication channels open in ent sector stressed at ASEAN Summit

MUMBAI: One of the sessions at the second India-ASEAN business summit on Saturday dealt with the entertainment industry. The speakers included Celestial Pictures' CEO William Pfeiffer, CineColour Labs' MD Les McKenzie and the Maharashtra government principal culture secretary Sanjay Narayan.

The aim of the session was to talk about the common entertainment sectors where India and the ten ASEAN nations were all participants in. ASEAN is looking to learn from India as Asia as a whole has not been able to develop a workable model from the financial, content sharing positions that it could offer the world.

Pfeiffer said that Celestial Pictures was formalising its strategy for investing in India. On a business expansion spree, Celestial Pictures recently bought an animation studio in the Phillipines. The major initiative now after securing a strong strategy in Greater China is to buy very important assets in Indonesia and India. One area being looked at is the megaplex phenomenon in India.

Celestial Pictures recently merged with Malaysia's DTH platform Astro, which offers 45 channels. There is a Tamil Indian channel on it as well as Prima, which plays Hindi movies. In fact Astro had looked at the DTH platform in India a few years ago. Doordarshan wanted to launch the DTH platform, which did not happen. Now that DTH is coming in, Celestial Pictures is looking to see in what way it could contribute its experience in this area. Partnerships are being looked at, he said.

Ficci entertainment committee chairman Yash Chopra asked ASEAN to open its doors in the fields of marketing and distribution. Pfeifer's reply was that as far as Indian films were concerned, while the format is popular in some countries like Indonesia, the international audience does not like sitting for three hours. They are used to two hours or less. "Therefore we could help you tailor your content to suit international requirements. People in other countries may wonder what the connection is between Switzerland and Mumbai. It can be jarring. However Indonesia and Malaysia are already using Indian writers. They write the basic script, which is then converted into the local language. So there is a welcome transfer of knowledge which is already going on."

Pfeiffer also said that India could learn from Hollywood. "Why is Hollywood so dominant? I do not think it has anything to do with the looks or lifestyle of Americans. It is because of production values. The dollar goes further in India than it those in most other places. Therefore India can compete on a world scale over time in this area. Working with companies like ours will ensure that things move forward."

He also reminisced about working for Sony Pictures when they launched SET in India eight or nine years ago. At that time, people were skeptical because Sony did not have any people here and they were not clear initially about what they were doing in India. It was because of the dynamic people in the market that Sony was able to catch on Pfeiffer said.

Narayan said, "There is a huge opportunity for India and the ASEAN countries because despite being noticed the entertainment industry itself is still largely unorganised. It is just beginning to be organised. This offers opportunities for corporatisation to all you investors. 100 percent FDI is allowed in the film industry on the automatic route. India is one of the few countries in the world, which has more holidays than working days, and so there is plenty of opportunity for entertainment content providers. Therefore the film and entertainment industries have started working overtime.

"In the late 1970s, we had just one television channel. Today there are over 300 and the number is still growing. The entertainment industry has been growing at the rate of 16 per cent over the past four years. The total revenues for the entertainment sector are expected to be in the vicinity of $6.7 billion by 2005."

He went on to offer Film City as an area in which ASEAN could actively participate in. "Mumbai lacks open land for growth. However Film city has about 500 acres of land to offer. 300 of them are open for development. We are hoping to get an extra 500 acres, which would mean 1000 acres of land for developing facilities for television and films. This land is located 20 minutes from the airport. There are plans for development of a teleport, construction of studios for visual effects as well as animation.

In fact, the effort is to develop the area for all pre, production and post- production activities. It will also have a theme park and a world-class film training institute which we hope will be ready by next year. It will have affiliations with institutes in Europe, Australia and other countries. Private banks in India have started looking at the sector as an investment opportunity. In Hyderabad at a private sector studio, seven Hollywood movies were made from the script stage to the final print stage. The private sector is also setting up facilities for digital cinema broadcasts. This means that with one projection you can broadcast the movie in 300-400 small cinema halls in towns and villages."

Narayan added that there is also an opportunity for India and ASEAN nations in the import and export of films. The export of Indian films, which right now is 18 per cent of total revenue, is expected to grow to about 45 per cent in the next few years. There are also opportunities in entertainment, event management and tourism entertainment activities in the country for ASEAN. In Asia, the entertainment sector is going to be worth $ 279 billion dollars in 2006.

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