Television

MTV charts a Viacom growth path for India

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MUMBAI: Freeing of cash flow and focus. That primarily is what the split of Viacom into two entities at the beginning of the year means in practical terms for the MTV Networks India team headed by Amit Jain.

What Jain has before him is a five-year growth plan that sees India contributing "significantly" to the global revenues of Viacom Inc. That Viacom president and CEO Tom Freston is an "Indophile" seems to be a huge plus as far as Jain is concerned, particularly because India, South America and Europe (in that order) are seen as the key growth markets for the media conglomerate over the next five years.Questioned as to how and where he saw revenues coming considering that music channels have been steadily losing share of voice and mind in the broadcast space, Jain had this to offer.

According to Jain, broadcast would remain the key revenue source for his network in India but its share would go down to two thirds in the course of the next five years. The remaining one third revenues will come from new media platforms like mobile and broadband and also from the movies business (Paramount's acquisition of Dreamworks will mean significant ramp ups on the animation side as well, particularly as India is seen as a strong outsource hub).
MTV BRAND TO BE LEVERAGED

The three channels that MTV has launched in India will pretty much set the template as far as the network's broadcast script unfolds.

First there is Brand MTV, which will be at the centre of a slew of undertakings ranging from market activation, creative solutions, youth understanding, client branding. The central premise of all this is that "Viacom brand solutions can be devised and tailored to unique brand needs".

NICK TO GET MAJOR PUSH

From a long term channel growth perspective, it is Nick that will provide the momentum, not MTV. And while Jain admits that the kids channel in his network, despite early mover advantage, has singularly failed to make an impact, he believes that is all about to change. And sooner rather than later.

The first task, according to Jain, is to get back to the basics and get the programming, scheduling, packaging and distribution on track. Once these issues have been sorted out and "cleaned up", then budgets for driving the channel forward will not be an issue, he asserts.

The fact of the matter though is that a home grown channel like UTV's Hungama and an international powerhouse like Disney, despite having entered the Indian market years after Nick first made its debut, have all gone ahead. So its going to require a committed and sustained effort for Nick to be anywhere in the reckoning. Whether Viacom will seriously show Nick the money is the moot point.

VH1 WILL ULTIMATELY BE A DTH STORY

It's been 18 months since international lifestyle and music channel Vh1, which targets an older TG, launched in India and the management is more than satisfied with its performance, asserts Jain. Vh1 is on target both as regards advertising and distribution revenues, he points out. "By the end of the year (Viacom has a January to December fiscal) Vh1 will hit break even," says Jain.

But Jain does admit that Vh1 and other niche offerings from the MTV Networks stable like Comedy Central, CMT: Country Music Television, Spike TV and the like can only offer any real returns if they are on addressable platforms. For these channels therefore, it will be the rollout of DTH in the country that will likely determine their arrival.

MOVIES AND NEW MEDIA

Jain's reference to the movies ties in with what Freston had to say while speaking at the Ficci Frames media convention in Mumbai earlier this year. Which was that Viacom was looking to co-produce films in India instead of merely exporting its films in to the country through its partner United International Pictures (UIP).

The India movies picture remains a hazy one at present though, considering that about the only products of note have been the spoofs dished out by MTV's movie making unit (and aptly titled) Fully Faltoo Films. Its most recent offering Ghoom, which was a spoof on last year's action hit Dhoom from the Yash Raj Films banner, only serves to emphasise the quirky nature of MTV India's movie offerings.

As for mobile and broadband, it will depend again on bandwidth capacities that telecom players in particular will be able to roll out.

While MTV Asia Pacific has been able to enter into a collaboration with Korean multimedia developer Wizmax to launch a customizable on-demand music and entertainment broadband and mobile community platform in Korea called MTV BoomBox, something similar in India looks to be a while away.

Having said that, it is MTV BoomBox that will serve as a model for customisable MTV platforms in the broadband and wireless content services arena in India as well.

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