Television

Vistas Media Capital aims to disrupt the content financing structure

VMC is looking to invest in some newer platforms in the M&E business.

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MUMBAI: Singapore-based media investment entity Vistas Media Capital (VMC) made news in 2020 when it invested $5 million in Planet Marathi to acquire strategic equity in the OTT platform. The investment arm further roped in former Viacom18 COO Raj Nayak as an advisor to get a deeper insight into the country’s media and entertainment space.

Founded and run by NRIs, VMC is investing into multiple media businesses, companies and assets in the capital markets including stocks, bonds and options and private equity space.

Its subsidy Golden Ratio Films is focused on content creation, marketing and distribution across feature films, web series and short films in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and English across India and Hollywood across different budgets in India and Hollywood. Films and shows such as AB aani CD, The Extraordinary Journey of Fakir, Nakkash, Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai, CyberSquad, Kriti, Taandav, Bhonsle, and JL50 have been produced by VMC.

The firm has another vertical where it organises film festivals. It has been holding a south Asian International Film Festival in Singapore for the last three years that bridges the gap between creativity and finance. Filmmakers from India and South Asia present their films and projects requiring funds to a panel including several HNIs who come and explore alternative investment space.

Indiantelevision.com’s Shikha Singh got into a candid discussion with Vistas Media Capital group CEO Abhayanand Singh to know more about how the fund is looking at the Indian market and its increasing appetite for content.

Edited excerpts:

On investment in Planet Marathi.

There were two reasons to invest in Planet Marathi – firstly we are very bullish on the regional space. There are gaps on the OTT platform side in the regional space and hence, we started looking at languages that are doing well in India, other than Hindi. So, we thought of starting with Marathi. VMC is also looking at other languages.

If you are a content producer and a filmmaker, it is always better to have a distribution platform. Globally, everybody has a distribution platform whether it is Disney, Viacom or HBO. It is for the same reason we have ventured into Planet Marathi. We do have a focus on OTT platforms as it completes the value chain.

On current market trends in the regional and national OTT space.

In the OTT space, platforms are primarily looking at expanding original content. Secondly, strong content and storytelling is getting a lot of positive response as compared to bigger actor or star driven content. We have seen talented actors who are not a part of the mainstream cinema doing well in OTT space. Also, I don’t think there is a difference between the viewing habits of regional and national audiences. The kind of content that does well digitally is different from the one that does well on TV and theatres. I think it has more to do with the quality and genre of the content than to do with the language.

On backing unconventional movies or indie films.

Mainstream cinema continues to dominate and it will not change significantly. As a country we love masala movies because it is probably the only source of entertainment at that price. However, India has a sizeable number of niche audiences unlike other countries. So, while there is a category of moviegoers who watch mainstream content, there is also a good appetite for non-conventional content particularly on OTT platforms. Both audiences will continue to co-exist which wasn’t the case at least when OTT platforms picked up. Going forward, I think there will be a clear segmentation of mainstream content between the two different platforms.

So, when you look at VMC’s portfolio, most of the movies that we produce or co-produce are slightly unconventional content. However, we are not biased and are looking at doing all sorts of content. When we did Bhonsle, we knew exactly what kind of content it was and would only appeal to certain audiences in India and globally. Our expectations were set beforehand, but if we do a mainstream film our expectations will be different.

On pandemic hitting the content creation process.

I think the nature of content that will go on floor will change. A big budget film that requires much interaction with the outside world will face difficulty in going on the floor in comparison to a small budget film that can be shot in a contained environment. We are currently doing two films – Chandramukhi (in Marathi) and Writer (in Tamil). We cannot announce the names of other projects. We decided to do these two films because they can be done in a safe environment. Then there are some big budget movies in the pipeline but I don’t think because of Covid2019 we want to risk anyone’s life by going on the floor. We are not ready to shoot these kinds of films.

On the film financing process.

In terms of content production, we have India partner Piyush Singh who is based out of Mumbai and heads a team of 25 people. There are cases wherein they develop projects defined by great stories, buy the rights of the books and sometimes people directly reach out to us. We shortlist the ones that creatively make sense to us. They are further scanned for financial feasibility to ascertain an appropriate budget and RoI. After the financial vetting process, the right cast and crew are identified along with an appropriate date for going on the floor. We target five to seven movies a year and then we de-risk ourselves by creating content across genres and budgets.

Apart from India we have a small presence in Dubai and joint venture in Canada also for some of our Hollywood films.

On the process of greenlighting a project.

The story has to appeal to us, that is where instinct comes in place but we do validate it with whatever report is there. For example, we do get box-office data or digital satellite rights and then we compare it. Final go ahead is obviously instinct because at the end of the day no matter how much research you do, future performances are not guaranteed by past performances. Every film is different and it has its own destiny.

On taking Indian films to international markets.

We do have some experience in the international distribution side. People want to see new stories and an exposure to the new world. South Asia and India present that opportunity to the world. We have already seen Indian films doing well in China and believe that there are other such markets too. So, we are consistently looking at wider distribution for our films. 

On $100 million SPAC IPO on Nasdaq.

The $100 million has been raised for special purposes to conduct business operations globally in the M&E space. There are two ways in which it can evolve into a strategy that is focused on India - we could look at a company focused on India or it could be a company that we end up doing a business formulation that we bring to India thereafter. It’s not a very simple process. We are looking at companies outside India. We are aggressively looking at companies to acquire and merge.

On Indian and foreign markets in terms of buying rights.

The basic difference is - financing and the structuring of the film. In the western market, a $100 film would have $40 from an equity investment and the rest from pre sales, tax rebates or debt on the film. If I have a presale from a platform then I can go to the bank and get money against that. On the other hand, in the Indian market, even if I have sold it to Amazon or Netflix, I would still need money to complete the film because streaming platforms will only pay once I handover the content to them. It is not the efficient way to fund and finance a film because you put 100 per cent as equity money.

We are working towards disrupting the financing structure. Other difference is in terms of monetisation. Internationally, films have 40 rights to sell - dubbing, music, airlines, TVoD, SVoD, while in India most filmmakers sell only four to five rights. When we released Fakir it was sold to 60 territories. I think Indian filmmakers need to explore more ways to monetise their content and have a more holistic approach towards it.

On plans for 2021.

Our 2020 plans were impacted by Covid2019 and we hope to resume our halted projects in 2021. We want to invest more in India on creating content. In that way we will end up doing more projects than we usually do. We are also committed to Planet Marathi and we could invest in some newer platforms in the M&E space. In fact we could bring some international platforms to India.

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