Jaldi 5 with Robert Bakish & Sai Kumar: It’s fair to say that we have a pipeline

19 Mar,2013

Robert Bakish
Sai Kumar

Most of their broadcast products in India attained leadership position in the genre that they operate in. In recent years, some of them have managed to attain that in record time like the Hindi GEC Colors or English comedy channel Comedy Central.


Viacom has had a fantastic innings in India thus far and much of that growth has been possible due to its win-win partnership with entertainment hotshop Network 18 in India.


On the sidelines of FICCI Frames 2013, MxM India caught up with Robert Bakish, President & CEO, Viacom International Media Networks and Sai Kumar, Group CEO, Network 18 to find out what’s making the network surge ahead in India and what’s in store next. Excerpts:


01.  With Viacom being a major player, what is your top-level view of the content business that exists in India?

Robert Bakish: Like most things there are some common elements and there are some unique elements where content is concerned. Generally speaking, it’s about creating content that an Indian consumer is very engaged with. They could be watching their content anywhere, so in that sense the dynamics remain the same. The next end is funded partially through advertising and distribution and through consumer products. Now some of the specifics to India are different. Today everybody is talking about digitization and that’s a seismic shift in the television distribution marketplace in India, which quite frankly has been a long time coming. This has been a market where you have to pay for distribution where you really didn’t get paid. In most markets around the world on that basis they are making a lot of money from distribution. So we look forward to the day that happened in India and thankfully it’s happening now. So that’s one big unique element and that’s certainly to the benefit of leading content companies. So unless you have very strong content and brains you may not be able to do that and that’s what Viacom 18 is in a good position at.


Another thing about this market is that there are many countries within India itself. These are still early days for exploitation by major content companies like us but there are tremendous opportunities ahead.


In a sense you are going to have many countries in the Viacom 18 umbrella itself given Hindi and the various languages under ETV. So you do not have to look elsewhere for refashioning content in other languages…

Robert Bakish: One of the advantages of Viacom 18 being a global company is that we can cast a very wide net for hit content in terms of format etc. But at the same time we can focus on the Indian market whether it is something that came out of our national set of services or may be some regional opportunity… or maybe from Eenadu with which we are still doing some regulatory diligence but there are already some national formats that are travelling to regional it’s only a matter of time before some regional format moves over to become national on Colors and maybe even exported to the US, the UK, Middle east etc. So there’s pretty broad opportunity that exists there.


02.  Like you’ve said, Colors and the regional channels have had some successful content to their credit. Are you looking at taking that content and repurposing that for airing in international markets?

Sai Kumar: That has already started whereby content from Colors is now available across 130 countries. That’s pure syndication. Now if you see, syndication is largely for the Indian market oversees. But if you look at the local market we have already started shipping formats. Uttaran has entered Africa as a format so it is going to be completely produced. Now that’s a green shoot that we have seen in the past two months. We are already having conversation around 3-4 of our soaps… so reverse migration has started. By which I don’t mean only syndication, I mean format migration which could be a very healthy revenue line for us.


03.  In terms of revenues, what are the numbers you are expecting post-digitization?

Sai Kumar: I’ll tell you what our wish-list is: two years down the line we will be happy if Viacom 18 gets about 45 per cent of its revenues from domestic distribution and about 10 per cent of revenues from international distribution…so a range of over 30-60 per cent is what we are looking at over the next two-four years which is something that will change our P&L dramatically. And I dare say that we are on track.


04.  Comedy Central has been a big success in quick time. Are you looking at playing that content across other languages in India?

Robert Bakish: Comedy Central is our third great global brand behind MTV and Nickelodeon. If you look at the last 12-18 months with Comedy Central, we have not only lit up India but also Russia, South East Asia, Africa, Latin America etc. So Comedy Central is a big deal for us. The brand obviously has a great ability to connect with the consumers all over the world, and obviously the services are different all over the world. So we will be launching additional services in India; we are not going to say what they are going to be but there will be more opportunities.


05.  In terms of new offerings from the Viacom stable, can we look forward to more channel offerings…

Robert Bakish: We are not here to announce any new products but it would be fair to say that we have a pipeline. From a Viacom standpoint, India is a very important market with a huge potential ahead of it. We know that part of accessing that potential will involve creating more products… we launched a couple of new national products last year including Comedy Central, Sonic etc and it’s safe to assume we will launch additional services in the future.


Robert Bakish (pic source: blog.viacom.com)


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