Rise, Rise (& now Exit) of Ronnie Screwvala

25 Oct,2013

Ronnie Screwvala with Andy Bird. Picture: Fotocorp


By A Correspondent


The exit wasn’t unexpected, the timing may not have necessarily been known. There were many who said while The Walt Disney Company may have acquired UTV, it was the latter which was calling the shots. Yes, indeed. Disney-UTV was a Ronnie Screwvala company, and even though Andy Bird, Chairman of Walt Disney International, was around to oversee that all was well with the India operations, clearly it was Mr Screwvala who steered the business.


With reason. While UTV’s promoters were happy to cash out, Disney needed a UTV for its India presence. It was the film business that was a huge pull for Disney. Meanwhile, Siddharth Roy Kapur, currently Managing Director of Disney UTV’s studio business, has been appointed successor. He will take charge on January 1, 2014.


Winner all the way

Rohinton Screwvala started out big even in the early 1980s. He offered top quality international programming and movies via cable, when people were content watching all of it via video cassette recorders. Ronnie, as the boy in his 20s was known, built a cable TV network called Network and wowed his customers in the Cuffe Parade district of South Mumbai.


Ronnie was popular on Bombay Doordarshan’s youth-centric show called ‘Young World’ as also in the city’s theatre circuit. He soon ventured into producing ad and corporate films and some content for Doordarshan. His crew comprised now-wife Zarina Mehta, Deven Khote, Shernaz Patel, Bugs Bhargava and a few others. Even then, programmes like ‘The Mathemagic Show’ from the Screwvala stable were considered slick and top-grade.


On June 22, 1990, United Software Communications Private Limited was incorporated as a private limited company. The private was dropped in 1995, and the United turned into UTV in 1998.


In 1992, when Subhash Chandra started Zee TV, he commissioned UTV to produce some 250 hours of programming. In the meantime, the company ventured into inflight entertainment for airlines and even started selling airtime for programmes made by non-UTV producers. In 1995, UTV launched India’s first daily soap titled `Shanti’. The soap starred a certain Mandira Bedi who now stars in the Indian version of ’24’.


In May 1995, UTV acquired 54.60% stake in Laezer Production Private Limited (incorporated in 1982) in order to enter into the area of post-production. Laezer Production was rechristened United Studios (USL) the same year. In 1996, Disney contracted USL to dub its library into various Indian languages. Two years later, the firm acquired the animation production company of the renowned animation artist Ram Mohan. Somewhere around then, the company also got into movie distribution business.


UTV’s foray in broadcasting started with Vijay TV in November 1998 and in 2000, Ronnie set up an internet content creation and aggregation business under the aegis of UTVNet.


From then on, there was a fair bit of restructuring and financial consolidation that happened. In 2001, 51 percent of Vijay TV was sold to Star India and in 2002-03 and later in 2004, UTV’s 43.89 percent equity in the Tamil channel was also sold. In the meantime, the studio business of Western Outdoor Media Technologies Limited (WOMTL) was acquired.


In 2005, UTV went in for an IPO which was oversubscribed by 26.35 times. Having forayed in news-based programming early and even anchored some shows, Ronnie set up business channel UTVi which was later called Bloomberg UTV given a tie-up with the overseas financial information network. The business channel saw a stake sale to Reliance Capital.


Given the success it found with many movies , there were several international studios and entertainment majors eying a stake in UTV (including Rupert Murdoch who made an investment), but it was The Walt Disney Company which acquired it eventually. As of February 2012, UTV turned into a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney with Ronnie at the helm.


Succession planning

For a few weeks now, there has been a buzz that Ronnie was stepping down. On Thursday, October 24, the announcement finally came in as the Walt Disney Company (TWDC) announced that Ronnie Screwvala will step down on June 30, 2014 and Siddharth Roy Kapur, currently Managing Director of Disney UTV’s studio business, will take over the company’s India operations. Mr Kapur will become Managing Director of TWDC India effective January 1, 2014, and Ronnie will assist in the transition until June 30 next year. Later in the evening, he hosted a dinner for the staff. An early farewell dinner of sorts.


“It’s been a fantastic seven-year working relationship with Disney,” said Mr Screwvala, “first as a co-shareholder, then when Disney held a majority stake in UTV, and since February 2012 as Managing Director of Disney UTV India. It has been a great experience to be part of the world’s No 1 entertainment company and to have worked with such a talented team to solidify our footprint in India as a diversified and successful business across television, broadcasting, movies, consumer products, games and digital.”  Andy Bird, Chairman of Walt Disney International added, “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ronnie for the past seven years and appreciate his entrepreneurial drive and vision for Disney in India. He has successfully managed integration efforts and set the foundations of long term growth for our business. In 2012 when we acquired UTV, Ronnie had a clear mandate to merge two organizations, build a single team and lay the strategic direction for a diversified media and entertainment company that would be part of the growing India growth story. When he passes on the baton in June 2014, almost two-and-half years since the acquisition, he will leave the company in a great place strategically and with a strong leadership team.  I want to thank Ronnie for helping to shape Disney’s journey in India and for his contribution to our success. We are delighted that he will continue to be associated with Disney in the future,” added Mr. Bird.


Mr Bird also announced that Mr Roy Kapur will become Managing Director of TWDC India effective January 1, 2014. “Sid has been an integral part of the Disney UTV family and brings to the role a diverse set of business and creative skills and a strong pulse on the Indian audience and consumers.”


“Sid’s innate understanding of the Indian viewer, his ability to leverage those insights in business, coupled with his experience and expertise in fast-moving consumer goods businesses, television and in building India’s leading movie studio made him the natural choice for the role. I look forward to working with Sid to take Disney UTV to its next level of growth in the years to come,” added Mr Bird.


“Disney is one of the most admired media brands in the world and I see this as a great opportunity to work together with the incredible team we have at Disney UTV in India, to take our content and our brands to the next level of growth in one of the most dynamic media markets in the world,” said Mr Roy Kapur. “It’s been close to 15 years for me in media and entertainment, more than half of those at Disney UTV, and it’s wonderful to be part of a fantastic team and the diversified businesses that now make up the combined company.”


What next for Ronnie?

As per a communiqué issue, after June 2014, Ronnie will pursue his entrepreneurial goals in some of the impact sectors in India and devote more time with his foundation, Swades. While at the time of writing one is unsure of what the contract says on whether he can venture into any of the sectors that Disney-UTV is into for a while, but clearly all those who have tracked his career know that you can’t keep the man away from the action for too long.


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