Murdoch’s empire makes 2 buys in India

10 Mar,2015

 

 

By A Correspondent

 

There were film magazines and film magazines and film magazines. And then there was Screen. A brand born just four years after the country’s independence earned its rep of being a serious film trade publication.

 

While Filmfare (and later Star & Style, Cine Blitz and Stardust) were built in the fanzine model, Screen was meant for people in the business of cinema or for serious consumers of film information.

 

There were some trade publications like ‘Trade Guide’ or ‘Film Information’ or ‘Box Office’, but Screen was bigger. Editors like BK Karanjia and later years Udaya Tara Nayar and Bhawana Somaaya.

 

But over the years, a decision to go in for softer content plus the concentration on film coverage in the dailies ensured that the popularity of Screen eroded, even as the respect for the weekly continued.

 

Realising the Indian Express group launched the Screen awards and also went in for a digital edition. However, competition on the digital medium was stiff, as newer brands – with no ‘Established in 1951’ pedigree – gaining popularity amongst netizens.

 

Albeit a brief period when Screen Awards were aired on Colors, the Express group and Star India have had a long and healthy relationship. In early 2014, Screen Awards moved to Life OK and while it was touted as a business decision, industry insiders had then said the reason why this was done was a bigger pact between Express and Star. But that didn’t happen immediately even as there were rumours that the Indian Express was looking at selling Screen at a valuation in the region of Rs 30 crore.

 

On Monday, March 9, evening, Star India announced the acquisition to the media in general with exclusives to some favoured publications. As part of the transaction, Star will get exclusive ownership of the “Screen” brand franchise including all archival material and transfer of key employees. “The Screen acquisition will yield huge benefits for Star India and for hotstar our digital platform,” said Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India. “We couldn’t be more excited.”

 

“Screen is a strong and reputable franchise and gives us access to the entertainment editorial suite and the tinsel world, where news that shapes trends is made by film stars, directors and producers,” Mr Shankar said in the communique, adding “The acquisition of Screen will allow us to strengthen and expand the content brand online while taking the awards platform to the next level. There are strong synergies and the combination of the quality content and awards franchise with Star’s presence across television and digital platforms is strategic and scalable.”

 

“We are delighted to enter into a transaction with Star India. Screen is one of the most reputed film and entertainment properties in the country. We have built this business with lot of passion and are confident that Star will nurture it and take it to greater heights” said Viveck Goenka, Chairman and Managing Director the Indian Express Group.

 

Speaking on the transaction George Varghese, CEO Indian Express said “Screen is one of our leading properties on the entertainment side of the business. Our decision was driven by our belief in Star’s focus to grow this business, which we believe would translate into adding value for all stakeholders including employees.”

 

The acquisition will integrate the Screen awards property with Star, besides adding a consumer brand to the network’s digital business. The acquisition makes Star poised to become steward of the great Screen franchise that the Indian Express Group has built over the past many years. Star is uniquely positioned to preserve and build the market presence of Screen through its shared values and complementary resources. This acquisition will enable Star to expand the awards franchise and build the content brand to the next level by taking it online.

 

Industry analysts say the Rs 30 crore valuation may seem high for the weekly print publication or just the brand, but add the awards to the bouquet and it’s a steal given the yearly fee that Star would be required to pay the Express group for the telecast of the awards. Another analyst who didn’t want to be quoted said that while Star could have set up its own awards, by buying the Screen brand name, it ensures that no other television network can take advantage of the Screen equity.

 

Amongst film awards, while the Filmfare Awards are considered to be the #1 and most respected and sought after awards, Screen comes second followed by Zee Cine and IIFA and a slew of others. Stardust, which was until last year, the lowest in the ladder appears to have climbed the pecking order given that it has received a shot in the arm post the association with Colors.

 

Star India is a fully owned subsidiary of 21st Century Fox which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. After the split in businesses recently, the news operations come under News Corp, which in turn has acquired VCCircle, a smartly packaged digital news site dealing in private equity, venture capital and start-ups. VC Circle also runs successful conferences and training programmes. On Monday, News Corp announced the signing of a definitive agreement to acquire the VCCircle Network, which includes VCCircle.com, Techcircle.in, VCCEdge, VCCircle Training, in addition to a premium-content driven conference business. The terms of the acquisition, which is expected to close in this month, were not disclosed.

 

“This important investment is a sign of our faith in India’s future and our enthusiasm for working with and building up emerging talents in the country,” said News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson. “India is an increasingly meaningful part of our portfolio, which is itself increasingly digital and global.”

 

“For the past decade, we have built a strong franchise with proprietary data, information, content, and networking capabilities around India’s digital business world,” said P V Sahad, Founder and CEO of VCCircle Network. “Being a part of News Corp will now allow us to accelerate our already aggressive growth plans.”

 

VCCircle Network is owned by Mosaic Media Ventures Pvt Ltd and has about 100 employees across India, with its headquarters in Noida. Mr Sahad, and the management group, will become part of News Corp’s India team. Mr Sahad will report to News Corp Senior Vice President, Strategy, Raju Narisetti (formerly editor of ‘Mint’).

 

The VCCircle acquisition builds on News Corp’s recent digital investments in India. In November, News Corp acquired a 25% stake in PropTiger.com, India’s leading online residential real estate platform. In December, News Corp acquired BigDecisions.com, which aims to help Indian consumers make smarter financial decisions through interactive, decision-making tools powered by sophisticated algorithms and data. News Corp also has a presence across India through its Dow Jones, Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins Publishers businesses.

 

The question which everyone seems to be asking is what next will the Murdoch empire target for acquisition? Could it be more non-news publications with a strong digital play? Guess only time will tell. We’ll bring you a ringside view and some unbiased analyses.

 

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