Wednesday 22-July-2015, 09:46
Viacom18, the 50:50 joint venture between TV18 and US media giant Viacom Inc, is planning to further expand its broadcast network by launching new channels. The company has obtained a licence from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) for the launch of a new channel, tentatively named ‘Bandhan’. The idea is to fill crucial gaps in the Hindi entertainment broadcasting space. Unlike Star India, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) and Multi Screen Media (MSM), Viacom18 does not have a Hindi movie channel. The other plan could be to launch a second Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) in pay TV mode. “Viacom18 has got a licence from the MIB. No final plans have been firmed up to launch in which genre. It is not even decided whether Bandhan will be the final name of the channel,” a source said. When contacted, a Viacom18 spokesperson declined to divulge any details. With the launch of English entertainment channel Colors Infinity on 31 July, Viacom18 now has most of the pieces in place—two Hindi GECs (Colors and free-to-air Rishtey), youth and music channels (MTV and Pepsi MTV Indies), kids portfolio (Nick Jr, Nick, Sonic), English entertainment (Vh1, Comedy Central and, from 31 July, Colors Infinity), and a clutch of regional GECs (Colors Kannada, Colors Marathi, Colors Odia, Colors Bangla and Colors Gujarati). Thus, from a network point of view, what is certainly missing from its portfolio is a Hindi movie channel. The question is if Bandhan will mark a revival of Viacom18’s initial plan of launching a Hindi movie channel. Viacom18 had a great start with Colors, which was launched on 21 July in 2008. Riding high on the success of Colors, the group started building up a movie library. The plan was to launch its own Hindi movie channel to complement Colors. However, then came a time when rising debt of joint venture partner TV18, increasing competition and escalating acquisition costs of movies forced the company to defer the plan. Eventually, in a first-of-its-kind deal, Viacom18 sold 500 of its Hindi movie titles to Star India for about Rs 450 crore (Rs 4.5 billion) in January 2012. At that time, a spokesperson from Viacom18 had said that the movies were sold to Star India as part of an overall strategic plan. “We still have a large library and have also kept enough runs to take care of our main channel’s (Colors) needs.” The spokesperson had added that Colors would continue to acquire new movies as and when needed and that the company was not giving up on launching a movie channel. “The movie channel is an integral part of Colors’ growth strategy and we will revisit our plans at an appropriate time,” the spokesperson had said. Today, TV18 has no debt issues and is under new owner Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). Viacom18 has a bouquet of channels, as well as a motion pictures company (Viacom18 Motion Pictures) to feed into a movie channel. Besides, it has signed long-term deals with some studios and has been picking up movies for premieres. However, movie acquisition prices have climbed and to build a strong library will take time. Another possibility could be the launch of a second pay channel in the Hindi general entertainment space, like Star India’s Life OK and ZEEL’s &TV. But the company might choose to convert Rishtey, a free-to-air (FTA) channel, into a pay channel.