Studio mavens generate buzz in India

AOL TW, News Corp. plan to tap into TV boom, film industry

NEW DELHI – Hollywood studio heads have recently converged on India to finalize strategies for further forays into the country’s film and TV biz.

Visits by former AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch and son James Murdoch have sent the Indian entertainment industry into a tizzy.

“This proves that Hollywood does give a damn, because India is the market of the present and future,” producer Amit Khanna, prexy of India’s Film Producers’ Council, told Daily Variety.

TV in particular is booming. The country’s TV revenue increased 38% in 2001 and will probably more than double again in five years as the number of homes owning sets expands, according to a just released report on the industry by consultancy Arthur Andersen.

TV revenues, per the report, totaled 94 billion rupees ($1.9 billion) last year and will likely surge to 220 billion rupees ($3.1 billion) by 2006.

Levin spoke about AOL TW’s plans to partner with Indian companies during an exclusive gathering of media czars last Wednesday.

Levin said he was impressed with India’s huge film industry, its considerable Internet and information technology capabilities and its standing as the second-largest music market in the world.

“India is one of the most important markets for AOL TW, and we hope to establish a significant presence here,” he said. He added that AOL TW viewed India and the U.S. as two of the largest democracies in the world and will forge relationships with Indian media companies for future growth.

Getting busy

Levin later met Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sushma Swaraj at her New Delhi office to discuss cable TV and policy matters, and AOL has an alliance with India’s Zee TV under which it distributes HBO, CNN and the Cartoon Network. AOL may buy a stake in Subhash Chandra’s Zee Telefilms, which produced last year’s highest Hindi-lingo grosser “Gadar.”

Levin is also reported to have had meetings with Prannoy Roy of New Delhi Television, which has a contract with Murdoch’s Star News channel to produce news.

The former AOL TW topper later invited top media personalities to a cocktail dinner and informal discussion of his India plans. Steve Marcopoto, president of HBO Asia, was also on hand.

Meanwhile, Murdoch was in Bombay late last week to discuss projects and deals for film production and acquisition of distribution rights to Indian movies.

Twentieth Century Fox plans to release its first Hindi film in India in July 2003. Fox also plans to release 20 of its English-lingo films into the Indian market this year.

Murdoch’s Star TV is planning an IPO on the Bombay stock exchange later this year to fund its expansion into movie production and distribution.

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