Turner to make animation, add channel

Time Warner unit Turner Intl. will begin producing animated theatrical movies in India and unite with Warner Bros. to launch a Hollywood TV channel, as the conglom pursues “aggressive growth” in the country.

“India will become the biggest market in the region this year, surpassing Japan, and we are committed to growing our presence,” Steve Marcopoto, prexy, Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific, said at a Mumbai news conference Thursday.

The channel will concentrate on Hollywood movies and series, with content initially from Warner. Over time, it will include content from other units, such as New Line.

Turner is seeking cable and satellite carriage for the net, skedded to bow by the end of the year. “It is the first collaboration of its kind in the region for the world’s largest media and entertainment company,” Turner said in a statement.

The animation initiative is even more ambitious. Turner envisages producing two features per year, with the first going into the works in 2009.

“India produces hundreds of movies, but only about five a year are animation. We believe we can change the game,” a company spokesman told Variety. “This is about production in India, by Indians, for India.”

Company will set up its own animation unit in the country, which has long been a destination for outsourced animation work from Hollywood, Europe and more developed parts of Asia. But it may also seek relationships with other local players. Distribution routes have not been finalized.

Turner, which was one of the first Western entertainment players to get into India, and has been operational since 1995, recently moved its involvement in the country into a different gear. In December, it inked with local producers Miditech/Alva Bros. to launch more local channels, including one into the hotly competitive general entertainment space.

A company spokesman would not disclose investment cost of either the new channel or the toon venture, but said “we have a reputation for quality to preserve, and (animation) production budgets will reflect that.”

Turner already has a live-action production unit, which last year delivered 150 hours of programming for the Pogo kids channel it launched in India in 2004.

Company now has a string or relationships in India; with Zee, it operates the Zee-Turner TV channel distribution business, and with the TV-18 Group, it has a localized news network CNN-IBN.

Other Hollywood congloms that have toe-holds in India’s animation business include Disney, which has a three-picture development and production deal with Yash Raj Films; Technicolor, which acquired the Paprikaas animation studio and partnered with DreamWorks; Lionsgate, which is producing with Crest Animation; Sony, which acquired a majority stake in Frameflow, turning it into Sony Pictures Imageworks; and Hyde Park Asia, which is working on a movie slate with Toonz Animation.

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