CBS takes Big step in India

Reliance Broadcast Network partners on channels

The Eye may be late to the India party, but CBS Studios Intl. has partnered with a biggie — Reliance, which is becoming an 800-pound gorilla on the subcontinent’s showbiz scene, with a stake in nearly every area, from digital to movies and now TV.

As previously reported (Daily Variety, June 21), CBS Studios Intl. and Reliance Broadcast Network will bow their joint venture, Big CBS Network, in India in the fourth quarter this year, joining Hollywood players including News Corp., Sony, Viacom, Time Warner and Disney.

Reliance Big Entertainment has already partnered with DreamWorks and backs a number of Hollywood shingles including Brad Pitt’s Plan B.

In India, Big CBS will air three English-language channels: general entertainment net Big CBS Prime; youth web Big CBS Spark; and women’s net Big CBS Love. The channels will air in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan.

Content will include “NCIS,” “Survivor,” “CSI,” “90210,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “Entertainment Tonight,” aired soon after their U.S. bow, as well as library shows such as “Melrose Place” and “Frasier.”

“We see great opportunity in the Indian television industry, which projects a high growth rate,” said Reliance Broadcast Network CEO Tarun Katial. “We are confident that our deep understanding of the Indian consumer’s entertainment requirements and of advertiser needs, coupled with CBS’ reputation for creating superior content, will offer unmatched and pioneering entertainment to audiences in India and across the Indian subcontinent.”

CBS Studios Intl. president Armando Nunez said, “The vast programming, production and media resources of our two companies position us extremely well to serve audience, advertisers and all constituents of these new channels.”

Nunez told Daily Variety that the first CBS shows to be localized for the subcontinent would likely be magazine shows like “Entertainment Tonight” and “Insider.”

CBS enters a market with 134 million TV homes, 103 million of whom have pay television, in a country with a population of 1.17 billion. The value of the TV market is projected to grow 12.9% from $5.7 billion in 2009 to $10.5 billion in 2014, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report. TV was the fastest-growing sector on the Indian showbiz scene, generating revenue of $2.3 billion in 2009, per Hong Kong-based researcher Media Partners Asia.

However, Indian-language channels dominate that space, and the previous Hollywood entrants have had to develop original Indian programming to remain competitive. But there are also Indian versions of reality shows like “Big Brother,” “Idol” and “Fear Factor.”

In the past year, the Indian government has received some 160 applications to add to the feevee scene. The market is already crowded with 500 channels; about 140 of these are domestic channels, with 20 foreign-owned ones including ESPN News, Fox Media and Al Jazeera.

Still, Katial is optimistic that Big CBS could branch out into Hindi and regional languages if both partners see an opportunity.

“We are looking to get into an English-language television space that is relatively small, but we’re looking to go in there and expand that space. With Reliance as a partner, they have the marketing and promotional muscle to accomplish that goal,” said Nunez.

(Shalini Dore in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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