Indian billionaire expands Reliance Industries’ media interests

LONDON – Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani has picked up a 25% stake in Epic Television Network, a start-up Hindi-language channel with Indian history, folklore and mythology based content.

The move is the Ambani’s second foray into the media and entertainment sphere. Last year he invested some $330 million in Network 18 and TV18 Broadcast, the groups that that operate channels including CNBC TV18, CNN-IBN, and Colors.

Mukesh Ambani is the brother of Anil Ambani, the telecoms and property mogul whose media interests include a stake in DreamWorks, and controlling interests in Reliance Broadcast and Reliance MediaWorks, the facilities, post-production and cinemas conglomerate.

The brothers went their separate ways after the death of their father Dhirubhai Ambani in 2002, but confusingly they both continue to use the Reliance name. Mukesh’s group trades as Reliance Industries, while Anil’s goes under Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group.

Mahesh Samat, former managing director of Walt Disney India, will head the channel, and has a 49% stake. Anand Mahindra, chairman of automobile giant Mahindra Group, has a 25% holding.

Initial set up costs for the net are some $30 million and it is estimated to cost upwards of $50 million per year to run. There will be four to five hours of original content every day. Commissioned programs include a historical fiction show based on Indu Sundaresan’s novel “The Twentieth Wife,” and another based on ever-popular Indian epic “The Mahabharata.”

The channel has recently applied for an operating license from India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

No plans to make the channel available outside India have yet been revealed, though there is bound to be considerable interest in Indian diaspora hotspots.

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