Ryan Kavanaugh and Ishan Saksena

Indian company is controlled by some of world's richest businessmen.

Relativity Media has struck a high-level and wide-ranging film, TV and sports agreement with India’s B4U network.

The joint venture, to be headed by B4U CEO Ishan Saksena, will co-produce a slate of Hollywood and Indian films including “The Best of Me,” and will also cover short form entertainment, sports and TV.

B4U, which is backed by some of India’s richest entrepreneurs, including steel industry tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, Kishore Lulla, head of top Bollywood distributor Eros Intl., and Gokul Binani, started out in 1999 as a Bollywood movie channel, but has recently branched out into distribution.

“We are broadcasting into 100 countries already. Now we are in theatrical distribution too. The business model is changing and we need to own content too,” Saksena told Variety. “The expansion of online and the growth of multiplexes means that Indian media and entertainment are now reaching critical mass.”

“Don’t think of this as a rights deal, think of it as a company,” said Relativity’s Ryan Kavanaugh, who described it as a 50-50 joint venture. “We think this could make a really big splash.

“We will be looking at every permutation. We could have Relativity projects and other movies that would be co-financed, or we could be making use of [Relativity’s] TV shows and sports agency. The way that India consumes content on mobile makes our short form content and 37 TV shows very attractive.”

The JV will co-finance, co-produce and distribute Hollywood and Indian-language films and television shows as well as acquire projects in the U.S. and South Asian markets, it will distribute third-party content in India and selected Bollywood films in the U.S. The companies said production investment will initially be some $100 million.

The agreement also represents a further piece of Relativity’s jigsaw of output deals around the world spans distribution in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

In the TV space the JV will create and launch a pay channel in India focused on Hollywood content, playing out in both English and Hindi. It will also launch RelaTV, a digital streaming technology platform to deliver compelling short and long form content to Indian consumers.

Productions already earmarked for the JV include “The Best of Me,” based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks. It stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan and will be distributed in India by the JV on Oct. 17.

Another is Relativity’s upcoming comedy — “Untitled Armored Car Project” — on which Saksena says B4U was consulted on at script stage. The U.S. film stars Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis. For the Indian market it will have a Bollywood director and star Bollywood talent.

Kavanaugh said the potential for releasing Indian movies in North America through the JV is strong. “Typically they get no more than 200 screens and make up to $5 million at the box office. There is a big appetite and releasing on 800 screens should be quite possible. That’s both incremental growth and a big leap.”

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