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Mogul touts pay TV potential for India

Chandra gives keynote speech at Mipcom

CANNES — Watching three-hour Bollywood epics on the bigscreen for a dollar is giving way to more exciting, but pricier, multiplex viewing, and TV is set to follow suit.

“India has the potential to be the largest pay TV market in the world,” said Subhash Chandra, founder and chairman of the Zee Network and Essel Group of Companies, in a keynote speech marking India Day at Mipcom.

He elegantly put forth India, one of the least regulated countries in the world for TV, as a place of great change and opportunity. With a gross domestic product growing healthily at 8.5% a year, a leisure and entertainment industry predicted to grow by 18% year on year for the next 10 years, and 1 billion pairs of eyeballs for the taking, the conditions would seem right, and ripe.

“Focus and fragmentation, in other words niche, is going to lead the next wave,” said Ronnie Screwvala, the founder and CEO of UTV Group, talking on the same platform. Screwvala added that pay TV will be the key driver. The desires and habits of the youth market, while unpredictable, will also be critical in shaping the future.

But he warned that multinationals cannot simply bounce across borders and expect success with a few acquisitions and the hiring of local talent.

“Companies have to think about their strategy and value-add,” he said, reeling off a list of companies that failed to conquer the Indian market, including Cartoon Network, Viacom and Pearson. Even Disney has been around for 25 years but hasn’t made the sort of dent in merchandising that it should have.

But if India is a difficult market for the rest of the world, the rest of the world is a market that India has its eye on.

Zee content has already been dubbed into Chinese and Russian, and the Essel Group recently launched 24/7 well-being channel Veria in the U.S. via the Dish Network with plans for a global rollout within five years.

“We will definitely be creating content for a global audience,” Chandra said.