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'UTV investment is long-term play'

Q&A: Andy Bird

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Having picked up an additional 17.5 per cent stake for Rs 803 crore in UTV Software Communications, the parent company of UTV, is now looking to leverage its presence in India. The company already has a bouquet of three channels: Hungama (acquired in 2006 from UTV), and Toon Disney. It is now eyeing movie opportunities like local co-productions and is considering adaptation of some popular television shows of ABC network. In an e-mail interview, Walt Disney International Chairman Andy Bird tells about the future ventures of Disney in India. Excerpts:

What does the UTV investment and the separate investment in its broadcasting arm mean for the overall growth of Walt Disney in the Indian market?

International growth is one of the key priorities for The Walt Disney Company and as we looked at the opportunities in India, it soon became clear to us that investing in UTV would allow Disney to participate in the fast-growing media landscape as well as build our own Disney-branded businesses.

We've long had the greatest respect for Ronnie(Rohinton Screwvala, managing director, UTV) and his vision. Our investment in UTV shows our confidence in Ronnie's vision and allows Disney to be involved at a local level with talented executives who are enjoying great growth and success in each business segment. This investment complements the work we're doing on the Disney-branded side and allows us many opportunities for collaboration in the future.

What prompted Disney to scale up its investment from 14.9 per cent to 32.4 per cent in UTV in the span of just one year?

Having acquired Hungama and taken our 14.9 per cent stake in UTV, I was able to join the board of directors and get closer to understanding Ronnie's strategy and vision. As a result, we saw an opportunity to increase our position in UTV as a whole and also the broadcast business. This is a long-term strategic play for us.

How do you plan to expand your presence in India?

We've already concluded a deal for ABC News to provide content for UTVi"" the business news channel of UTV "" but there are many areas we are exploring together. Without getting into specifics, we're looking at movie opportunities, from local co-production opportunities to worldwide distribution of Indian products.

ABC has many television formats that might be suitable for local production in India and there maybe possibilities to leverage our expertise in retail and franchising for some of UTV's properties and channels and potential opportunities for gaming. These are some broad areas we're looking at.

Disney in many ways has been a late entrant into the South Asian market. Do you believe that local partnership is the way to go in Asia?

We've actually been active in this market for some time. In fact, Disney-owned ESPN and its partner Star Sports offer two sports television services "" STAR Sports India, which launched in 1991, and ESPN India, which launched in 1992. We now want to participate in today's activities and with our investment in UTV we have a piece of India's largest movie studio.

UTV itself has global ambitions and many existing global initiatives. Is this a conflict for Disney?

Not at all. In fact, I hope that Disney will be able to help UTV in its global ambitions and leverage our expertise around the world.

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