Open potential

Viacom18's group CEO on growth, opportunities and the challenge of OTT
Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18.
Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18.

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Viacom18, a joint venture of Viacom Inc and Network18 Group, is one of India’s fastest growing entertainment networks. Sudhanshu Vats, group CEO, Viacom18, tells Digital Studio about the firm’s plans for expansion in the MEA region and why he sees strong potential for growth.

DS: Tell me about Viacom18. Where is the organisation now?

SV: Let me start with India and then come to the Middle East. Viacom18 is one of the fastest growing networks in India; we have grown about 30 times in about seven years. We now have close to about 32 channels in the network, 20 in India and about 12 network channel internationally. Also our media company does television and film production. We make Bollywood films and regional films, we are now getting into the digital OTT business with the brand name Voot, which is going to be an OTT platform and is currently in beta testing.

We also are already into consumer products such as merchandise and live events. We also just introduced our linear movie service for television, Rishtey Cineplex, in March). We will be looking at a movie channel introduction in our international markets this year as well to target the South Asia diaspora. Some of our Indian films are popular with locals as well but our primary target would be South Asian diaspora.

DS: How about growth outside India?

Internationally we have been growing very rapidly in general. As a company we are seven years old and we started to expand international four or five years ago. Here again we are growing rapidly. What I mean by growth is new geographies, more channels and services within each geography.

People keep reminding me that we are a multi-channel network. Not so long ago we used to be a one-channel network. We are also now studying platforms for 53 countries in this region.

In the MENA region we are available across almost half a million households, plus hotels and labour camps. Our channels are mainly available through Pay-TV networks, such as OSN, Etisalat, du, Ooredoo and Batelco.

DS: How about content for the MENA region? Is it the same as the content you air in India?

If you look at the South Asian diaspora here in MENA, we have our own original content from India. Colours is our flagship channel, in India and in the Middle East. But we also have more exciting and relevant South Asian content for the MENA market. Some of this is from acquisition, especially from Pakistan. We look at content around the world which may be good for the South Asian diaspora in MENA, a classic example being some Turkish content.

We are also doing some local production here in MENA and the GCC particularly, so therefore some lifestyle magazine type format, some health and wealth formats.

DS: How has growth been in the past year across the group?

In the last five to six months there has been a bit of a headwind on advertising sales. However Viacom18’s domestic business performed very well last year. From a portfolio point of view we are in a good position because India has grown very rapidly with advertising sales growth of about 20% plus.

DS: What do you see as main trends in the market at the moment?

Digital is a big trend, and that applies across the world in some form or the other. Content consumption is moving on to digital platforms, so there is a shift in platforms. It has a bearing on how the pipe which carries the content is going to change, so the conventional cable may give way to fibre optic cable and WiFi, so that is one change we have to contend with. The second trend is convergence which is technology media and content all coming together. It is becoming more and more difficult as to who or what is your competition.

Media companies will become a bit more like tech companies and tech companies are getting into media. I think we will converge a little bit as well. New business models may evolve.

DS: Are you confident OTT and digital will grow quickly enough to make up for declines in linear?

In the short term there will be pain. I don’t think OTT will immediately make up for the decline because the two are very different and the monetisation models on linear were different. The subscription revenues for digital are lower than linear so therefore those business models have to evolve. In the short-term the transition will be painful but eventually there will be sensible business models which will allow it to be sustainable.

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