Mumbai: UTV Motion Pictures Plc., through its movie production brand SpotBoy, and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Comics Llc. have teamed up to create four Indian superheroes to be launched across mediums such as publishing, film, animation and gaming. The concept will be jointly created and owned by these two firms and will be initially released by Virgin globally as graphic novels.
The joint venture, which will launch its first comic books by the end of 2007, aims to deflect the audience’s attraction from western superhero genre towards an Indian superhero concept. “Virgin is very strong with characters and UTV’s strengths are movies and television. The new project is an extension of each other’s strengths,” said Suresh Seetharaman, president, Virgin Comics, adding “India has a vault of characters that can be developed into superheroes. So it was high time we looked at this genre seriously.”
The UTV-Virgin Comics venture also plans to expand the concept into newer mediums in future. “Currently, it’s a four-superhero deal, but the idea is to take it beyond that after seeing the response to it. We’ll take them into motion pictures, television shows and gaming. We will be creating a bible for the characters, and it will show how to use the characters across mediums,” said Vikas Bhal, creative and business head, SpotBoy.
The two partners, however, did not disclose the investments to be made in creating these superheroes, saying the project is still at a nascent stage and the characters have not been developed as yet.
Meanwhile, analysts said that if the new characters manage to strike a chord with the masses, the two companies would hit the jackpot. “There is a great scope to expand into merchandising after creating and popularizing superheroes. Globally, a chunk of the revenue comes from merchandising accessories relating to superheroes. Attempts around Indian characters such as Krish and Hanuman have been quite successful, and UTV and Virgin, given their strengths in their respective mediums, should be able to take it to a different league,” said Hitesh Agrawal, vice-president, Angel Broking, a Mumbai-based brokerage. “These characters could be a huge success outside the country among Indian diaspora,” he added.
But analysts also say that developing, marketing and establishing new characters in a market dominated by western characters is going to be a huge challenge for the two companies. They will have to spend a significant amount “creating a brand image through marketing, advertising and merchandising”, said Rajesh Jain, national industry director (information, communications and entertainment) at audit firm KPMG.
The size of the Indian animation industry is estimated at Rs1,100 crore, according to a report by industry lobby Ficci and audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. This is likely to grow to around Rs2,900 crore by 2011. The Indian gaming industry is expected grow at a much faster rate to reach Rs2,850 crore in this time period, from its current size of Rs200 crore.
UTV is a leading player in the animation space and Virgin is a new and prominent player in the comics space.