Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd, a joint venture between Network18 Group and Viacom Inc., has been in India for five years, during which it has launched television stations such as Colors (Hindi entertainment channel), Comedy Central and Sonic (a kids channel). Sudhanshu Vats joined the media company four months ago as group chief executive after having spent around 20 years with Hindustan Unilever Ltd. He spoke in an interview about his new role and mandate. Edited excerpts:
How has the transition been?
It’s been great. I think the transition was a natural evolution. The in-depth understanding that I gained from the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) experience helped me immensely in understanding consumer behaviour—be it products or content consumption. Interestingly, there are a lot of similarities between both the industries in terms of consumer behaviour, distribution and marketing. Whether it’s FMCG or broadcast industry, we’re addressing the quintessential consumer—who consumes goods in one and content in the other. Just as we have the conventional kirana stores in FMCG distribution model, who constitute a significant chunk, we have the last mile cable operators in the broadcasting industry. And just like you have the more organized players like the large-format stores coming in the retail industry, we’re witnessing the same in broadcasting with the entry of DTH (direct to home) players.
It has been five years since Viacom18 was formed? How has it performed?
I think the last five years have been fantastic and have put Viacom18 among the top three-four entertainment players in the media and entertainment space. From a three-channel portfolio, we today have a seven-channel portfolio and a robust film production and distribution division.
With the Network18-ETV deal, where does the regional strategy stand?
I am not in a position to share details on the ETV part of the business, but regional entertainment will play a significant role in our growth plans.
What is your mandate? How do you plan to scale up the business?
Media in India is a sunrise industry, and will continue to see impressive growth. In my current role, I am going to be focused on creating a model that drives growth by one, segmentation, two, creating ecosystems around our respective brands to engage audiences meaningfully outside television and three, unlocking the dormant value that exists within the group and leveraging cross-business synergies.
Any channels in the pipeline?
I don’t have a definitive answer to give you now on this. However, we’ll evaluate every growth opportunity and take a call once it makes business sense. If we see a need for a specific content offering that has the potential, we’ll be the first to capitalize and build on that offering.
How important is the content syndication business for Viacom18?
Content is the backbone of our group and, hence, it’s critical for us to ensure that we optimally monetize it, both within as well as outside India. Given our differentiated content, many of our format and fiction shows today are available to millions of viewers across 60 plus countries in 21 languages through syndication and licensing.
The movie business Viacom18 Motion Pictures (earlier known as Studio18) has undergone a change in strategy from acquisition to co-production. Was it market dynamics that led to this decision?
Viacom18 Motion Pictures has had a great last two years to emerge among the top five players in the film production and distribution business. It’s also the second largest revenue earner within the group. Over the last 12 months, we have delivered commercial hits across various genres like the unconventional thriller Kahaani, the edgy Shaitaan, the social satire Oh My God! or a mass entertainer, Son of Sardar. Add to that hit Paramount franchises like Mission Impossible, Madagascar, Paranormal Activity and Transformers… and you’ve got an enviable portfolio. Yes, it’s been a conscious call to focus more on acquiring projects in their early stages or produce and co-produce projects from scratch, since it gives you more control —both in creative as well as marketing of the project.