New Delhi: Ronnie Screwvala, former head of UTV, speaks about his vision for Arré, how he makes sense of the country’s digital landscape and the perception that he builds businesses only to sell them.

Edited excerpts:

How did the collaboration with B. Saikumar, the former Network 18 CEO, happen?

I moved out of media and entertainment almost three-and-a-half years ago, after we sold UTV to Disney in 2012. I think when Network 18 and TV 18 saw a change of control, Sai decided to move on. I think our interests were very clear and aligned from day one. We agreed that the next big thing in media is the digital space. So the digital and the demographic were the two things that stayed with us in our early conversations.

I think digital offers a brand new world. It kind of opens up doors like television did in the early 1990s, but I think in a different way.

Today, the whole democratization of the media is already there and our demographic is strong, which it wasn’t back then. In the 1990s, if you asked people to identify a demographic, nobody would have come up with anything. But today it’s different. So I think with these two Ds—digital and demographic—we started talking about what we could possibly start and build.

What’s the vision for Arré?

We wanted to get into the digital space. And we wanted to really look at the demographic of 18-30 (year-olds). We knew we were leading it from a creative point of view, but we also knew that we were very strong on commerce and on scale. I think at the end of it, if I had to circle out five words that came out of our discussions, they were—digital, demographic, creative, commerce and scale.

I think today if you look at trends, we make the mistake of looking at international trends and thinking India will follow them completely.

Is the digital medium all about hit-and-miss in terms of content and business models?

I don’t think it’s a hit-and-miss thing at all. As much as in the conventional world when somebody decides to launch a new broadcast channel and decides to start another genre of shows, that’s not hit-and-miss.

I think, definitely from my side and from Sai’s side, that the learnings for us today from the media are not about how you get advertisers to come to a channel. Those are all operational things. The learning is understanding consumers. So I think we are sitting there knowing full well that some of the things (we will do) are maybe before their time and some may hit home, but it’s not a hit-and-miss context at all.

Ronnie Screwvala, 59Screwvala has over two decades of experience in the media and entertainment sector. He founded the UTV Group on 22 June 1990. He was the managing director of Disney-UTV India until Walt Disney Co. acquired a controlling stake in UTV Software Communications Ltd in 2012. Screwvala also co-founded Swades, a not-for-profit organization that works for rural empowerment, with his wife Zarin Screwvala. He also runs a private equity and venture capital firm called Unilazer Ventures Ltd.

What kind of investments have you made so far?

We have already put that in the public domain ( 150 crore for the first phase). This is the initial capital, whatever is needed will get funded. We are pretty clear we want to build this with our own conviction, therefore we plan to fund it internally. However, I must say that in the last one month, we have been approached by a lot of people who are looking to make an investment. Not strategic partnerships because then we go a different way completely. But yes, seriously decent-sized, private equity and venture capitalists have approached us. We have been having select discussions.

Would Arré operate on a build and sell model?

I want to clarify two things. I don’t think there are more than five or six (media) entrepreneurs or promoters from the 1990s who came all the way to 2012. So first before everyone starts thinking of putting brands on some of us that we are build and operate (or build and sell)... we’ve been in the media industry for 22 years. So, if anyone’s thinking our ambitions are build to move on, they are wrong.

The fact that at some stage consolidation came to the industry and for different reasons people exited, does not mean that at any stage during those 20 years there was ever a time, an ambition or goal to build and go out because it doesn’t work that way.

That brings us to the second point: I see this (Arré) as a 15-20-year run. In the digital space, the biggest thing I think is if you don’t think big and you don’t think scale, then you will be a consolidation candidate, which I think we don’t want to be.

Are you working on a subscription model?

Subscription in digital will have to be redefined as a completely different animal. We are looking at revenues other than advertising. I don’t want to use the word subscription, but the consumer will have to pay for consuming experiences of Arré. And they won’t pay if it’s only Arré content. We are figuring it out.

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