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NEW DELHI: As Reliance Entertainment looks to create programming for a mobile-first country, the company said its streaming, television and animation content account for 40% of its business as of now compared to 5% two years ago when film ventures were its mainstay.

Despite the recent financial turmoil of the parent entity, headed by Anil Ambani, the production house that has two Rs200 crore budget films, Sooryavanshi and ’83 slated for release, is not just de-risking its business by diversifying interests but also beginning to cater to new media audiences watching web content via streaming platforms.

“Around 24-30 months ago, 95% of our business was film, and everything else, be it, television or animation, because there wasn’t much streaming, was less than 5%. In 2021-22, it looks like 35-40% of our business will be non-film because while films have grown since then, the non-film content pie has grown multiple times," Shibasish Sarkar, group chief executive officer, Reliance Entertainment said, adding that the company now operates a more balanced portfolio. There is a group ecosystem and there is a Reliance Entertainment ecosystem, and while the latter works within the overall group parameters, at the end of the day, “we virtually run the show ourselves," he said.

“As an organisation, we now create content for everything from a mobile screen to a cinema screen," Sarkar said, adding that working capital generally follows salience of the business, and while non-film businesses are largely funded by the platforms such as OTT (over-the-top) video firms, the feature film investment comes from Reliance itself. Further, Reliance has invested in a company Amblin Partners along with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios, whose films it distributes in India.

A media analyst, on condition of anonymity, said the parent group had ceased funding to the entertainment vertical about two years ago and that Reliance had been working independently by managing loans and syndications including selling satellite and digital rights for older films and animation adaptations for franchises such as Singham and Golmaal. While the cycle has been smooth until now, much investment rides on the two new films.

“Cash flows have evidently been affected by the lockdown and it’s not going to be easy to get people to step out to watch these films. One doesn’t know if, or when the audience will be back in full force. Sooryavanshi may still be a mass offering, but ’83 is geared towards the multiplexes whose viewers have become much more discerning of content in the past year," the person said.

The two Bollywood biggies are eyeing theatrical release for now with ’83 slated for June and Sooryavanshi possibly announcing an April date soon.

But in an effort to monetise its pre-covid period ventures, Reliance has already sold its Hindi crime thriller The Girl On The Train and three Tamil films—Jagame Thandiran, Aelay, and Mandela to Netflix.

Having resumed shoots by September soon after the lockdown ended, it now has an exhaustive slate in place—Rohit Shetty’s Cirkus starring Ranveer Singh, four titles in collaboration with filmmaker Neeraj Pandey including one featuring Ajay Devgn on the life of Chanakya, three with Imtiaz Ali, a remake of Tamil action thriller Kaithi starring Devgn, a satire with Pankaj Tripathi and two films starring Parineeti Chopra and Saif Ali Khan respectively.

On the digital front, there is a Netflix film starring Sonakshi Sinha, and five shows across Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ Hotstar. TV shows include two in Telugu, three in Punjabi and one in Bhojpuri, besides animated adaptations of their popular IPs including Little Singham and Smashing Simmba.

Trade experts say Reliance’s entertainment entity stands strong on leveraging strong relationships. Its multiplex partners help fund commercially viable projects (that is repaid to them after the film release over and above the share of box office revenue). Besides, directors like Rohit Shetty hold equity in the films they collaborate on with them so costs are lower.

“In the last five years, while the size of the business has been growing 20-30% annually and we’d like to retain that momentum, you can’t grow only by availability of capital and resources in this field. Successes and failures are part of the journey but most important are the people and the relationships," Sarkar said.

Reliance’s big joint venture with Phantom Films may have hit a roadblock after the latter dissolved operations in 2018 but Sarkar said there is more to come on that front too. “If we are working towards a common goal, it has always helped. If they have grown, we have grown. That’s the basic mantra," he added referring to partners.

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