Exclusive: Cellcast, a Canaan partners funded interactive services company which interactive TV shows, is all set to launch an interactive TV channel called MyTV in the first week of December 2011, CEO Pankaj Thakkar told MediaNama. Cellcast does interactive shows on television, integrated with mobile value added services, with premium rates for messaging and accessing voice portals on mobile. Plans to launch had been announced almost a year ago. Some notes from our discussion with Thakkar:

Access to Primetime:  “We’ve been finding it difficult to get airtime, and starting a channel does mean incremental cost, but that is what we had set out to do in the first place. We have been spending money to buy TV slots, now we’re spending money to build out our own bandwidth,” Thakkar said. Cellcast is launching MyTV first with Airtel and Reliance, and says it is in active discussions with everyone who has a digital headend. The company expects to reach 30% of the Hindi speaking market by the first quarter of next year.

What the launch of its own TV channel will allow, is for Cellcast to get access to prime time programming, something which TV channels prefer to hold on to for their programming. Thus either late night or early morning slots have been available for third party programming. In a sense, there is a parallel between this and the decision of home shopping channels like HomeShop18 and STAR CJ to launch their own channels.

Marketing: “For us, we already have a huge database, with over 5 million unique users on our properties every month.”

Programming: The portfolio of shows will range from astrology, matrimony, dating, auctions, interactive shopping, contests, gameshows like tambola, and the company has over over 25 formats on gameshows.

Distribution Costs: Thakkar wouldn’t go into details of spends, but said that the cost of launching a channel will be in line with the cost of launching a niche music or Bollywood channel, and they’re budgeting around Rs 50 crore on distribution.

Digital Distribution Only: What’s most interesting about this initiative is that Cellcast is going down the digital distribution path only – DTH and CAS mandated areas, given that digitization is expected to be enforced in the country. “We’re going for all distribution channels that can be measured. At some point in time we’d like to know how people are responding. Next year we will expand into wherever the digital is going, as digitization increases,” Thakkar said. But why digital only? “It makes a difference, because there will be other stuff, like integration of social media, mobile apps and wherever possible, if the distributor allows two way communication via remote, we will integrate it. If the medium is digital, it becomes easier for people to participate.”

International Formats? “The strategy, our content is built by the local team, and we have hardly use anything except the technology from Cellcast UK. We have homegrown formats, and we have a research team which interacts with them. The format is an interesting on matrimony, dating, and interactive shopping, and there’s a format integrating social networks in to TV. We’re treating TV only as a means for reaching out to people, and asking them to consume through TV, apps and mobile. The idea is to integrate.”

Advertising: “There won’t be any 30-10 second ads. Zero. Brands can integrate with the content, but there will be no advertisement exposures. As viewers aren’t interested in advertising, so why should we have it on our channel?”

Impact on purchase of airtime: Cellcast has typically been buying airtime on TV channels and airing its interactive shows. Will the purchase of airtime stop? Thakkar says it wont. “We’ll continue to buy, and it will be a simulcast. Content is showcased on TV, and the channels will be more than happy”

Financials: “Our growth has been almost 50% and above in terms of both profit and revenue. Next year, we plan to grow by 100% again. Our growth has been limited by bandwidth and airtime, and the broadcasters don’t understand how this is important for a channel,” Thakkar said. Cellcast Asia Holdings, all of whose revenues are from India, had revenues of $8.4 million for the 2009-10 fiscal and a profit of $2 million.