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Ronnie Screwvala & Network18’s Saikumar to launch a video-focused digital media biz


Former Disney India MD Ronnie Screwvala is teaming up with former Network18 group CEO B Saikumar to launch a new digital media company, reports The Economic Times.

Saikumar will be the managing director of this venture while former Network18 COO Ajay Chacko will be the CEO. Note that Chacko had left Network18 just a day after Saikumar’s departure in May last year, prior to the Reliance Industries takeover.

The details on this venture is a bit sketchy at the moment, although the focus seems to be on digital video. Saikumar told Exchange4Media they have begun sourcing talent in creative, product and technology functions across entertainment, current affairs & infotainment segments. He also told ET that they will source talent from broadcasting sector globally.

Sai Kumar

Saikumar added that the company will offer multi-genre, multi-lingual content across video, audio, text and other traditional and new age forms and Screwvala will be investing Rs 150 crore in this venture, which will be based out of Mumbai. The company says that it will focus on the Indian market in the first phase and then evaluate new geographies and new verticals in the second and subsequent phases.

Subscription model? Screwvala also hinted to ET that they may explore a subscription model for its digital offerings citing the example of Netflix, indicating that the venture would likely be a video on demand service featuring original content as well as third party content across various genres like current affairs, entertainment, technology and infotainment among others. Remember that Chacko was previously the president of Network18’s infotainment business and has also led many of the group’s businesses such as CNBC-TV18, CNBC Awaaz, Forbes India and HistoryTV18 among others.

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Recent developments in online video segment

Interestingly, it’s worth noting that two of the former Disney India executives are currently in the digital video segment: Former Disney India Director (Video & Celebrity) Sameer Pitalwalla had launched YouTube MCN Culture Machine in mid 2013 while former Disney India MD (Digital) Samir Bangara is currently the CEO and Managing director of Qyuki which pivoted to become an YouTube MCN in March last year.

Over the past year or so, we have also witnessed online video segment gathering steam with more companies foraying into the sector, web-exclusive videos receiving mainstream adoption and the emergence of YouTube MCNs. This is despite abysmal Internet speeds in India, which is considered as one of the biggest roadblocks by several online video companies. Some of the key developments include:

– Star India launching another video streaming service Hotstar that include all of Star India’s television and sports offerings along with offering Bollywood & regional movies from other studios. Last week, former Times Television executive Ajay Trigunayat had also stated plans to launch a VoD service in October this year.

– Amazon India is reportedly extending its video streaming service to India and has apparently roped in former Multi Screen Media VP (New Media) Nitesh Kripalani to head its digital content business.

– YouTube MCN #fame raised $10 million from To The New Ventures earlier this month, while another MCN Ping Digital had raised angel investment earlier this week.

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– Disney owned Maker Studios, possibly one of the largest YouTube MCNs worldwide, entered India by signing up Indian YouTube channels like All India Bakchod, East India Comedy and Kanan Gill among others, while another large YouTube MCN FullScreen had partnered Qyuki to expand into India last month.

Also read#Outlook15: What Indian digital video companies plan to do in 2015

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