Peter Chernin's Man in India: Rajesh Kamat (Q&A)
The CEO of the former News Corp. topper's CA Media India arm discusses his multi-platform game plan and a film adaptation of “Big Brother” with a local twist.
CA Media is part of the influential Chernin Group founded by former News Corp President and COO and Fox Entertainment topper Peter Chernin. Hong Kong-based CA Media focuses on media, entertainment and technology businesses across Asia with a specific focus on India, China and Indonesia.
Mumbai-based CA Media India CEO Rajesh Kamat started the India operations in 2011 and has spearheaded the company's presence across platforms. Previously, as a broadcasting veteran, Kamat successfully launched joint-venture Viacom18's flagship Hindi channel Colors which quickly closed in on existing market leaders, including News Corp-owned StarPlus. Kamat was earlier CEO of Endemol's Indian subsidiary which produced local versions of Big Brother and Fear Factor, among others. CA Media India's investments include stakes in Endemol India, live events and music promoter Only Much Louder and graphic novel publisher Graphic India. The company also recently launched its digital venture Fluence. Kamat sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss CA Media's India strategy -- which includes a first ever film adaptation of Big Brother, with an Indian paranormal twist.
The Hollywood Reporter: CA Media's Indian investments have spanned all kinds of platforms. What's the overall game plan?
Rajesh Kamat: We are currently focusing on three main areas. The first is traditional content (via Endemol India in which CA Media holds a 49 per cent stake) which is mostly youth-oriented given the demographic's massive size in India. Our second area is digital which includes our stake in graphic novel company Graphic India and our recently launched online influencer network, Fluence. Our third focus will be in consumer entertainment, which could include retail and e-tail properties. We are still developing this and could look at investing in multiplexes and other retail options. Consolidation is happening not just in the Indian multiplex business but in cable TV too. And we are not the only investors looking at these segments. We don't have the baggage of being a broadcaster or even a studio. So CA Media is a blend between a private equity player and an operating company. We help unlock value through our portfolio investments while also getting into creative content production.
THR: Endemol India recently announced its film production plans which include the first ever film adaptation of Big Brother (its Indian TV version has had a six-season run).
Kamat: We are at the scripting stage of the Big Brother film and are toying with the idea of introducing a paranormal element such as a ghost among the house-guests. Our other film projects include a South Indian remake of the hit Hindi thriller Kahaani.
THR: How do you see Endemol India as a film production entity?
Kamat: We know Endemol is coming from a strong TV background and our aim is to make a dent in the film business. We see Endemol being involved hands-on with its film projects so we are packaging projects ourselves, something other Indian studios are also doing. By contrast, in the West, talent agencies play a bigger role in packaging projects. We could be heroic and give out checks to some top talent but we don't want to do that. We will focus on adaptation and concept films to start with. We are not looking at handling marketing and distribution of our films -- we will farm that out to outside distribution companies. We are looking at being a creative boutique production banner.
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THR: How do you see CA Media's investment in Graphic India playing out?
Kamat: We believe that character-based entertainment is at a very nascent stage in India. Ideally, we would like to create superheroes and turn them into a franchise. Graphic India's Grant Morrison graphic novel 18 Days is really an adaptation of the Indian epic Mahabharata. If you pitch it as Gladiator then it takes a new shape. If we develop a concept as a meeting between Hollywood and Bollywood talent, that can result in a possibly superior product and get us noticed. Ultimately you have to pan across media, from gaming to TV. We don't just see Graphic India as a graphic novel company but as an ideation company.
THR: How does CA Media's multi-platform approach work?
Kamat: CA Media has an ecosystem where we can capitalize across platforms. For instance, our social media division Fluencer has digital rights of major talent like Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan and top star Salman Khan. If we have to do an animated novel like a Stan Lee property, we can create a superhero which we can connect with our talent. Then that can go to TV or a graphic novel or film -- ideally all three. When it comes to film, it need not be animated which is where Endemol comes in as a boutique studio.
THR: Can you expand on what Fluence is about?
Kamat: Fluence is our newly launched venture which manages digital rights of our star clients. Digital rights include mobile, online and possible equity deals in tech companies (a Hollywood example: Ashton Kutcher investing in Skype). So if we find an interesting investment in the digital space, CA Media will come up with the financing along with introducing a talent that we represent to be part of the deal. So the star gets long term equity in a company while its capital becomes what is termed as “differentiated capital.” As for managing the social media presence of our clients, we have developed an engine for that. The talent can log in and check the status of their social media interaction across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and more. To inspire the talent, we suggest important dates for them to talk about such as birthdays of famous people, major events and festivals and so on. We monitor traffic details, analyzing demographics, gender, countries of origin etc. This data becomes useful for us to approach potential advertising brands for online campaigns. We are planning to sign up more talent such as South Indian stars and some cricket players. Peter Chernin is on the board of Twitter and Pandora and has investments in Tumblr so we have a strong international presence.
THR: In your view, how has the overall Indian entertainment landscape changed for international players?
Kamat: It has become meaningful enough for international players to be more involved in India without getting scared. Realize that the Indian film industry was officially given industry status by the government only in 2000. Life has come a long way since then. One of the trends is the awareness for intellectual property rights. Leading filmmaker Karan Johar took the rights (in 2010) to do an official remake of Stepmom. Television has been stronger in that respect with local adaptations of mostly non-fiction shows. And fiction shows are also being adapted (such as the upcoming version of 24 by Bollywood star Anil Kapoor.) Earlier, there used to be a joke that if you want to make an Indian Desperate Housewives, just add another housewife. Those days are over now.
THR: What opportunities do you see beyond content?
Kamat: One of the big opportunities could be in cable TV distribution. The ongoing digitization is the first step (where analog systems are being replaced as per government directives). I am sure international players like Comcast and Time Warner will look at the Indian cable space closely once the dust settles. Direct To Home (DTH) television already has international players (like Sky TV's Indian joint venture Tata Sky). If India has to be digitized you need at least $3billion to $4 billion dollars. There are 220 million homes of which about 100 million are non-cable, mostly served by terrestrial statecaster Doordarshan. The balance of roughly 120 million homes are served by cable (90 million) and DTH (about 35 million). If the analog cable guys don't get their act together they will lose out to DTH. The U.S. is 70 percent cable with the balance on DTH. The U.K. is 20 percent cable with 80 per cent on DTH. How this ratio will play out in India is still open. Cable companies are taking debt for digitization so they need equity. And going forward they will have to also invest in content. CA Media is strategically placed in content and we could consider distribution in some way so long as it gives us value.