Reliance: CBS JV moving ahead

Indian conglom looks for equal stake in TV stations

NEW DELHI -- Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd. said Sunday that it is proposing to enter into an equal joint venture with CBS Studios International in India “for the purpose of owning and/or operating a portfolio of television channels.”

The JV will be called Big CBS and aims to “bite into a sizable pie” of India's TV industry which was estimated at $5.7 billion in 2008 projected to grow at 15% to touch $11.5 billion by 2014 according to a recent report by consultants KPMG India and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

RBN was previously known as Reliance Media World Ltd., owned by one of India's top conglomerates Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, which also owns Reliance Big Entertainment.

When contacted, an R-ADAG spokesperson did not comment on the investment size of the JV, but unconfirmed media reports Monday indicated that the venture could see a combined investment of $100 million over the next five years.

RBN currently operates India's largest FM network Big FM and already holds a valid licence to operate around 17 non-news television channels under the “Big” brand name while awaiting clearance for 32 news channels from India's information and broadcasting ministry.

“In the event that negotiations with respect to the JV are successfully completed and final, written agreements are executed, as currently proposed the business of the JV will initially include English language general entertainment channels, and the parties will explore owning and/or operating Hindi language and regional language general entertainment channels in the future,” added the statement, issued to the Bombay Stock Exchange.

The JV aims to include “certain programming rights across the countries of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan for now, and this could see further geographical spread on mutual consent.”

The statement also confirmed that RBN and CBS have “signed a preliminary, non-binding term sheet” for which all diligence and documentation is expected to be completed within a month.

Big CBS will see RBN leverage its multi-media presence and marketing expertise “combined with the content muscle of CBS Corporation”.

R-ADAG group companies include direct to home distribution venture Big TV and TV production entity Big Synergy alongwith film banner Reliance Big Pictures, which are expected to offer Big CBS “exciting prospects” for synergies.

Indian audiences are already familiar with some top CBS shows such as “CSI,” “Two and a Half Men” and “America’s Next Top Model” aired via syndication on various English outlets here such as News Corp's Star World and Indian broadcaster Zee Telefilms' Zee Cafe.

A CBS representative was not available to comment on the statements.
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