Reliance-CBS to launch with three channels

Equal joint venture to be called BIG CBS

NEW DELHI -- Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd., owned by DreamWorks' partner Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, and CBS Studios International announced Wednesday their equal joint venture, BIG CBS Networks Private Ltd., which will launch three English entertainment channels in the fourth quarter of this year.

The announcement was made in Mumbai by RBNL CEO Tarun Katial and CBS Studios International president Armando Nuñez and confirmed earlier reports on the venture's planned launch.

Aiming to capture eyeballs in India's 134 million TV households, the three new English channels include general entertainment channel BIG CBS Prime and youth outlet BIG CBS Spark while BIG CBS Love is touted as India's “first-ever women's English entertainment channel.”

The channels will feature a variety of CBS shows such as new seasons of “Hawaii Five-0,” “The Defenders” and “Blue Bloods” in additon to popular properties including “NCIS,” “Survivor,” “CSI,” “90210,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “Entertainment Tonight.”

The channels will also draw from 70,000 hours of content from CBS's program library, including the original “Melrose Place,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Frasier,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “Charmed."

In addition, the venture will also acquire content from third-party suppliers and consider producing original English-language programming in the future.

“Currently, our focus is on the three English channels which will target specific demographic groups with the variety of content from the CBS library," CBS Studios International president Armando Nuñez told THR in an interview.

When asked about the investment size of the venture  Nuñez declined to comment and added, “What both partners are bringing to the venture are their unique assets and strengths. CBS is strong on content while Reliance has marketing and distribution advantges, among other strengths.”

As for launching Hindi and local channels, Nuñez said, “We will look at opportunities down the road when it comes to local language channels but for the moment we are focusing on our English entertainment channels.”

The three channels will be made available across a network of digital and analog distribution platforms given that RADAG owns direct to home venture Big TV and cable TV player Reliance Digicable. The channels will be offered to audiences across the Indian subcontinent covering India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan.

“We see great opportunity in the Indian television industry which projects high growth rate, and we are confident that our deep understanding of the Indian consumer’s entertainment requirements and advertiser needs, coupled with CBS’ reputation for creating superior content, will offer unmatched and pioneering entertainment to audiences in India and across the Indian subcontinent,” said Katial, who has earlier worked with Star India and Sony Entertainment Television.
RADAG's entertainment affiliates include TV production house Big Synergy and Big Productions, FM radio network Big FM and film banner Big Pictures, along with international partnerships with the likes of DreamWorks and financing silos with Hollywood banners owned by A-listers such as George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt. “The potential of this joint venture clearly has exciting prospects," the company said in a statement.

“We could look at the possibility of adapting some of our CBS shows here. For example, we could consider a localized version of “Entertainment Tonight” with Bollywood content and the show could well be presented in English on any of our three new channels," Nuñez said when asked about producing localized content.

BIG CBS will be the latest player in India's dynamic 265.5 billion rupees ($5.9 billion) TV market competing against established rivals such as News Corp.'s Star network and recent entrants such as joint venture Viacom18. India is poised to become the world's largest direct-to-home satellite pay TV market by 2012, overtaking the U.S. with a projected 35 million subscribers.

CBS' India foray is the network's second launch of international channels in key markets this year. Last September, CBS established a joint venture with Chello Media to launch a suite of CBS branded channels in the U.K. The company also has ownership interests in Australian pay TV channels SCI FI and TV1.