Sony ups overseas stakes

Film prod'n, reality TV top agenda

International expansion was on the agenda Thursday for Sony, which announced an acceleration of its Bollywood film production activities and an investment in factual TV entertainment in the U.K.

Following Sony Pictures Entertainment's debut of Bollywood production "Saawariya" (Beloved), the studio says it is expanding its India production plans, producing at least six films a year for Indian audiences, Mumbai-based SPE Films India executive vp Uday Singh said in an interview on the sidelines of the ongoing FICCI Frames conference.

SPE is the first major Hollywood studio to produce and premiere a Bollywood film for an Indian audience.

Singh, who was managing director of Mumbai-based Sony Pictures Releasing of India, said that SPRI will now "focus only on distribution, while SPE Films India will handle productions."

SPE India "will look at Indian themes for mainstream audiences. With this content, our mandate is to also exploit synergies with group affiliates Sony Entertainment Television and music label Sony BMG," Singh added.

He did not provide an estimated budget for the planned production slate.

Given that Bollywood films are sometimes accused of lifting Hollywood or international story lines, Singh said: "We want to create awareness in the market about respect for intellectual property. Recently, we took out ads in some local trades alerting the industry that SPE owns copyright to titles such as 'Jerry Maguire' and other catalog product."

Recent unconfirmed media reports had hinted that local producers were planning a Bollywood version of "Maguire" for leading star Salman Khan.

Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Television International has made an undisclosed financial investment in startup indie factual entertainment company Gogglebox Entertainment, launched by former Lion Television executives Matt Steiner and Adam Wood. The new venture, in which Sony will take an equity stake in return for international distribution rights, will create and produce entertainment and factual entertainment formats for the U.K.

Sony's investment extends a U.K. independent production company portfolio that also includes a minority stake in Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine Entertainment.

Nyay Bhushan reported from Mumbai; Mimi Turner reported from London.