Hi-tech Asia programmer weds Hollywood, Bollywood


It's one of the first deals of its kind to put Hollywood and Bollywood on the same page and to provide a new portal for studio product into the vast Asian TV viewing market.

Basically, the ink's not even dry on the deal that marries a high technology Asian program provider -- replete with a plethora of big Hollywood movie titles -- to India's biggest provider of Bollywood content.

Major Hollywood movies will be open to many consumers who previously didn't have access to them via cable or satellite. And Bollywood films -- much in demand throughout Asia -- will get an important new outlet there.

The man who brokered the ambitious scheme, former Intel executive Roger Vakharia, was in Los Angeles last week to ensure that the industry understands what a breakthrough for the Asian TV market the deal really is -- though it is still subject to final due  iligence.

It involves Eros International, a leading Bollywood entertainment company, and the Asia Pacific Video on Demand channel, Anytime, which is based in Singapore. Anytime is Asia Pacific's leading on-demand channel and is delivered over IPTV, broadband and digital cable networks. It has access to a vast amount of Hollywood product through deals with such majors as Fox, Sony, Warners, Universal and Disney.

Vakharia explains that the two entities will form a joint venture (majority owned by Eros) that will deliver Hollywood movies on-demand across India. In addition, a Bollywood VoD channel will be delivered across the Asia Pacific territories and will carry major Bollywood films that are the hallmark of the Indian movie industry.

"From a technology perspective, the environment in Asia provided the perfect storm setting for an on-demand deal like this," Vakharia says. "Broadband has taken a generational leap."

The number of IPTV subscribers in the Asia Pacific region is expected to increase from 1.2 million subscribers in 2005 to more than 29 million by 2010, he points out. In addition, a major boost can be anticipated by the fact that the bundling of voice, video and data services, as well as mobile services, is expected to drive consumers to spend more on digital entertainment.

The plan to deliver movies directly into homes across Asia via broadband and digital platforms makes a lot of sense when you consider that the number of broadband subscribers in Asia is expected to grow to more than 106 million by the end of 2010, a 14% increase each year, Vakharia adds.

"So this was about bringing two entities together, one with content, the other with the digital delivery technology," he adds.

Vakharia is a former 11-year Intel veteran. He brought together several broadband and mobile entertainment investments and alliances worldwide. He serves on the board of directors of U.K.-based publicly listed Eros International, which operates in more than 50 countries and produces up to 30 Bollywood films a year. It has more than 1,300 titles in its library.

"The explosion of IPTV gives you the freedom to not have to rely only on satellite or cable-delivered service. It really enhances the traditional methods of delivery. People are consuming a lot of Hollywood product in India while people throughout Asia are also hungry for Bollywood product. Now, through this arrangement, Asia has a Bollywood-on-demand service," he explains.

Vakharia says that apart from servicing a clear need in the marketplace, the arrangement also offers people "a legitimate way to enjoy entertainment and they are willing to pay a reasonable price for it." That, he says, will go a long way to countering rampant piracy in the region where some 60% of content is pirated.