UTV grows with games, ani prod'n


NEW DELHI -- Indian entertainment powerhouse UTV Software Communications Ltd. is pushing into the potential growth fields of video games and feature animation production.

The company said Friday that it has acquired a 70% controlling stake in U.K. gaming company Ignition Entertainment for $13 million and a 51% controlling stake in leading Indian mobile gaming outfit Indiagames for $15 million.

UTV also announced its foray into animation feature production with three projects for an investment of $30 million.

Ignition -- whose annual revenue is forecast to reach $15 million this year -- is a game developer for clients including Nintendo, Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, for which it is working on a £10 million ($19 million) budgeted game, "War Devil," slated for a 2008 release.

Indiagames is India's largest mobile and online gaming company and posted revenue of $5 million for its last full fiscal year that ended in March.

"These acquisitions complete UTV's vertical diversification in all areas given that we are already strong in broadcasting and film," UTV chairman and CEO Ronnie Screwvala said. "We are now looking forward to the creative and marketing challenges of exploiting content across new media."

Screwvala said that in both companies the existing management structure will remain unchanged.

"The purpose of these acquisitions is more strategic in leveraging content, and, of course, the incremental benefits include cost advantages in using India as a production base," he added.

UTV's first feature animation projects include "The Dream Blanket" to be directed by Simi Nallaseth, one of the key animators on "Ice Age."

The second project, "Arjun," is based on a character from Indian mythology and will be directed by Arnab Chaudhury, a creative director at Turner International Asia and former creative director at News Corp.'s Star network music outlet Channel V.

The third project in development is a co-production with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment under a deal announced this summer.

At the time, UTV also struck co-production deals with Sony Pictures Entertainment and Fox Searchlight Pictures. In addition, the company has co-production and animation outsourcing deals with Porchlight Entertainment and Mike Young Prods.

Mumbai-based UTV is publicly traded. The Walt Disney Co. this year acquired a 14.9% stake in the company for $14 million while acquiring 100% of UTV's kids channel Hungama TV for $30.5 million.

Entertainment conglomerates increasingly have looked to India as a key market of future growth. Industry executives have repeatedly signaled that India could well rival China as the Asian focus market for their companies as the country is big, and the regulatory environment is easier to gauge.