Viacom in multimedia India deal

Teams with TV18 in 50-50 entertainment venture

Viacom and New Delhi-based media company TV18 Group on Tuesday announced a new 50-50 joint venture called Viacom-18.

The venture, subject to regulatory approval, includes television, film and digital media content across numerous brands, creating a multiplatform entertainment company. The announcement was made in Mumbai by Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman and TV18 Group managing director Raghav Bahl.

Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.

Among its planned projects, Viacom-18 will launch a new Hindi-language general entertainment channel this year, which will include original programming and acquisitions. Meanwhile, Viacom's Mumbai-based MTV Networks India will be included in the new partnership, bringing on board existing channels MTV, VH1 and kids channel Nick.

Viacom-18 also will launch a suite of targeted channels from the MTV Networks portfolio as well as new brands. Digital media content across all television brands also will be developed and distributed.

The TV18 Group will contribute its film division — which produces, acquires and distributes Hindi-language films via its Mumbai-based subsidiary Studio 18 — to the joint venture. Viacom-18 also will jointly manage another new division, the Indian Film Co., which is in the process of being listed on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange.

In an interview, Daumann explained that Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks "will explore additional opportunities for collaboration with Viacom-18." Currently, Viacom's only presence in the film business here is via Mumbai-based Paramount Films of India Ltd., which distributes the studio's releases here.

Bahl said that Viacom-18 "will produce films aimed at Indian audiences."

As for Viacom-18's management structure, Daumann said that a joint board of directors will be formed, which will then appoint a CEO for the venture.

"India is one of Viacom's priority markets for expansion internationally," Dauman said. "This partnership will transfer and significantly enlarge our business to offer audiences greater content diversity across platforms and opportunities for advertisers to reach the full spectrum of demographics. The film operation for Viacom-18 will provide strong synergies with the TV and digital media business as well as complement our Paramount and DreamWorks studios."

The TV18 Group proposes to eventually house its investment in the joint venture through its general broadcast subsidiary GBN, which also has an alliance with Time Warner for the CNN-IBN news network. TV18 also has a separate joint venture with CNBC to run business news network CNBC TV18.

Bahl clarified that the new agreement with Viacom "does not pose any conflict of interest with our existing partnerships as they are all in different segments, such as business news and current affairs, while the Viacom alliance focuses on entertainment."