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January 20, 2007

Ronnie Screwvala and his new plans for UTV

Business Today has an article profile of UTV and its founder Ronnie Screwvala, who, after selling "the teenager-focussed entertainment channel, Hungama TV, to Walt Disney for Rs 135 crore, is already onto his next big venture: a 24X7 Hindi general entertainment channel that will target India's post-teen youth market straddling an age band of 18-25."

But Screwvala is more than a serial media entrepreneur. He's one of the few pioneers who spotted the potential of the television medium in India as early as the 1980s. In 1981, Screwvala launched a three-hour video channel that began showing movies cabled into a clutch of apartments in south Mumbai's affluent Cuffe Parade area. Cable TV was a novel idea then and Screwvala was clearly a first-mover getting into it nearly a decade before others.

There hasn't been any looking back. By the late 1980s, Screwvala had moved into the back end of TV-producing content (then mainly for Doordarshan) as well as selling airtime and syndicated programming. Soon UTV, which he founded in 1990, was making content for the then fledgling cable and satellite TV and landed a breathtaking 520-episode contract from Zee Telefilms.

Sixteen years later, Screwvala and his team are scripting UTV's biggest story ever. "In three years' time," he says, "we want UTV to be a Rs 1,000-crore venture with 35 per cent of the revenue coming from global markets." A tall ambition? After all, UTV's turnover in 2005-06 was only Rs 208 crore, and in the past decade, revenues have never grown more than 15-18 per cent. Achieving Screwvala's ambition would require growing at a compound annual rate of 25 per cent. Is that really doable?

It's been a long haul for Screwvala and UTV.
1981: Launches cable network.
1986: Sells it off to a South-based group.
1986-89: Moves into TV content production (mainly for Doordarshan) and airtime sale and syndication.
1990: UTV is incorporated.
1992: Forays into content production for cable and satellite TV; Gets a 520-episode contract from Zee.
1995: NewsCorp invests $5 million; first-ever foreign investment in media in India.
1996: Warburg Pincus invests $5 million; its first investment in India and first media investment in Asia.
1997-98: Launches post-production and animation facilities.
1999: Acquires Vijay TV for Rs 12 crore.
2001: Forays into film production and distribution.
2003: Sells Vijay TV to STAR for Rs 85 crore.
2004: Breaks into mainstream broadcasting with the launch of Hungama TV; also begins international film distribution.
2005: UTV raises around Rs 60 crore through IPO, and gets listed on the BSE.
2006: Hungama sold to Disney for Rs 135 crore; the latter also picks up a 14.9 per cent stake in UTV; total deal size pegged at around Rs 200 crore; Plans launch of India's first-ever general entertainment channel for youth in Hindi.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of information and networking services to the private equity and venture capital ecosystem in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports.