AgTalk | People out here love to be entertained: Viacom's Robert Bakish

East Meets West, this adage may have worked in a lot of areas but when it comes to a business partnership or collaboration, there is every chance of a failure. Many in fact feel that the collaboration of the East and the West can never work; for if he will prefer the right the other will prefer the left, and ultimately this will led to a failure of the venture. Before we may agree to this wait! For there is an exception. Not only has East met the West but the partnership has broken many a barriers and set new highs in the collaboration. To come to the point, the meeting of the local and the global breaking the barrier has been successfully seen in the joint venture of Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) and the Network 18 Media & Investments (N18MI). Both joined hands with a common vision to launch the Viacom 18 Media which has gone on to add products after products and thereby create a strong position for them in the Indian market.

Adgully caught up with Robert M. Bakish President and CEO, VIMN and Sai Kumar, Group CEO of Network18 to know more about their successful partnership and what drives them together to remain in a market leading position. A brief profile of the two will help us know what these successful honchos’ experience in their respective careers have allowed them to achieve in the short span of five years for Viacom 18.

Bakish is responsible for all Viacom Media Networks operations outside the United States, including those of MTV Networks, BET Networks and the non-premium TV channels of Paramount Pictures. In addition, he is Chairman of the Board of Viacom 18 (the company’s Indian JV which operates the Colors Television Network as well as MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon).Prior to this he was President, MTV Networks International, running MTVN’s operations outside the U.S.  Bakish also previously served as EVP, Operations and Viacom Enterprises, and prior to that as EVP and COO, MTV Networks Advertising Sales. Before joining MTV Networks, Bakish was SVP, Planning, Development and Technology at Viacom.  His long stint with Viacom began in 1997 after he quit as a partner with Booz Allen & Hamilton’s Media and Entertainment practice.

Sai Kumar on the otherhand oversees the group’s diverse portfolio of assets spanning news & entertainment broadcasting, digital & print publishing, film entertainment, e-commerce and other allied businesses. This includes a TV network comprising fifteen national and regional channels straddling general & business news, mass entertainment, youth, kids, English entertainment, factual entertainment and home shopping genres. 

He is responsible for the strategic and operational management of the group. Kumar leads management teams of all group businesses including the IBN general news network (CNN-IBN,IBN7,IBN-Lokmat), CNBC-TV18/Awaaz business news network (CNBC-TV18,CNBC Awaaz,CNBC-TV18 Prime HD), Web18 (,,, etc), Forbes India, Infomedia18 (Overdrive, Chip, Entrepreneur etc) amongst others. Apart from this, Kumar oversees the group’s interests in A+E Networks|TV18 (HistoryTV18), Viacom18 (Colors, Colors HD, MTV, Nick, Vh1, Sonic, Comedy Central, Viacom18 Motion Pictures), HomeShop18 and Bigtree Entertainment.

Following are the excerpts of the joint conversation.

Adgully (AG): It's over a decade of doing business in India; what are the two good things that you have noticed in the market in India?

Robert Bakish (RB): The first thing is that the Indian market is very vibrant. People out here love to be entertained and want good content. In that context this is very good for a content company like Viacom, we entered into a partnership with Network18 and it is working for us. The second thing I would say is that it is not very easy to create a new company from scratch and that too with a very significant mandate; we wanted to take the company here from the size of a room and give it a major presence in India. To see the company evolve through like this is quite thrilling.

AG: What have been the challenges in the process?

RB: I was the first one to realize that in this partnership there is substantial revenue strength for the company. It was unfortunate that we had to wait for a couple of more years than we had anticipated. I am looking forward to the phase two but that would entirely be a challenge in itself. Another is that India has a very competitive market, if you look Colors has come down from the top to the number three position although we are very happy to have Colors in the top three packs. But you cannot sit and relax in this market place because there are great people working in this market. So it’s an ongoing challenge to maintain the number 1 position.

AG: You do not have sports and factual entertainment in the bouquet offered to Indians. Do we see any addition on these genres in the future?

Sai Kumar (SK): These are very different spaces first of all and I think sports in India only includes cricket. Moreover we believe that there is a certain strategy and space for every country and our strategy is fully focused on entertainment, youth and kids and we are reinforcing ourselves in this area. That is why people saw NickSonic, we have covered an age group of 6 to 60 in this genre. At some stage we were looking at the regional market very seriously and you carefully choose your cuts and we believe very strongly that growth in the regional market is very positive in next 5 to 7 years. It will give Viacom18 the width and distribution with the India cast. As far as factual entertainment goes, there is definitely a canvas for that and we will let you know as soon as there is something.

AG: Tell us something about the ETV deal that happened.

SK: TV18 has announced the 50 per cent acquisition of ETV’s entertainment and 100 per cent of its news assets. We are in the last stage of regulatory approvals. We see a lot of synergy and opportunity for Viacom18 in this space and the Viacom board and Bob are evaluating it very seriously to pick up the rest of the stakes so that we move as partners in the regional as well.

RB: We see that strategically the regional market is very compelling and we are trying to achieve a synergy between the two formats. Hopefully it will work for us together.

AG: Do we see Colors taking a regional route very soon?

SK: It seems like a smart and intelligent thing to do but as we move closer to the market and operations we… (Interrupted by Robert at this moment)

RB: It is a little early to answer these questions.

AG: What according to you is the success mantra of Colors in India?

RB: It starts with a shared vision and commitment of Viacom and Network18 and also the strong brand positioning. We also had the vision to get the best team on board and give them the resources to create some substantial regional content and that I believe has created the success of Colors, what it is today. We began with being the top channel and are now currently in third position. Moreover we are very well distributed in US, UK, some 70 countries but more than that it is our vision that has allowed us to achieve this amount of success.

AG: What was the rationale behind launching Comedy Central in India?

SK: We believe there is enough synergy in the whole space of English entertainment and music channel in India and if you look at the consumer and viewer behavior in India, you would see extremely upscale audiences in this space. The consumption of English entertainment channel has gone up dramatically. Comedy Central is a unique brand, it is much more focused and narrow and this proposition was very clear. There are great brands outside India but bringing it to the Indian domain will be strengthening of our position.

The kids today are the stickiest proposition who decide the household entertainment bouquet. It therefore helps Indiacast negotiate well and strengthen their position well.

RB: Comedy Central is one of the great brands of USA. Three years ago it was completely centric to the US and European markets but it was doing phenomenally well in all the markets and that was the reason why Viacom International decided to launch Comedy Central in India and we are sure that it will fulfill the promise of being the most entertaining brand.

AG: What is your vision for your India operations and where do you want to see it by 2020?

RB: Well my vision is to continue on the path we are treading and Viacom18 has become one of the most important entertainment companies in India which is a substantial achievement given that the company is only five years old. We are working hard to continue that trend and adding new products to the bouquet. Also digitization comes in with a great opportunity on the distribution front to create the new vehicle for distribution. Moreover we want our products to be viewed on a global platform.

AG: What's your take on the revenues earned from advertising in India vis-a-vis your international operations? Is it contributing decently to your bottom line?

RB: Not really and the last eighteen months have been tough, overall we are not really happy with the business channels but we are going to stay and face this tough challenge. The economy will go back to a growth of 6.5 per cent and this will bring back the advertising world out of the difficult situation and it will make a comeback in an upward trend growth.

AG: Do we see more of international formats on Indian television with 24 being launched?

SK: Colors have always believed in picking up cutting edge formats that have done very well across the globe and I think everything is looking great about the show. We will take each thing a step by step. | By Rabab Rupawala [rabab(at)]


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