Anil Ambani Pursues Global Media Empire

Anil Ambani, the Indian billionaire, is putting up between $500 million and $600 million to back famous Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and his team at DreamWorks as they leave Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures later this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Anil Ambani, married to a former Bollywood actress Tina Munim, has clearly shown great interest in the Indian film world for a while, his global ambition to build a major international media and entertainment empire is just beginning to emerge.

Ambani's company, Reliance Big Entertainment, said last month that it would finance movies by production houses connected to George Clooney, Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and others. It also said it plans to spend more than $1 billion in the next 18 months to expand its entertainment empire. Reliance is not the only Indian company pursuing deals in Hollywood. Similar deals are being made by UTV Motion Pictures, which co-financed current U.S. box-office hit "The Happening" directed by Oscar-winning Indian-American Manoj Night Shyamalan. And a similar joint effort is underway between Disney and Yash Raj Films in producing an animated film "Roadside Romeo" for the Indian audience. Disney is also an investor in UTV.

The history of outside investors, including foreign companies, trying to profit from Hollywood is long, with few notable successes. The 1980s saw a flood of Japanese investors, followed in the 1990s by Germans. The Indians, however, are different. Bollywood film revenues totaled $2.5 billion last year, less than one-tenth the total made by Hollywood films, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. But film revenue in India has been growing at about 17% a year for the past three years, while growth in the U.S. has been less than 3%. Emerging markets in general have outpaced the U.S. and most other developed markets: Annual movie revenues have climbed more than 6% in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America in the same period, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Besides the Hollywood deals, Ambani is launching 20 TV channels and owns FM stations in India. Anil Ambani's plans appear to be highly ambitious and may partly be driven by the sibling rivalry between Anil and Mukesh. Currently, Mukesh is ranked a notch higher on the Forbes billionaires list.

The opportunities for growth in Bollywood are attracting successful, Silicon Valley based Indian-American entrepreneurs such as Raj Singh and Kanwal Rekhi to invest in Indian movies with broad, international appeal.

India is clearly on its way to becoming a major media and entertainment powerhouse extending its influence and spreading its culture well beyond South Asia. The Indians are coming! Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone and Walt Disney bosses had better watch out!


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