UTV readies youth channel

Indian broadcaster UTV is launching a youth entertainment channel later this year, just months after it sold successful kids network Hungama to Disney for $30.5 million.

The Bindass channel will be aimed at viewers between the ages of 17 and 25 and will initially launch in Hindi in India in the second half of 2007. It will feature an equal 50/50 split between local productions and international acquisitions, although it is still in the process of finalising schedules.

Zarina Mehta, chief operating officer at Bindass, says that the Indian youth segment, which it claims forms some 23% of viewers in cable and satellite homes, is currently underserved by the range of entertainment channels on offer.

In August 2006, UTV sold second placed Indian kids channel Hungama to Disney, allowing Disney to close the ratings gap with Turner, which operates Cartoon Network and live-action channel Pogo. It is thought that restrictions were placed on UTV as to its involvement in future kids channels in the country, although it unclear how far these reached.

When Disney acquired the Hungama channel, it also paid $40 million for a 15% stake in parent company UTV Software Communications and Andy Bird, president, Walt Disney, International, sits on the UTV board as a non-executive director.

"We have used all our Hungama learnings in creating the new youth brand, including three months of intensive research," says Mehta.

The Bindass channel is a joint venture with Malaysian pay TV operator Astro, to be operated as a subsidiary of the listed GENX Entertainment brand.

There are also plans to launch a number of related channels in a variety of different languages across India and southeast Asia, as well as mobile TV spin-offs and websites. There will be an initial investment of INR2 billion ($46 million) in Bindass. But Mehta adds: "We are being deliberately tightlipped about our programming strategy."

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