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Disney Content Moves in India ‘Misinterpreted’ Says Andy Bird

Variety logo Variety 4/26/2017 Patrick Frater
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Disney is not abandoning local content production in India, despite a decision last year to close its Bollywood film making side. The country is often overshadowed by the growth of China, but prospects for India are very bright, says Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International.

“I’ve never been more excited about India,” said Bird, speaking at the Asia Pacific Video Operators Summit (APOS) convention in Indonesia on Wednesday “That comes after a decade of frustration.”

Bird pointed to the launch last year of Jio by industrial giant Reliance Industries as a recent example of market expansion. Jio, which offers low cost and widely available broadband, now claims over 108 million subscribers in the space of just a few months.

Bird said that his decision to close down Disney’s Indian film production operations last year has been misunderstood by the industry. The decision was taken in November last year, at a time when the company’s in-house developed “Dangal” was breaking box office records.

“It was misinterpreted that we were giving up on local production,” said Bird. He said that the company has a slate of 12 products in development.

Bird explained that the changing possibilities offered by expanding bandwidth and mobile access mean that Disney is more able to experiment with new business models. “In India we’ve had content which debuted on Facebook, then went to YouTube and then to traditional TV in third place,” said Bird.

“The economics of the Indian cinema industry are just not catching up,” said Bird. The theatrical film business in India has experienced sharply rising production costs, at the same time as admissions have reached a plateau and, under the influence of multiplex building, rising ticket prices.

Another factor behind the decision was the growing popularity of Hollywood movies in India. That opens more business opportunities for the multinational. Bird said that Disney has up to 24 businesses able to use the corporation’s intellectual property.

Bird said that Asia continues to represent some of the fastest growth rates in the world for Disney, while also being at the cutting edge of the analog to digital transformation. “(In two to three years) we expect to be a digitally focused, mobile first, multi-faceted company,” said Bird.

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