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Behind Ronnie Screwvala's Rs 2,000-cr Walt Disney deal

A graduate of Mumbai's Cathedral and John Cannon School and Sydenham College of Commerce, Rohinton 'Ronnie' Screwvala, the founder promoter and group CEO of UTV Software and Communications has many firsts to his credit. The recent Rs 2,000 crore buy-out deal with Walt Disney only adds to that list.

Anusha Subramanian        Last Updated: December 8, 2011  | 15:02 IST

He is affable but a shrewd businessman.

A graduate of Mumbai's Cathedral and John Cannon School and Sydenham College of Commerce, Rohinton 'Ronnie' Screwvala, the founder promoter and group CEO of UTV Software and Communications has many firsts to his credit.

He pioneered home shopping in India with Tele-Shopping Network (TSN), ventured into the media industry when it was still lesser-known. In June 1981, Ronnie gave Indian viewers their first taste of things to come when he pioneered India's very first cable TV company, Network. Back then there was no multi-channel environment and the national broadcaster monopolised the air. Network was a three-hour video channel that showed movies and started off by providing content to some homes in Maker Towers in the posh Cuffe Parade area of Mumbai. The young entrepreneur charged Rs 200 per month then and soon had thousands of households in the area subscribing to the service.

LEADERSPEAK:UTV CEO Rohinton Screwvala shares his leadership style

A little known secret about Ronnie is the entrepreneurial bug in him which has led him into diverse activities - he owns India's largest toothbrush manufacturing company, which produces over 6 million brushes a month for most of the best known brands in India. Infact, it is understood from sources that Colgate Palmolive is one if his biggest clients in this space.

Then, long before anyone in Asia thought it economically feasible or logistically probable, he founded United Studios, South Asia's premier studio and animation complex.

Ronnie then moved on to incorporate the UTV Group in 1990, which has today emerged as an integrated Pan Asia Media company. A progressive leader in a dynamic company, Ronnie is a recognised media name - not only in Asia but globally - and is invited regularly to lecture and participate in global forums in the US, UK and Europe.

He has constantly demonstrated the rare combination of a creative eye, coupled with innovation and business savvy. As the founder promoter and CEO of UTV, he has been a firm believer in multiple revenue stream and diversified business model. However, he feels a balance has to be maintained by ensuring rigid discipline in each of the diversified offerings.

MUST READ:How UTV grew into goliath of production industry

Today, UTV Group is diversified into five major verticals - key drivers of the revenue model are movie production & distribution, gaming and new media. The other two verticals being television content production and broadcasting business.

While there is no denying that he is well-known in media circles, analysts say there has always been skepticism about the way Ronnie operates. This, they point out is largely concerned with the stability of the business.

Ronnie is 'known' for his typical style to launch business ventures, incubate them to a point and then, sell them at the right time. In the past, he followed the strategy with Vijay TV, a Tamil channel. STAR India picked up 51 per cent stake in for a consideration of Rs 20 crore.

In 2006, he sold off Hungama TV to The Walt Disney Company for $30.5 million after just 22 months of incubation. When the channel was launched, it raised a lot of eyebrows, since kids genre in entertainment television was already crowded with seven channels - all competing for eyeballs.

ROUND UP:Behind UTV's fantastic growth as a brand

Two years later in February 2008, Ronnie's biggest achievement was in getting The Walt Disney Company (TWDC) to pick up a 15 per cent stake in UTV Global Broadcasting for Rs 118.98 crore. The deal - the largest foreign investment in India's media and entertainment sector - followed Walt Disney's acquisition of 32.1 per cent in parent UTV Software Communications Ltd for Rs 805.05 crore.

With this, Walt Disney had invested a total of Rs 924.03 crore in UTV, giving it a strong launch pad for the second phase of its growth. The investment by Disney was a step towards integrating and enhancing the synergies between the two companies, helping UTV to its next level.

This included grabbing new opportunities over the next five years - both at home and abroad. This was soon followed by Walt Disney further raising its stake in the company to more than 50 per cent by buying 20 per cent UTV shares from the open market. It thus became a majority shareholder of UTV Software and Communications and in turn, also became the first Hollywood studio to have a majority stake in an Indian media & entertainment firm.

Ever since, Walt Disney has been nurturing UTV. Their strategy has been quite clear, so much so now that they are sure to buy the entire company out and delist UTV from the bourses.

According to a media analyst tracking UTV, "The buzz has been in the market for a couple of months now that UTV will be bought out. Walt Disney has always been interested in most of UTV's business, especially the gaming and movies business."

The recent deal with UTV will help Disney diversify and expand its presence in India at a faster pace now.

While Ronnie is selling his 19.8 per cent stake and losing control of his company, there's a bigger picture behind the development - he will now become the managing director of The Walt Disney Company India and play the all too important role in taking the company forward.

Interestingly, Mahesh Samat, who was appointed the managing director of Walt Disney's India operations two years ago, will now become the chief operating officer of the company and report to Screwvala.

Like always, it's 'all's well that end's well' for Ronnie Screwvala.

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