Here comes Bollywood, Part 2

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Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote an article for this magazine called "Watch Out Hollywood, Here Comes Bollywood," focusing on the expansion of Reliance MediaWorks Ltd. (RMW) into mainstream entertainment businesses in Hollywood and around the world. So let’s track the progress of RMW, a member of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (which also owns a chunk of Hollywood's DreamWorks).

Right before the turn of the New Year, Reliance MediaWorks signed a memorandum of understanding with Russian World Studios (RWS) and Obyedinennaya Gosudarstvennaya Kinokollektsia (OGK) to accept work related to film restoration, image processing, enhancement and HD conversion from Russia to RMW facilities in Mumbai (India) and Burbank (California).

Depending on Russia’s requirements and developing business potential, Reliance MediaWorks and RWS will also explore the possibility of jointly setting up a dedicated restoration and digitization facility within the RWS Studio complex in St. Petersburg for image processing and touch-ups.

Yuri Saprono, chief executive officer of RWS, said Reliance “shares our commitment for excellence and has time-proven hardware, software and custom R&D [that] can help us restore the Russian film legacy.”

Reliance already owns the Burbank post-production house Lowry Digital, giving it a dominant and comprehensive presence in film services: motion picture processing and digital intermediates, film restoration and image enhancement, 3D, digital mastering, studios and equipment rentals, visual effects, animation, and TVC post-production in India, USA, U.K. and Japan.

And of course, there is the BIG Cinema circuit of movie theatres owned by Reliance with locations in the USA, the Netherlands, Malaysia and (naturally) India. But Reliance gave itself a New Year's gift by purchasing an additional 32% of Indian exhibitor Fame India, giving it a total 44% stake in that company. Fame theatres are mostly located in Mumbai.

Now comes word that Reliance MediaWorks Studios have come online from January 2011. Designed and engineered by motion picture soundstage architects, engineers and builders from Los Angeles and India, Reliance MediaWorks Studios is planning on being the finest studio production resource in South Asia. The Studios are looking to attract international productions because they offer world-class facilities at a fraction of the cost of what can be found in Hollywood or Europe.

The studios include eight soundstages that are spread across a 200,000-square-foot area in Film City, Mumbai. The first phase of three soundstages is presently operational, while another five soundstages will be operational later this year.

Commenting on the studio development, Anil Arjun, CEO of Reliance MediaWorks, said, “The launch of RMW Studios is a natural extension of the film and media services we’re already providing in the entertainment space. There is a severe shortage of high-quality infrastructure in Mumbai and this need gap becomes more acute every year with the constant increase in big-budget film, broadcast and advertising commercial productions. These studios are a one-stop solution that blends infrastructure with technology, experience and aesthetics and a prominent step in a strategy to increase our footprint across the entire entertainment services value chain.”

Arjun added that RMW Studios has the potential to garner revenues up to 10% of the company's turnover.

But the Hollywood buy-in and Indian entertainment company expansion do not stop with Reliance Media Works. Tata Elxsi, the visual-effects and engineering division of Indian conglomerate Tata, is buying a majority share in A Squared Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based kids' animation firm.

Tata Elxsi, which opened a visual-effects studio in Santa Monica in 2010, has reached an agreement to acquire a 51% stake in A Squared Entertainment, producer of the animated TV and Web series "Secret Millionaires Club" with billionaire Warren Buffett and "Martha & Friends," the upcoming series on the Hallmark Channel featuring a ten-year-old Martha Stewart.

The two companies agreed to form a joint venture to produce and distribute children's series for television, the Web, mobile devices and videogames. Under the deal, Tata will finance the productions and supply the animation workforce from its studio in Bangalore, India, while A Squared Entertainment will provide the creative direction for the projects, using its contacts in Hollywood. Financial terms were not disclosed.

"We're really trying to create an animation studio of the 21st century,''' said children's entertainment veteran Andy Heyward, co-president of A Squared Entertainment. "The advantage for us is to have the very best of the Hollywood entertainment community and be able to produce the animation in a very low-cost, skilled environment with a partner who has the wherewithal to do that."

Heyward founded A Squared Entertainment with his wife, Amy Moynihan Heyward, in 2009. For more than 25 years, he ran the Burbank-based DIC Entertainment Corp., a onetime unit of Capital Cities/ABC Inc., before he repurchased the company and sold it in 2008 to Canadian-based Cookie Jar Group for $31.5 million.

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news stories at prdivision@gmail.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @scott_cos or on Facebook at D Scott Rosenberg.