Reliance Buys Up More Businesses

In Hollywood, there's a debate about whether David Geffen and Steven Spielberg are using India's Reliance ADA Group to flush out a more local, Hollywood bidder. But meanwhile, the giant Indian conglom is going about its regular business -- buying companies and launching even more. In the past week, it has bowed a radio station, tied up a production deal with Bollywood's royal family and moved further into artist management.

It is also hoping to close its $38 billion deal to buy the South Africa-based multinational cell phone group MTN, which has operations in 21 countries across Africa and the Middle East, "within the next couple of weeks," said Reliance Entertainment prexy Rajesh Sawhney. If it can pull it off, Reliance would join the top ranks of the world's top mobile groups -- with 115 million subscribers.

The Hollywood intrigues must feel familiar to group boss Anil Ambani. Although his Reliance ADAG is conducting due diligence on MTN, Reliance Industries, controlled by Anil's estranged brother Mukesh, is trying to wreck the deal.

"We see (the DreamWorks talks) as a parallel with the approach we are taking in telcos. There we have bought small tech companies, now we are buying MTN. That's a game changer," Sawhney told Daily Variety.
More than one option

Back in India, Reliance Entertainment announced that it had struck a joint venture with AB Corp., the family firm controlled by India's senior movie star, Amitabh Bachchan. Pact, which the local media dubbed the Big Bang, a play on Bachchan's "Big B" nickname (Reliance is busily rebranding its entertainment operations with the "Big" label), secures top names in a very tight talent market. The pair will make four or five movies with Bachchan either starring or producing and with production costs shared. Helmers R. Balki, Sujoy Ghosh, Rohan Sippy and Chandra Prakash Diwedi are apparently lined up.

Reliance Music has recently bought up film music rights to a number of movies in the regional Kannada language; now Reliance Entertainment has committed to making two movies in Kannada, one helmed by M.S. Sathyu, the other scripted and directed by Mohan.In Singapore, Reliance's Big 92.7 FM pacted with state radio broadcaster MediaCorp to launch Big Bollywood 96.3 FM, targeted at the Hindi expatriate community.

"We have got the vertical integration, now we aim to fill in the gaps, whether it is Bollywood or elsewhere, and to scale up," Sawhney said.

And whether the DreamWorks principals are yet ready to look beyond Ambani's cash, Reliance is keen to offer some of India's technology expertise as Hollywood confronts the digital age.

Reliance has substantial assets in digital technology and transmission. It boasts Asia's most advanced facility for producing 4K digital intermediates, thanks to the recent $300 million acquisition of Yipes. It is the only Indian cinema firm providing DCI-compliant 2K digital cinema systems. Recently, it acquired the digital imaging unit of U.S.-based DTS, which Sawhney is now ready to scale up.

By Patrick Frater, Variety