Hailing from a town called Allahabad; Neeraj Roy moved to the city of dreams Mumbai in 1988 to pursue his business studies and graduated from Sydenham College. He began his career with the Taj Group of Hotels, where he held the position of marketing manager for South Asia, after which he shifted to a local investment banking firm called Prime Security and held a tenure of four and a half years there. And then came the big baby of his life Hungama, which kicked off in mid-1999. Hungama.com has the distinction of owning the three biggest entertainment portals in South Asia, namely Hungama.com, IndiaFM.com and GamingHungama.com. Hungama has won over 52 awards in Digital Marketing, including 4 ABBY Golds, PMAA-Singapore and the Globes in Miami. They hold the worldwide exclusive license to over 200,000 music titles, 20,000+ videos and have worked on over 500 movie games, etc. Hungama Mobile has now launched a Bollywood channel with over 70 operators in 25 countries on networks such as SingTel, Maxis, MTN, O2, Telis etc and also internet based services such as Apple iTunes, MSN Music, Yahoo! Music, etc.
Roy, Managing Director & CEO of Hungama has been voted amongst the ‘50 most influential people in the Mobile Entertainment’ field, globally. In an exclusive interview he speaks to TechShout.com about how it feels being a part of such a renowned organization, his dreams and of course his most memorable experience – The Cannes film festival.
T.S.: Can you tell us a little about your company Hungama.com, its history and its endeavors.
N.R.: Virtual Marketing India Pvt. Ltd. is the main company that owns the major brand and media properties Hungama.com, IndiaFM.com and GamingHungama.com. The first one to start was Hungama.com, which was meant to basically be a promotions website, and over the years has grown into an entertainment portal that includes music, trivia, Hollywood content etc. The next one is IndiaFM.com, which today holds the esteemed position of being the No. 1 Bollywood portal in the world. Its history treads down to early 2000, that’s when it was acquired. The two co-founders of the site were Salim and Suleman Mobani, are today part of the management team of the company. Today it is accessed by over 120 countries worldwide; has as many as about 9 M visitors every month. Its content includes about 25 stories every day surrounding around Indian entertainment. It has its own set of alliance with all the global majors who take content from it. And finally GamingHungama.com, the youngest off the lot, was started a few months ago. Its back up came from Hungama.com itself. As a company, Hungama.com had done more than 350 games, which essentially included casual games. This made us aware of the emerging gaming culture in India. This induced us to start GamingHungama.com, which basically started as the first multiplayer gaming portal in the country. It’s fundamentally backed by a set of games that the developers and gamers developed. And now we are working to grow the community on that portal and finally it will take on and morph in to a lot more beyond basic causal gaming that exists at present on the site.
T.S.: What has been Hungama’s biggest strength?
N.R.: Hungama has bloomed from a mere three member company and today has a strength of 260 members in the company. There are a few things that have always kept the company going. Firstly the company has worked with over 300 brands, over 100 interactive campaigns on the online space, over 600 mobile marketing campaigns, which at the end render an incredible amount of edge from the marketing perspective since we have worked and understood various consumers and have worked with a variety of brands, across as many as 20 industries. The other key factor is that there is a strong connect to the entertainment industry in every thing that we have pursued. From the attainment of IndiaFM.com to the entertainment portal Hungama.com, to the various spheres of entertainment such as mobile entertainment, gaming, Bollywood, Hollywood and you name it. In the present day digital era the biggest convergence opportunities are centered on the entertainment field and Hungama finds itself well placed to grab this opportunity. Moreover the fact that the same set of people yet constitute to the company’s family is another inducing reason for the success and strength of the company. There have been several highs and lows from where it began to where it today is. When we first started, we were actually made poster boy heroes and then of course one cannot forget the dotcom boom and its effects. There was even complete negligence and rejection from every stake holder, which all went for about 4 long years. And then in 2005, there was the resurrection and resurgence of the digital medium, in which the mobile has played a significant part, and now gradually it is gaining more and more momentum. Luckily, through all the smooth and rough patches we have managed to always stick on and stay together.
T.S.: Who is Hungama partnering with in the International and the Indian arena?
N.R.: We do have a lot of partners right now. With respect to the International arena, one of our biggest partners is Sony Pictures International. The partnership started in August or September 2006. For South-Asia, we represented them for the entire catalog of about 21 James Bond films, the entire Spiderman trilogy, almost around 40 films that they have. They were impressed by the work Hungama was doing, and then extended the partnership to 21 countries. We are also partners with Warner Bros. for certain parts of their content in this market. We have tied-up with Fashion TV in France too.
In the domestic market, we have around 220 partners in all, which includes 16-17 record labels such as T-Series, Yash Raj Films and their music for the international markets. Their content has gone on to digital platforms like Apple iTunes etc.
So, on the one side, we take content from India and export them to 32 countries where we have a digital distribution network. On the other hand we also open up avenues for brands into the local market. Here I’d like to add that few know that India is the largest mobile market in the world with about 180 M consumers and is in fact the fourth largest internet market in the world and shall become the third largest by the end of this year, eclipsing Japan. Therefore, there is immense opportunity in both the platforms and we would be delighted to represent a good host to these companies in capitalist opportunities and deal with consumers around the world and give them an experience they shall cherish.
T.S.: The Mobile Initiative – How did it come about and where is it going now?
N.R.: At the 3GSM Congress at Barcelona, the association comprising of Craig Ehrlich, Mark Smith, were all very keen to showcase mobile entertainment for the year 2007, as one of the big component of opportunity for the 800+ carriers, who are all members of the GSM Association. Keeping that in mind, they had two major initiatives that were showcased at the world’s largest Telecommunications Conventions at Barcelona in February. The first was the Sundance Institute initiative where 5 film makers from the institute developed mobile films. The second one was ‘Bollywood goes Mobile,’ which we conceptualized and partnered with them. This initiative was very iconic in its imagery and very representative of world cinema and in fact even Hollywood could take references from it. This was all thanks to the fact that we had created a digital distribution network for practically the entire industry. Keeping in mind that we represent almost 70 percent of Bollywood content in a worldwide all exclusive basis, in order to showcase that, and not merely showcase that as a portal on an operator network where one could music, video, games etc., but to in fact showcase that as an experience there were certain things we did. We firstly piloted 3 of the films from Sanjay Gupta’s ‘Dus Kahaniyan’ and premiered them at the festival and once the films are ready. It’s important to note here that these films have been made theatrical, but were made in a mindset keeping the digital medium in mind. Thus when the viewer would be watching ‘Dus Kahaniyan’ or ten short films on the silver screen collectively, the audience can see them in singles on the mobile phone, iPods and other digital platforms around the world. Once it is ready we shall distribute them in that format. The films are slated for release by Q2 of 2007, and finally Sanjay Gupta and Hungama will be deciding over its digital distribution. In fact various other projects of the same nature are in the pipeline too.
T.S.: You have just returned from the Cannes Film Festival. How was your experience there?
N.R.: The experience at Cannes was very nice. This year marked the 60th anniversary of the festival. Cannes is all about cinema and the creativity aspect involved. The organizers are very conscious about retaining the entire experience. Since it was the 60th year of the festival, the organizers chose to have the opening forum made up of a session on digital cinema and entertainment. Called ‘Cinema for Audiences of Tomorrow’, the event had 10-11 speakers from around the world. I was invited and privileged to be a part of that, where I addressed the session with the likes of Colin Brown, Editor-in-Chief, Screen International and Danah Boyd, Ethnographer and researcher of social media networks and doctoral candidate in the School of Information at the University of California-Berkeley (USA). We all spoke to producers chiefly regarding the advent of avenues such as digital, mobile, IPTV and how the convergence would impact cinema of tomorrow. I spoke about the opportunities and challenges for film makers globally.
Speaking about an instance of the opportunities in the digital and mobile forte, a couple of months back Singapore piloted a 100 Mbps service, which is considered to be a commercial launch and could perhaps be demoed at the Communique Asia on a more grand scale. At a blazing speed of 100 Mbps, an entire Hindi film can be downloaded in 6 seconds, or perhaps 25 songs can be downloaded in 1 second. Similar sort of experiences are going to happen as far as mobile is concerned, largely thanks to the storage capability. Thus, it’s going to create a whole sort of digital network.
So this is all I spoke about. But the highlight of the experience was surely walking the red carpet for the opening film which was Wong Kar Wai’s ‘My Blueberry Nights.’ And though I have spoken at forums around the world, nobody makes you feel more special than what they make you feel at Cannes. Amidst around 2,500 photographers, even if you are a nobody, but when you wear the tucks there, you certainly feel very special. And with the likes of Aishwariya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan, Jude Law, Norah Jones being next to you, it certainly is very exciting. But most importantly being a part of a forum like this, along with the sharing of experiences is beneficial to the entire world’s cinema industry. It indeed was a great moment for our company and also for India.
T.S.: What are Hungama’s plans in the next 1-2 years’ time?
N.R.: With respect to the Indian market, there is immense opportunity in the digital and entertainment space. But at the same time we need to consolidate what we are doing and also need to create scale in what we are doing. A part of it has been done by the market it self, where the internet and mobile have grown at a tremendous pace and that is certainly creating scale. Thus, as a company, we have fairly big ambitious projects for our international markets. Recently we started up an office in New York, which comprises of around 22 people based out there itself. Things in the North American market are also in the works. We have also set up something in Dubai. And most importantly we want to keep doing good work in India itself, and want to capture all great opportunities that come our way.
In short there is no grandiose plan, and we follow this thanks to our experience of the dot com bust days. Thus we want to remain prudent, but also want to be aggressive at what we are doing. We want to keep our feet fixed firmly to the ground and want to focus on the clients that we are working with and finally want to meet consumer demands satisfactorily.
And with this our first session of Tête à Tête with Roy came to a close. But we have something more left for you in the second half of the interview session. Stay glued on to TechShout.com to know what it is.