By Patrick Jonas
While studying for his master's degree in physics, Mr Jyotirmoy Saha was asked by one of his professors if he could fill in for him for a couple of weeks. It was to teach a class of computer graphics students at a communications institute within his college in Mumbai.
That proved to be a life-changing experience. "I fell in love with the science and the art of media right from the very first day," says Mr Saha, who specialised in microprocessors and microcomputer systems but was drawn into the electronic media business as a result of this stint.
So, soon after he completed his studies at St Xavier's College in Mumbai, he joined UTV, India's first integrated global media and entertainment company in 1996. Before he could start work, he was asked if he could move to Singapore along with a UTV team to set up an office here. The operations in Singapore were small compared to Malaysia and, after a few months, Mr Saha moved across the Causeway to Kuala Lumpur, where he spent close to 21/2 years.
But a change in Singapore's online scene brought him back. The country introduced broadband connectivity and UTV, which was then producing lots of TV content, inflight entertainment and interactive content, signed a deal to provide online video on demand services here.
When the animation business started by UTV in Mumbai ran into rough weather, Mr Saha was asked to return to India in 2002 and it proved to be his initiation into big business.
Now 10 years later, he is running his own animation business out of Singapore and it is one of the few that develops and produces new shows for television that appeal to a global audience.
Mr Saha, 40, left UTV in 2007 after a stint in Los Angeles and joined Sparky Animation, which is one of the largest in the kids animation business here. He served as the co-CEO of the company till 2010 when he set up August Media Holdings.
"I wanted to move away from the studio and production model and set up a company which develops, finances, produces and exploits content. One of the first things we found was that this business was quite big in Europe and wanted a presence there. So we bought Red Kite Animations," says Mr Saha whose company also signed a US$60 million deal in 2010 with American media company Classic Media to develop and jointly produce 10 new shows for television.
Red Kite Animations is based in Edinburgh and has produced The Secret Life Of Benjamin Bear, Dennis and Gnasher, 64 Zoo Lane and The Imp. Other companies like Red Kite may find their way into the August Media Holdings kitty if Mr Saha has his way. He sees an opportunity in the bleak economic conditions hovering over Europe.
"Coupled with a weak euro, this is almost the perfect time for easy priced mergers and acquisition deals in a mature media market like Europe. We as a company are watching this space with great interest and hope to definitely benefit from these opportunities," says Mr Saha who has a team of 32 people across the world and hundreds of contracted staff.
This is because his company uses third party production facilities in India, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. Typically, a TV show of 26 episodes produced by his company takes 18 months and costs on an average $8 to $10 million. One big series that his company will soon produce is George Of The Jungle. His company has so far produced two shows and a third is under production.
Piracy is a cause for concern for Mr Saha, who has taken up Singapore citizenship, but it is not about online content.
"The people who probably worry more are the networks who buy our content. What does worry us a lot more is product piracy. Our business revenue streams are designed to earn substantial income from licensed products and merchandise. We try to circumvent this risk by a few means," he says.
"Firstly we try to stay away from penetrative pricing for our products because premium products are a little more difficult to pirate. Also we try to do deals in high risk regions by asking for higher levels of minimum guarantees from sub licensors. This does not eliminate the risk but pushes it on to someone else. Other than that there is very little one can do in countries where product piracy is institutionalised," says Mr Saha who loves to read, cook and play with his two children to relax.
He cooks during the weekends and says that his wife Prabha, children and unsuspecting friends "seem to or pretend to love the food I cook". "If I can help it, I never miss playing tennis at least twice a week. But the most fun thing I do is take part in Nerf Gun wars at home. Every now and then all four of us in the family fill our pockets with styrofoam bullets and run around the house, shooting, sliding, hiding, screaming and laughing. Nothing beats a senseless gun fight," he says about the time he spends with his children Aditi, 14, and Arnab, 7.
Call it home animation.