Bollywood hits come to cable TV

THE OUTPUT of the world's most prolific film industry has so far only been available in the United Kingdom through specialist video shops, certain cinemas in Leicester and west London and on late, late television.

Until now the delights of "Bollywood", as the Bombay-based Indian film industry is known, have been hard to come by, but yesterday an Indian steel billionaire launched B4U - Bollywood for You - a digital television channel aimed at Britain's 1.5 million south Asian community. B4U is banking on stars such as Shah Rukh Khan and the formula of star-crossed lovers, fights, dance numbers and wet saris to help it compete with Zee TV, Britain's existing Asian channel, for a lucrative slice of the market.

B4U believes that the British Asian community can be the biggest market for Bollywood films after the Middle East and East Africa. "Bollywood today is the most prolific film industry in the world," said Ravi Gupta, chief executive of the company which will run B4U. "Over 800 feature films are produced each year and more than four billion tickets are sold each year around the world. The market is now ripe for the first Asian 24-hour digital movie channel."

Behind the channel is Lakshmi Mittal, the billionaire head of one of the world's biggest steel-making companies and one of Britain's richest Asians. He has teamed up with Kishore Lulla, the head of Eros International, one of the most famous film distributors and producers in Bollywood. Mr Lulla will oversee the content of B4U and is promising films made specifically for the channel and others that will be shown less than six months after their cinematic release.

The Asian community in Britain has a very high proportion of home owners so is an attractive target for advertisers. The channel will also charge subscriptions leading it into direct competition with Zee TV, which was launched 10 years ago. Zee TV has 160,000 subscribers but has struggled with a succession of owners. It produces much of its own programming and plans a dedicated south Asian music channel when it launches its digital plans later in the year.

B4U has a target of 50,000 subscribers in its first two years. It believes that Bollywood films' populist appeal can cross over to the wider British viewing public in the same way that south Asian food, clubs and dance music have all been picked up by non-Asians.

"In a world of multi- culturalism there is space for Bollywood," said Mr Gupta. "Satellite technology will help Bollywood break all geographical barriers. Bollywood is now a mainstream happening."

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