Anjula Acharia-Bath has a new reason to be proud; for the founder and chairman-president of entertainment and lifestyle portal, DesiHits!, is one amongst the newest entrants on this year’s Vanity Fair The Next Establishment 2010 list, a precursor to the publication’s The New Establishment list topped this year by Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Acharia-Bath’s breaking into the emerging power list stands as testimony to the rising popularity of South Asian entertainment amongst mainstream audiences world over. Founded by Acharia-Bath, her husband – Ranj Bath and Arun Sandhu in the year 2006, New York-based DesiHits! has been successful in bringing forth the faces of desi (South Asian) entertainers in the western media and engineering collaborations between these artistes and acclaimed international artistes such as the Pussycat Dolls and Wyclef Jean.
“Five years from now, I hope to see DesiHits! as a media conglomerate operating in the same league as the big media players”
Going back in time, Acharia-Bath says, “When my husband and I first moved to the U.S. from the U.K, we were surprised that there was no mainstream fusion music scene here.” And this prompted the couple to create a podcast prototype featuring a fusion of eastern and western musical styles which they uploaded onto iTunes. “From receiving 4000 downloads in the first week, the video went viral and in a couple of months we had close to a quarter of a million downloads,” adds Acharia-Bath. Encouraged by this response, the duo looked at furthering the reach of this genre thus sparking off a business idea. Incidentally, Acharia-Bath had a background in human resources and was closely involved with members of the venture capital (VC) community. A casual mention of this idea to a friend within the VC circle generated much excitement leading to the creation of a business proposal. In November 2006, DesiHits! procured its first round of investment to the tune of $1 million from the U.S. based venture capital firms, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) and Trident Capital (Trident). The funds were used to source musical talent and create a website platform to showcase the new content that was generated. As efforts were made to drive traffic to the website, it soon became the go-to portal for all forms of South Asian entertainment.
“When we founded DesiHits!, we were a typical bedroom startup – we were not thinking rights and licenses about the properties we were creating,” says Acharia-Bath. She also maintains that from the very beginning, the U.S. markets were their top-priority. What took the founders by surprise was the overwhelming response from their secondary markets, especially India and Acharia Bath attributes this to the cultural connect established with gen-next Indians. Sensing an opportunity in the Indian market for collaborations, the team took it upon themselves to scout for Indian talent and help them crossover.
In 2008, DesiHits! raised its second round of investment from DFJ, Trident and New York-based venture firm D.E. Shaw. At this point, the company extended its distribution network to include mobile phones and television besides the Internet. DesiHits! has developed certain applications with Nokia to distribute its content and also produces a programme for Zee T.V. in the U.K. In addition, it syndicates its editorial, audio and video content to various other media. “We have never had a problem getting funds, but, finding the right people who share your passion who can deliver has been difficult,” says Acharia-Bath.
As far as winning over music moguls goes, the team at DesiHits! has had it much easier. Acharia-Bath goes on to state that the company has been very lucky to have the support of big names from the music fraternity. And one such person who invested in DesiHits! was Interscope Geffen A&M Records’ Chairman Jimmy Iovine. “At a time when we wanted to change pop culture in India, Jimmy suggested that we broaden that vision to change pop culture globally,” says Acharia-Bath. To bring about this change, the focus was to change the way South Asian artistes were represented. “In India, especially, one face represents the music and another sings it. Our aim is to transfer the focus to the singers and make all-round entertainers of them,” she adds. What has helped immensely in this regard is the backing of big brands in the business. “There was a time when nobody thought of South Asia as an attractive market, now, we are helping brands see the potential there,” says Acharia-Bath. In November 2008, DesiHits! announced a partnership with Warner Music Group to develop and distribute original short form videos showcasing desi culture and in 2009, it inked a similar deal with Sony BMG. The year after, Desi Hits! inked their biggest deal till date. “We are excited about our latest deal with Universal Music Group through which we will jointly launch a bi-cultural music label with a focus on promoting South Asian talent,” says Acharia-Bath while adding that DesiHits! is always on the lookout to partner with brands that share its vision. Brands apart, DesiHits! also found support in Aviv (Vivi) Nevo, a majority stakeholder in Time Warner Inc., which came as a major shot in the arm.
The future holds more than a promise for DesiHits! and the company is poised to deliver. When asked what drives its growth, Acharia-Bath identifies three key areas – creation of content that is unique, monetising the same while expanding distribution channels. “Five years from now, I hope to see DesiHits! as a media conglomerate operating in the same league as the big media players,” says Acharia-Bath. And to achieve that, DesiHits! continuously strives to create ground breaking content that resonates to a varied audience, across the globe.