Oney Sealis the Founder & CEO of the Databazaar group of companies that includes Databazaar.com, USA, Databazaar India Pvt. Ltd., and Databazaar Hong Kong. With over 110 employees in 3 countries and over USD 75 million in revenue, the US-headquartered Databazaar group of companies is a market leader in multiple, synergistic yet diverse, business verticals — internet retail, global distribution of technology products, software development, legal process outsourcing, business analytics and now entertainment media. Oney holds a bachelor’s degree in business from St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, and a MBA in International Business Administration from Nova Southeastern University, USA.
Let us hear how all this began.
I began my career teaching corporate finance and advanced statistics at Nova Southeastern University, Florida, and later left the Doctoral program at the University of Texas at Dallas to run the Latin American operations of Distributors Express Computer Supply, Inc. from 1993 to 2000. My special focus lies in the leveraging of business process outsourcing in various e-businesses. We have been widely covered in the Indian media for Databazaar’s pioneering role in many aspects of IT entrepreneurship especially in the state of West Bengal. I have been deeply involved in many government-industry bodies and partnerships that promote Indo-American business development in the IT and IT-enabled service sectors.
What is the target-audience DMV commands in North America?
We have a handsome target indeed. North America comprises around 3 million persons in the South Asian Diaspora with 300,000 Bengali-speaking people from India, and 300,000 people of Bangladeshi origin. Add to this 6+ million ‘foreign film’ and ‘world cinema’ viewers.
Distribution and exhibition of Bengali films in North America has been an exclusive function and commitment of DMV. What does this entail?
Databazaar Media Ventures brings quality Bengali films to the NRI, NRB and wider foreign film markets in North America by making films available in major channels where Americans buy, rent or download movies from Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Best Buy, Target, etc. DMV acts as an exclusive gateway for Bengali films to North America, combining the latest in digital technologies with the best in traditional methods in a new, fusion distribution model that maximizes North American film revenues for Bengali film producers. This is opening up an untapped source of significant revenue for quality Bengali films.
In what way does the Bengali producer benefit apart from his film being exhibited in hitherto unexplored markets abroad among NRI Bengalis and Indians?
The Bengali producer gets (a) guaranteed distribution through all major, traditional and digital channels, (b) massive exposure and awareness in North American markets, (c) no upfront costs yet full upside gains and (d) fast-growing and secure source of additional revenue with 100% transparency in accounting. The North American Bengali gets (a) Concurrent release of film in Kolkata and North America, (b) availability in all major retail, rental, cable and online outlets, (c) periodical theatrical release through local Bengali associations, and (d) premieres of major titles in select cities.
How does the co-screening collaboration between DMV and local Bengali associations function?
So far as DMV is concerned, we make newly released Bengali films available here as we have exclusive North American distribution rights, we pay full costs of theatre rentals, we supply the artwork and graphics as promotional material, we share gross revenue on a 50-50 basis without deducting the theatre rentals, and we promote the screening in social media and national marketing campaigns. The Bengali associations we collaborate with at the local levels locate and book the theatre, market the event among their members and the local community through flyers, e-mail, posters, etc. co-branding it with DMV, manage all logistics linked to the screening such as box office and online ticketing, and maintain proper accounting and remit DMV’s share with proper accounting statement.
But you also have to fight piracy of Bengali films you distribute in North America. Right?
Right. Fighting piracy of a title and marketing it go hand in hand. It is like the saying — a penny saved is a penny earned. Every unauthorized download stopped, every illegal DVD not sold, translates into an extra sale of that title. Piracy is a problem even for Bengali films globally though it is on a much smaller scale than the piracy that Hindi film producers and distributors face. The market for Bengali films is smaller that results in smaller demand reducing the motivation to indulge in piracy. But it is a problem one cannot afford to brush under the carpet. Add to this the struggle at the box office to break even and make profits constantly. With piracy, the impact on lost revenue due to privacy is magnified.
How does DMV fight with this perennial evil?
With guidance and help from a reputed entertainment law firm based in Miami, DMV has mounted a multi-pronged attack on the piracy of the titles it acquires the rights of. First of all, we have launched a strict monitoring procedure on the physical sale of DVDs that are pirated via random sting operations. If we find that a pirated DVD is being sold, our lawyers immediately send ‘cease-and-desist’ letters with pending lawsuits against the offending party. The cost of a lawsuit for a pirate of Bengali films is much more than the money he is likely to make out of the piracy. It is a financial risk he might wish to avoid. Our expectation is hooked on the fact that if we can set an example of a few pirates with costly lawsuits, the word will spread and prospective pirates will desist from taking such risks. Then there is the risk of unauthorized digital downloads. DMV has become a part of Google’s and YouTube’s Content Verification Programme and also it’s Content ID Program. This allows us to identify and remove unauthorized downloads on YouTube rapidly. Secondly, we have hired a prominent online piracy protection service provider to monitor and remove all our copyrighted content from non-YouTube sources.
I have heard that there is a chain with which piracy operates beginning with the film’s completion and getting the censor certificate through its music release, marketing and publicity followed by the release of the film in the theatres. How far is this true and how can you counter it?
I do not have first-hand knowledge of such a chain. But the implication is that the film gets out somehow even before it has been released in the market. Camera-prints are a prevalent form of pirated DVDs. Thus, in terms of logic, what you are suggesting must exist in practice. We are trying to make it as risky and as difficult for prospective pirates to pirate the titles we have acquired. The most important thing to be remembered here is that one must own the rights of the title and have both the willingness and the ability to fight piracy. Fighting piracy means a lot in terms of both real costs and financial costs not to talk about the cost of business goodwill and credibility. If piracy went on unabated till now it is mainly due to the fact that the people affected by piracy either did not have the US rights of the titles or they were unwilling to shell out the money and the effort needed to defend the films against piracy. We cannot make our distribution model successful unless we seriously limit piracy. We want to make it very costly and therefore unworthy of any pirater to pirate a DMV title.
We have heard that someone in India marketing DVDs of Bengali films through its website has pirated The Japanese Wife whose North American distribution righs DMV had purchased. What happened?
The more popular the film, the greater are the chances of the film being pirated. We fought a very tough battle with The Japanese Wife. But we look on it as the biggest validation of our success in fighting piracy. We were able to bring a complete stop to this retailer’s attempts to sell DVD copies of The Japanese Wife from India to US buyers. It has worked.
Anything else you might like to add?
Our group’s flagship company, Databazaar.com is an Internet Retailer 500 company and is ranked the 5th largest retailer in the industry. The industry watchdog ConsumerWebWatch along with Wall Street Journal has consistently ranked Databazar.com one of “America’s 75 praiseworthy companies.” Bizrate, a consumer rating agency, has consistently awarded Databazaar.com the Gold Circle of Excellence Award for being one of America’s top internet retailers in its customer service over the past six years. We embarked on this distribution model viewing it more as a movement to make Bengali films popular and financially successful. So help us in this battle and wish us luck.
by Shoma A. Chatterji