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Tinsel Cinema Brings Bollywood Abroad on Demand

The Falls Church start-up has signed distribution deals with film companies such as Yash Raj Films, creator of last year's
The Falls Church start-up has signed distribution deals with film companies such as Yash Raj Films, creator of last year's "Kabul Express." Tinsel Cinema charges $3 per movie on demand, or $10 for five. (By Yash Raj Films Via Bloomberg News)
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Monday, December 24, 2007

A Falls Church start-up is hoping that Bollywood's lavish song and dance spectacles will add rhythm to its bid to become a breakout hit in the budding video-on-demand industry.

Tinsel Cinema last month launched an online service featuring movies and television programs from India aimed at Web-connected South Asian families living outside the subcontinent who want access to familiar content.

"If there's two things this audience can't get enough of, it's Bollywood and cricket," says Chase Weir, Tinsel Cinema's chairman and chief executive.

Tinsel Cinema is one of many companies trying to figure out how to profitably deliver video on demand. Most focus on mainstream Hollywood offerings. So far, none has overwhelmingly caught on with consumers.

"Video on demand is still trying to get traction," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with research firm NPD. "Downloading movies or streaming movies is still a small, small piece of the market."

Bollywood films play in only about 80 theaters across the United States, said Vin Bhat, co-founder and general manager of Saavn, a company that makes Bollywood content available on demand for cable subscribers.

"There's a real imbalance that can be corrected by digital media," he said.

Expatriate Bollywood fans typically subscribe to satellite TV services, Weir said. That's not a cheap option; at Dish Network, for example, the "South Asian" package, which bundles television programming from India, costs $54.99 a month. That's in addition to the regular monthly subscription fee.

Tinsel Cinema customers pay $3 per movie, or $10 for a package of five movies. The company hopes to draw 150,000 customers to its site, http://www.tinselvision.com, during its first quarter. To ensure a steady stream of content on TinselVision, the company has signed distribution deals with film and television companies, including Yash Raj Films, one of India's biggest studios.

For now, customers watch their purchases on their computers. But next year, the company plans to sell a set-top box that delivers content to TVs. It also plans to make content available on mobile phones and game consoles.

Before starting Tinsel Cinema, Weir was founder and chairman of a District-based educational testing firm called ELearning Dynamics, which began operations in 2001 but did not survive the tech bust.

Sudarshan Jakhu, a Bollywood fan who lives in the Washington area, recently took a look at TinselVision's offerings at the request of The Washington Post. Jakhu, a systems analyst, concluded that he and his friends probably wouldn't become TinselVision customers because they already know how to get Bollywood content online for even less. His friends, he said, use a combination of sites; some are legal and some contain pirated material.

"A lot of people currently get Bollywood entertainment online from sites that either don't charge at all or don't charge as much," he said.

-- Mike Musgrove

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