labels: entertainment
Channel burping news
Ritesh Gupta
08 February 2003
New Delhi: After the disastrous attack on New York's World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, news is not just a global affair but is turning into a mega business in India.

With television news channels witnessing a significant increase in audience share and advertising revenues, the news industry is set to see the entry of new channels by mid-2003. The audience share has continued to increase since the terror assault in the US and the attack on the Indian Parliament.

This particular segment is set to witness a spate of new news channels. Sahara India Media Communications (SIMCL), Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, New Delhi Television, TV Today Network and a venture backed up by the promoters of the Videocon group are all expected to launch their projects this year. The other players in the news segment include Doordarshan, Zee, Jain TV, CNN, BBC and niche channel CNBC India.

On the mushrooming of news channels, TV Today Network executive director and CEO G Krishnan says: ''Television news in India has bloomed late. Today news is looked at to plan one's day-to-day life.'' Krishnan says the late blossoming is due to the lack of infrastructure and the change in perception about news channels, which were earlier seen as reporting only major developments.

Savouring every pie
The audience share of the news channels has surged by 190 per cent in the last 18 months and stands at 3.7 per cent, according to the figures from TAM Media Research for cable and satellite households. The average viewer spends nearly 225 minutes now, an increment of 135 per cent in comparison to the beginning of 2001. The advertising revenue, too, has increased to more than 12 per cent out of the estimated advertising spend of Rs 3,800 crore on television.

Commemorating its silver jubilee on 1 February 2003, leading conglomerate Sahara has already announced its plans for a 24-hour national news channel and 31 round-the-clock city-centric regional news channels, in its endeavour to become India's largest media and entertainment network. The mega news channels project, which was postponed last year, is expected to be launched towards the end of February 2003.

In an effort to differentiate itself, Sahara India entered into a tie-up with California-based Silicon Graphics Inc (SGI), the leading company in high-performance computing, visualisation and the management of complex data, and Frankfurt-based Vizrt, the world's leading real-time 3D graphics system for television, in October 2002. The high-performance visualisation systems with graphics engines and graphics-to-video-output, along with software from Vizrt, will work on graphics and true virtual set technology for news, weather and sports.

''Sahara India was looking for an on-air graphics solution with high-speed time to air and excellent image quality. SGI and our long-time software partner Vizrt worked very hard together to meet those requirements,'' says Bill La Rosa, senior vice-president, Intercontinental (Asia Pacific and Latin America), SGI.

Like Sahara, News Corp and TV Today Network, the owner of India's leading news channel Aaj Tak, have also signed with Vizrt. Vizrt's sales in India during the last two years are over $3 million. Bjarne Berg, CEO and president, Vizrt, says: ''We captured contracts with the four largest TV stations in India in the last two years. That gives us by far a leading role in one of the biggest markets in the world. We believe we will continue to dominate the Indian market.''

Indian entrepreneurship
NDTV, which has plans to launch its channels by April 2003, has opted for quality software such as Discreet's top-of-the-line systems for visual effects. Besides Sahara, TV Today Network has also announced its plan of launching an English news channel by end-February or early March 2003.

On the launch of the English channel, Krishnan says: ''Keeping in mind the successful launch of Aaj Tak and the journalistic experience of the group, branching out into another news channel is a logical extension for the group. The second channel will provide us with a platform to communicate differently to our audience.''

Though Aaj Tak has decided to turn subscription-based, the new English channel will be free-to-air. TV Today Network, which had explored the possibility of joining the One Alliance bouquet last year, will charge between Rs.4-6 per month for its Hindi channel. Aaj Tak, which was launched with a connectivity of 4.5 million homes in December 2000, has touched the 30-million mark within a short span.

Elaborating on Aaj Tak's strengths, Krishnan says: ''The success of Aaj Tak is due to our technology, programming and distribution. Our technology helps us to provide news as it happens, wherever it happens. Moreover, the fact that we have our uplinking facility from India facilitates faster news dissemination.''

Star, on its part, is training its employees through personnel from Fox and Sky News, flown in from other countries. According to the proposal from Star, forwarded to the government in October 2002, Star plans to run the Indian news channel through its Virgin Islands-based subsidiary, Star News Broadcasting, and run its news broadcasting operations by sourcing content from here.

Global beaming
To provide the real-time transmission of news, Star TV would use the facility of Videsh Sanchar Nigam (VSNL) to transmit content from India to its uplinking hub in Hong Kong. Star TV will then transmit the signals to the satellite from Hong Kong. The company is still awaiting government approval for the project.

Ravina Raj Kohli, who was earlier with the now-defunct Nine Gold, is the president of the news channel. Besides its news channel, Star India has even indicated its plans of launching a kid's channel.

The advertising industry, too, has been busy with the new news channels providing an opportunity for fresh advertising. Gearing up for the launch, Sahara has also shifted the advertising account of entertainment channel Sahara TV, national channel Sahara Samay and two regional channels Sahara Samay Uttar and Sahara Samay Mumbai from Interpublic group's SSC&B to its roster agency Percept Advertising. SSC&B was allotted the account in mid-2002, when Sahara had planned the launch of its channels in October.

Production company NDTV, which is launching both Hindi and English channels following the termination of contract with Star news, has chosen McCann Erickson for its Hindi channel and new comer St. Luke's for its English channel.

The rat race to rule the sky is getting curiouser and newsi

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Channel burping