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Globalization of Indian Satellite TV Marks 25 Years

October 15, 2002 marked 25 years since the advent of satellite TV in India. Its globalization impact across the populous country has both changed the way Indians perceive the world outside and prompted the Indian satellite and cable industry to cross frontiers with world programming. The national television channel Prasar Bharti has had to grapple with the entry of cable television and the increasing number of channels vying for content and revenue. According to industry estimates, in 2000, a total of 43 channels generated a demand for 40,000 hours of original content with 37 million homes wired to cable television. Cable homes are expected to grow at a 9% rate to 54 million by 2006. Statistics show that a family watches television together in India, and the programming is reflecting the approach of appeal to this audience with an increase of dramas and soap operas about family life.

Yet despite the reported second largest in the world programming at 40,000 hours expected to increase to 60,000 hours, TV producers are looking at globalization. Ekta Kapoor, director of Balaji Telefims, producer of India's most successful soap operas emphasizes, "We must see how our content can monetise the ethnic international audience."

While regional language programming continues to cater to the linguistic diversity of the Indian television audience, the scope is broadening to incorporate new services such as internet-over cable, pay per view (a box has been approved by the Indian parliament but the bill has yet to be enacted), video on demand and cable telephony. In fact, in the past year, various TV conferences held around India have focused on continuing changes in Indian television and the cable industry that have incorporated the necessity of globalization.

"There have been a maximum number of TV conferences held because Indian TV is in a crisis, a crisis of change," stated Sony TV Chairman Kunal Das Gupta at an Indian Television Academy conference called "On Television" in Mumbai, a base for most of the Hindi-English television channels.

"The reality of Indian television is that many producers do not know what to do, since ads have been reduced due to a business recession. Sony did not want to be encrypted but ads could not sustain us. We are all waiting for DTH technology to happen."

Although various participants at the TV conference agreed on advertising downturn, they warmed to an Arthur Anderson report that said Indian TV has surpassed the cinema audience at 60% and is now entering its second stage, with expanded globalization.

During another television conference held outside Mumbai by the Federation of Indian Commerce, Dubai Media Center representatives said they came to India for the first time to explore the possibilities of global reach in India. Dubai Media City has 60 Dubai-based Indian companies.

"The Dubai government has an office in New Delhi but as of yet we have not set up an office in India," explained Abdul Hamid Juma, Dubai Media City's director of sales and marketing.

"We had a good response at the conference to the concept of a global Media Hub linking terrestrial and satellite worlds. We came to further our involvement with India and in five years digital forms will be where everything will take place in broadcasting and technology."


Unfortunately, there are several deterrents to increased expansion, including a 20% ceiling on foreign investment for DTH broadcasting in India. According to an Ernst & Young report, "EnterMedia 2001's Mihir Parikh, an international lawyer based in Mumbai and Palo Alto's Silicon Valley, California, who represents media conglomerates and helps broker international deals, makes a strong case for globalization of Indian television in an essay on its financial ramifications entitled "Globalizing the Indian Television Industry: Implications and Opportunities." He writes, "Indian television can piggyback on the newly earned fame of its "sister," the film industry, and take a step toward globalization. Indian television channels are relayed in many countries, but they focus only on the ethnic markets of expatriates. The Indian television industry should now globalize in a true sense by penetrating mainstream markets specifically in the United States where the circumstances are most favorable."

Some of the underlying reasons he states for increased Indian TV globalization incorporates this philosophy of expansion. They include:

New areas for growth: where globalization provides the Indian television industry an access to new markets beyond its typical Southeast Asian demographic constituents and provides new revenue sources leading to product innovations in the industry.

Minimal marginal cost: globalization requires significant initial investment and learning but once global the company can easily release the programs produced for one market in other markets.

Diversify and stabilize: globalization can provide the much-needed diversification, stability, and insurance against unexpected, drastic changes.

Better utilization of assets: the Indian television industry has developed both tangible and intangible assets in terms of production facilities, program libraries, and experienced talent. Reusing these assets in global markets,can provide global exposure to the Indian talent.

The U.S.-based Indian channels have always geared themselves to the growing Indian expatriate community, estimated at 4.7 million overseas viewers, but since the cost factor is high, much of the programming has started to try and attract a mainstream audience also.

Both satellite companies based in India and those in the United Kingdom like Zee TV, Zee Gold, Sony Asia, B4U, and Asia Net concentrate primarily on films and music to appeal to the Indian viewer. To expand the reach, Parikh suggests building joint ventures and consolidation with US television companies to create a cross-border consolidation to cultivate a global mindset and build on cultural diversity for Indian television.

"We all produce Indian content for Indian audiences," said Zarina Mehta of UTV television software producers. "The need is to produce global content for global audiences with an Indian theme."

According to reports, in 2001, more than half of the growth in cable and satellite homes came from the rural and semi-urban areas, indicating an increasing penetration of cable into less populated regions and augmenting the further growth of regional channels. When Star TV acquired the Tamil-language Vijay TV to have a further reach in the south, the bouquets of north and south merged. Subscription revenues are expected to contribute 35 percent of total revenues by 2006.

It appears that Indian TV globalization is "in fashion." One just has to look at the example of KK Modi, a Delhi businessman who first started in television with Disney content for Indian television. He now has a bouquet of Fashion TV, Hallmark, and DD Sports, dropping ESPN and Kermit.

"We must keep expanding for our channels to provide outside content," said KK Modi.

"The outreach beyond India has now become a global concept. Currently we are tying up with an Italian company to have the lottery introduced to Indian television. Indian Fashion TV has started making their own Indian programs that we send to FTV since Indian fashion is a global trend. There are no borders anymore."


By Janet Fine

The Indian FICCI (Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce) FRAMES entertainment conference (March 14 to 16)-held appropriately in Mumbai, India, the world's largest film-producing city (with an estimated 900 films annually) and better known as "Bollywood"-featured all aspects of global TV and cinema. The synergy of the world effect of TV and cinema was discussed in 24 seminars by more than 50 participants from around the world including Canada, New Zealand, Fiji, and Dubai, represented by Media City.

An announcement was made at the Satellite TV discussion by Indian Information Broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for a proposed uplinking application of Star News scheduled March 31, 2003. He said he would "implement a crucial policy framework for foreign electronic media in India." Broadcasters such as TV Today, NDTV (for English Channel), and BBC are all awaiting licenses to uplink from India.

Prasad said the government was firm on its July 14 deadline to initiate a Conditional Access System (CAS) in four major Indian cities proposing to "bring in transparency with a task force to come out with the pricing for free-to-air channels soon."

Industry combined with the business entertainment and chairman of the FICCI entertainment conference producer Yash Chopra and conference convener producer Bobbi Bedi encouraged seminars to accomplish an interactive networking of film and television participating with financial institutions. Banking seminars encouraged utilization of fund-sourcing of companies as a combination of debt and equity. Other seminars covered a broad global spectrum like "Viability of DTH," "Multiple Revenue Streams for Entertainment," "Marketing the Global Playfield," and "Branding Across Platform Broadcast in International Media" and highlighted the transnational expertise of the many speakers from around the world.

Among international participants were, from the USA, Michael Grindon, president of Columbia Tristar Internatiional TV, Chris Cramer, President of CNNI Networks, and Therese Hayes of Palm Springs International Festival, representing USA Network. British speakers focusing on transnational broadcast satellite TV integrated the expertise of Patrick Cross, Managing Director of BBC World, Carlton TV advisor Parminder Vir, and Ed Sharples, director of International Zeal TV. The seminar on "Digitalization of Cable Systems" featured participants from Asia such as May Oh, vice president of the Distribution and Encryption Project China Network System, Indra Suharjono, senior vice president of Turner Entertainment Network Asia, and Hee Yah Ong from Mediacorp News in Singapore.

"Co-production is becoming the next form for globalization of TV and film," said Ramesh Sharma, director of Moving Pictures Studio in New Delhi, who chaired the Co-production and Animation panel. "India is developing as the next globalization place for countries to utilize the studios and especially animation as a major sourcing point."

In the "framework" of establishing Indian TV in a global platform, the now annual FICCI FRAMES conference seems to be achieving its goal of merging business with entertainment.

About Janet Fine

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