The move to regularize the growing globalized Indian television and cable industry has been churning around the heavily populated and diverse subcontinent of India since l997, when the Broadcast Bill was first introduced. This bill seeks to establish an autonomous broadcasting authority for facilitating and regulating broadcasting services in India, and put a 20 percent limit on media cross-holding.
The Broadcast Bill is has come up yet again before the Parliament, although is currently stalled. One of the issues that the bill deals with, in addition to monopoly issues, is the decision to allow direct-to-home (DTH) services.
"The Indian government can only play the role of a facilitator while helping the cable industry since it is being regulated wholly by market forces in these days of globalization and liberalization," said Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arun Jaitley. "There is the knowledge that the cable industry is poised to play an important role in the information technology field in the future with even the telecom industry making use of the cable systems. We are witnessing a new era of globalization of the India media."
India is made up of contrasts, including burgeoning television, cable and satellite present even in most villages, some of which only got electricity a few years ago. Since India leads the world in film output with an estimated 800 films annually for a weekly audience of 70 million, it entered this arena with an equal enthusiasm. There is a synergy between the film and television industry, with actors, directors and producers interacting with an audience familiarized with them.
The increase of regional channels and satellite distribution has been estimated to have grown at the rate of 20 percent every year and the current number of 50 cable channels including "Sony, Star, Zee and ETC" is expected to expand to 120 in the next ten years. "We think there will be more programs produced in the Indian language for specific audiences while retaining foreign programming that leads to a globalization of the population," commented KK Modi, chairman of Modi Entertainment, which is involved with Buena Vista, Disney and ESPN and has recently launched the Hallmark Channel in India. "On one hand, we made more than $1 million in one night on the national channel Doordarshan with producing the New Year's Eve program, but we see the growing market in pay television and satellite with less dependency on the national broadcaster. It is the new generation of audience that is mostly transforming the way one will broadcast as it is increasingly used to a varied international fare."
Doordarshan, which has changed its name to Prasar Bharati and has appointed a new dynamic CEO, Rajeeva Ratna Shah (see below for interview), has also changed the name of its large New Delhi complex from Mandi House (which means market) to Prasar Bharati Bhavan, which Mr. Shah says is meant to change its image from a "bazaar." Information and Broadcast Minister Jaitley explains: "Prasar Bharati has undergone a review by an experts panel headed by and infotech expert N. R. Narayanmurthy, Discovery Channel India director Kiran Karnic and marketing expert Shunu Sen, to make major suggestions for the network including setting up a marketing division for news and sports channels which earlier had no advertising."
During the fall of 1999, six new regional channels were launched, most importantly an education channel "Gyan Darshan" and a Kashmir special channel "Kashir," inaugurated in Srinagar. Due to terrorism, there has been no television in Kashmir, which especially needs this source of entertainment during the long and cold winters when residents do not leave their homes.
Star Television's foray into India has gone through various identities through Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The identity of Star Plus has been completely changed to match its Hindi counterpart, Zee TV, with almost all Hindi soap opera and movie-based shows. Star TV has been operating in India since l991, and critics have often brought Rupert Murdoch to court saying that the TV programs and films shown "undermine national values." There are several court cases pending with the charge filed with India's Indecent Representation of Women Act of l986 and the Cinematorgraphy Act of l952, demonstrating the conservative politics still dominating the media arena. When Deepa Mehta recently began shooting her film "Water"the third part of the trilogy following "Fire" and "Earth" in Benares, political opponents stopped the filming despite clearance from the Broadcast Ministry. Mehta, in a press conference, warned that "this sends the wrong message to international filmmakers that India is still trying to prevent all views being expressed. A small band of conservatives should not interfere with the natural process of freedom of expression in film."
Star TV expanded its broadcasting in India in July l999 with multiple feeds on each transponder of Asiasat 1 and 2, increasing its satellite capacities in India. TBS had a chance to catch up with Arrow Sinha Roy, the dynamic former Star TV Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Publicity (he recently left Star in January, and has been replaced by Ms. Dilshad Master as Marketing Vice President), in the massive new Star TV headquarters, located near Mumbai's International Airport.
"India is increasingly becoming a globalized market. Star recognizes this and has made channel-specific programming with four channels of two entertainment channels, Star World and National Geographic which we distribute, besides the Star News Channel," said Arrow Sinha Roy, who had around-the-world TV markets to distribute the programming. "We have waited for DTH to be passed in India for many years, but have gone on to the internationalization of the marketing of the programming out of India. Last June, the Indian ethnic channels in Canada signed for the programming, especially The India Show, The Travel Show and soap opera shows that especially appeal to the large community of Indians living abroad."
Discovery Channel started a 24-hour Hindi channel and the second channel Animal Planet. "Discovery's market strategy for India is the release of Discovery CD-ROMs and home videos in India by the end of the year," said Discovery Channel chairman Kiran Karnik. "This is expected to increase the company's brand presence in India by increasing its visibility. The plan to start the split beam 24-hour Hindi channel was inspired by the huge success of dubbed programs with 70 hours of Hindi dubbed programs each week."
Steps to Globalization
In the 1998 Salomon Smith Barney Report entitled "Asia-Pacific Television: The Big Picture," it was said that "the Indian market represents the greatest medium-term and long-term commercial opportunity in the television industry in the Asia-Pacific region." This investment firm projected that the "Indian TV market will grow from an estimated commercial revenue level of Rs 1300 crore ($300 million) in 1995 to Rs 12,900 crore ($2.8 billion) in 2005. "This translates into a 10-year nominal compounded annual growth rate of 25 per cent in local currency terms and 18.6 per cent in real terms," the report states. Significantly, it states that "there is room within this revenue pie to accommodate significant growth in free TV and pay TV. By 2005, we expect a multi-hued television environment; digital will co-exist with analog, while cable and satellite will have marked out their niches as terrestrial continues to take the bulk of revenues."
Drawing a comparison between India and China "considered the two main markets in the region" the Salomon Smith Barney report notes that "although India, for the moment, maintains a somewhat hostile stance towards foreign ownership, we expect meaningful liberalization to occur due to a combination of factors such as rising television penetration rates, rising income and consumption, historical openness to foreign ideas and culture and relatively wide use of English and vernacular segmentation."
A case in point is BBC World's entrance into India two years ago to develop one daily 30-minute Indian program at 10 p.m., which has led to more BBC presence into India. Planned is the Indian version of the popular British hit "Yes Minister" Starting with 22 episodes produced by NDTV. This software company is currently producing "Out of India," "Real India Travel Show" and "Mastermind India" for the BBC, and the serial will be the first time BBC World will be doing fiction in its India-specific time slot. The BBC said that although there is no plan to beam the India shows to the wide Asian audience in England, this will be considered at a future date.
The huge audience in India allows channels to concentrate on the populace. The report predicts that the level of private consumption in television would rise at a 13.9 percent nominal growth during l995-2005, with a 10-year growth of 26.8 per cent per year." The National Geographic Channel Asia, which had already aired in more than 5.5 million homes in India in 1998, increased to 8.5 million homes, showing a jump of 1.2 million within one year. National Geographic Television and Carlton have also signed a joint venture production and distribution agreement to create 300 additional hours of factual programming from 1998-2001.
Rajeeva Ratna Shah took the helm in June 1999 as CEO of Indian National Doordarshan TV, which has rechristened itself Prasar Bharati Broadcasting Corporation of India and is set to implement various changes. This dynamic government official has worked in various ministries including a stint in New York City, where innovations included promoting India at the Festival of India in l986 and helping light the colors of the Indian flag on the Empire State Building to shine all over New York City. The Doordarshan CEO has also been appointed president of the Indian Broadcasters' Foundation and so wore two hats when addressing the Broadcast Engineering Society exhibition in New Delhi held in February. "The government must correct its basic mistake," he said, "of regulating convergence from the television rather than telephony angle since there are 29 million TV sets in India and only 23 million phone connections. Telephony has no conception of content and technological growth in the future will happen in geometric progression." TBS asked Shah about the globalization of Indian TV.
TBS: What is the current direction of Indian television?
Shah: Since last July, we have made it a point to have regional channels for the specific states to reach more of an audience. We are moving in the direction of more information and news channels, and recently started an education channel. On Jan. 26, 2000 we started the Kashmir Channel called Kashir. It is a national effort since there is no cable system in Kashmir due to militants. We are trying to go global with a DTH platform.
TBS: What are possible future developments?
Shah: There is now an exclusive five-year agreement for all international cricket played in India to be beamed only on our channels, a great coup for a cricket-loving country. We also will broadcast the Olympics. We are negotiating with major Indian writers for quality programs. Right now with are talking with the BBC to do a joint venture to produce in Hindi and English, the book "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth. We are thinking of viewership now and would attend all the major markets like MIP in Cannes. The thrust will be developing more international audiences for our programs.