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View from Mumbai: Murdoch and Turner on the Move

MUMBAI, INDIA Global media magnate Rupert Murdoch celebrated his birthday on March 11 in Bangalore, India (after a gap of several years due to a court case blocking his entry) and "gifted" Star TV India with about $200 million worth of potential investment. He also announced plans to launch two new channels, Star Education and Star Health, along with a new Mumbai-based studio.

"Mumbai is surrounded by webs of cable wires, and they could be replaced by optical fiber network to enable them to cater to various info-tech needs from e-education to e-commerce, besides providing immense job opportunities," said Murdoch to journalists in Mumbai. He later announced buying back a 12% stake in TV content provider UTV.

"The TV market in Mumbai has become saturated and so we are looking at Bangalore, capital of high tech, and with it our software expansion. The two new channels [are] Education, [which] will better enable us to focus on distance education, and Health, to promote effective mass communication on hygiene and family welfare."

Murdoch, on his five-day visit in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi, met with several government officials, including Information and Broadcast Minister Arun Jaitley, discussing the direct-to home (DTH) issue being on hold due to the stalling of India's Broadcast Bill.

"I haven't given up on DTH, but information technology is more an issue now in capitalizing on India's human resources," said Murdoch, accompanied by News Corp CEO Chase Carrey and Star TV CEO Peter Murkerjea. "We have had preliminary discussions to invest in several software companies and build relationships using new technologies like WAP [wireless application protocol] and 3G."

In a surprise move, Murdoch bought a publication company, "Bangalore This Fortnight," whose offerings include a Mumbai-based magazine. Murdoch promptly announced four more magazines and a complex Internet information service attached to the magazine, clearly mapping out a national strategy to enter the print and internet media.

Meanwhile Mumbai, the world's leading producer of movies, is getting an increased number of English-language movie channels.

"There are few things more exciting than bringing one of the leading global brands for movie entertainment to a nation of moviegoers," said Anshuman Misra, the Managing Director of Turner International India, officially launching Home Box Office (HBO) with Warners Brothers International Television Distribution. HBO plans to only screen movies until becoming a pay channel at a nominal cost. "We hope HBO will establish itself as the preferred movie destination on television in India."

Star TV Movies, rejuvenated with Rupert Murdoch's visit to India, has also announced tie-ups with leading Hollywood companies including Miramax, Touchstone Pictures and Polygram.

According to Star TV Senior Vice President L.S. Nayak, the marketing and ad budget for Star Movies is expected to increase by 50 percent in the next fiscal year (2000-2001) in view of increased competition.

And Zee Telefilms has launched two new channels, Zee English and Zee Movies, with Zee Telefilms planning to digitalize all their channels.

"The digitalized channels will help us improve quality of our programs," said Zee chairman Subhash Chandra at a press conference. "We are planning to export the locally developed programs to the US and European Union."

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