Gandhi chose the spinning wheel for the flag of India as a tribute
to the power of cottage industry in a country of 900 million. India
still thrives on cottage industries, but the fibre optic has replaced
the spinning wheel as private TV enjoys a boom. ’Initially, if you
started a channel, you had an audience,’ Sinha Roy, the director of
communications for Star TV in Bombay, says. That phenomenon resulted in
about 30,000 private cable operators, many catering for an audience of
less than 200 households.
’We have a TV audience of 300 million in India, with cable at about 16
million, expected to reach 30 million in three years,’ Roy explains.
This may be huge by UK standards although China now has 40 million
cabled homes. ’Six years ago we only had four channels, so everyone is
guessing what will happen.’
Given the lack of independent authorisation, it’s not just a case of
predicting the future. A Saatchi and Saatchi media news report said:
’Audience estimates vary widely ... the fact that people continue to tap
lines illegally makes any estimation just an estimation.’
According to Roy the boom is being fuelled by local programming which,
he explains, is the best solution to developing regional markets. ’Our
audience is up 300 per cent since last October. We were originally a
canned programme telecaster, then we experimented with commissioning and
producing Hindi programmes and it has paid handsome dividends,’ he says.
These have included arts, comedy and culture, as well as the ever
popular Bollywood movies.
It is that appetite for Hindi films that has kept small operators alive,
some are little more than a VCR wired to a cable service. ’People are
more discerning,’ Roy says. ’There have not been many new channels
lately - and some existing ones are in straitened circumstances.’
Other observers don’t attribute this thinning of the ranks to natural
attrition. ’In terms of cable the two key players are Siticable and
InNetwork, with a large number of the smaller networks being folded into
these two,’ Madhushree Ramani, director of media buying for Saatchi and
Saatchi India, says. ’The move is towards acquisition by the big
players; the market is consolidating.’
Another reason for the consolidation is the draft Broadcast Bill,
proposing that the country be divided into franchises tendered to a few
operators - a policy that plays into the hands of large, international
’The problem is that the bill has not been made public,’ Roy says.
’There’s been conjecture in local media but we can’t comment.’
The Broadcast Bill is low on the agenda for India’s beleaguered prime
minister, the country’s third since May, but Ramani is illuminating
about that ’conjecture’.
’There’s a lot of uncertainty but it will create problems for
cross-ownership - owning satellites and distribution would be banned,’
he says. Which may also explain the reticence of the men from Rupert
Murdoch’s Star TV.