ASIA: CABLE TV IN INDIA MOVES TOWARDS CONSOLIDATION - The growth of small, private TV stations in recent years has been huge. Now there are moves to split them into larger franchises. By Steve Shipside

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.

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

operators.



’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.



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