Star looking to launch Hindi entertainment, kids channel

NEW DELHI: Hong Kong-based Star Group Ltd., controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, plans to launch two more entertainment channels outside the direct-to-home (DTH) package of channels to be offered by the Tata-Star joint venture.

One of the channels would be in Hindi and would be made of kids' programmes like Shakalaka Boom Boom and Son Pari.

The reason behind launching these channels is that over the years Star Plus has emerged as a very popular channel where not all programmes could be accommodated.

In the light of such developments, Star group CEO Michelle Guthrie, during an informal meeting with information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, mentioned that the company is looking at launching two more entertainment channels in India to tap the entertainment sector more effectively, government sources said.

According to the sources, there are plans by Star India to create a kids channel with local content wherein all kids-related programmes from Star Plus would be aired, apart from some content from Fox Kids. Another channel that Guthrie, probably, was indicating towards was a "Desi" version of Fox Entertainment.

It may be recalled that these were the very questions that put to Star India COO Sameer Nair in a recent interview.

Guthrie is also understood to have appreciated the development happening in India's media and entertainment sector.

Guthrie, along with Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea and two other company executives made the rounds of government offices, including dropping in to discuss the status of the industry with broadcast, cable and telecom regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), chief Pradip Baijal.

Interestingly, Guthrie, who is here in the capital since yesterday, met Baijal twice --- once as part of the Casbaa delegation and the second time with the Star team.


After a presentation on DTH was made to I&B ministry officials at a Tata group company office here, Guthrie, according to government sources, also petitioned for an early clearance of the proposed DTH venture, saying the service could be provided for as little as Rs 180 per month from around Diwali this year.

As reported by earlier, the total DTH hardware would cost a subscriber under Rs 5,000 --- Rs 4,999 to be exact, according to the presentation. The joint venture company would also subsidise the set-top boxes, depending on the customs duty levied by the government on the boxes.

Apart from exploring the possibilities of having a financing scheme for the boxes - to make it easier for subscribers - sources indicated that during the presentation it was mentioned there would be several tiers in the DTH package, which would start off with 65-odd channels initially.

The Star-Tata combine is also targeting about a million DTH subscribers in the first year.

Whether the government gave any assurance on expediting the DTH clearances early is not known, but it seems that pricing strategy of Star-Tata DTH venture is very similar to that of Dish TV, a DTH service started by Subhash Chandra's companies, ASC and Zee Telefilms.

Meanwhile, the Tata-Star DTH proposal was listed as part of applications that were to be examined at the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) meeting today. It was number 22 on the list so whether it came up for discussion or not was not clear at the time of posting this report.

At present, the Tata-Star combine, had paid the Rs 10 million entry fee, but is still to furnish a Rs 400 million bank guarantee before the venture can get a letter of intent from the government to begin DTH.

Another player in the DTH sector, India's pubcaster Doordarshan has said that its proposed service, scheduled to be launched in April, may get delayed to June.

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