India not on EchoStar radar 'in the near term'

HONG KONG: Regulatory blips and other on-ground problems notwithstanding, India is too big a market to be ignored for long by investors, says Scott Zimmer, senior advisor to EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen.

“Both India and Vietnam are big markets… (however) it also means bigger opportunities, bigger challenges and bigger hurdles,” Zimmer says.

Headquartered in Colorado in the US, EchoStar Communications Corporation is a public company with approximately 21,000 employees. The company and its subsidiaries deliver direct broadcast satellite (DBS) television products and services to customers worldwide, apart from recent interests in mobile television.

“We are always looking for opportunities in various parts of the world and India is no exception,” Zimmer told here today on the sidelines of the annual convention of Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa).

However, he added that there are no immediate plans from EchoStar to invest in India, though Zimmer spent a few days recently in Mumbai to have first-hand information on Asia’s largest market after China.

In the short to medium term I don’t see ourselves making any commitment in India. But it’s too big a market to be ignored for too long by anybody,” Zimmer said.

According to him, whenever EchoStar gets into India it would be with a local partner and it’s “important to find the right partner.”

“India does have some DBS services (read DTH platforms) and I expect some more players to come,” Zimmer said, adding that the Zee group should have its work cut out to take on a “gorilla” like Tata Sky.

While Tata Sky, India’s second pay DTH platform, is a joint venture between the Tatas and News Corp, the Subhash Chandra-controlled Dish TV is chugging along without a foreign partner.

Indian media norms allow foreign direct investment of up to 20 per cent in a DTH venture and it is a subject of much debate within the industry whether this percentage should be increased or not.

Zimmer, however, refused to make any comment when asked whether he had held exploratory talks with the Essel/Zee group during his last visit to Mumbai.

“It would be improper on my part to make any sort of comment … (but) both the Zee Group and EchoStar share same sort of heritage in the sense that both grew from scratch,” Zimmer said.

Still, the man advising the legendary Ergen points out that while EchoStar’s competitor’s during the early stages were also growing in the US, the Zee group in contrast has a “gorilla like the Tatas” competing with it.

Zimmer also feels that what could be shying away some foreign investors from India is the presence of “strong and dominant” Indian companies like the Tatas and Reliance.

As per EchoStar‘s website, the company story began in 1980 when chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen entered the satellite television industry as a distributor of C-band TV systems. Joined by his wife, Candy, and friend, James DeFranco,
EchoStar Communications Corporation was formed.

In 1987, EchoStar filed for a DBS license with the Federal Communications Commission and was granted access to orbital slot 119° West Longitude in 1992. The company started its own DBS service on 28 December, 1995 with the launch of EchoStar I satellite.

That same year, EchoStar established the Dish Network brand name. EchoStar II, launched on September 10, 1996, and expanded Dish Network‘s capacity. Presently, the 14 owned or leased satellites that make up the EchoStar fleet have the capacity to provide thousands of channels of digital video, audio and data services via Dish Network service to homes, businesses and schools throughout the United States.

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