Television

From Russia with love

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MUMBAI: As the second largest television market in the world which is only expanding with each passing year, India has witnessed a steady inflow of international channels in recent times.

As purveyor of all things TV, indiantelevision.com, today kicks-off a brand new series which profiles all such channels aiming to bring a more global, all-round perspective to Indian drawing rooms.

We debut with the Russian news channel Russia Today (RT), which arrived on Indian shores in 2009, courtesy a deal with GlobeCast.

The first channel to report live from the North Pole, RT's maiden broadcast was on 10 December 2005. Two years later, its Arabic counterpart Rusiya Al-Yaum was launched. Following suit were: RT en Espanol (Spanish) in 2009, RT America in 2010 and RT Documentary in 2011.

Having made its mark internationally, RT proceeded to test Indian waters in 2009 as part of its endeavour to expand its Asian footprint.

Back then, it was available for viewing in around seven million homes. Today, it boasts a reach of 60 million subscribers with a viewership of about 300 million.

Three satellites carry RT for viewers in India: Measat 3a, Insat 4B and AsiaSat 3S. Denizens of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad can watch RT on their cable network and major satellite platforms across the rest of the country.

    

On the day it was launched, RT was available for viewing only on WWIL, Dish Hits, InCable, 7 Star (cable operators), Big TV and Sun Direct DTH platforms.

Today, it is also available on InCable Net, Hathway (cable operators), Dish TV, DD Direct Plus and Airtel DTH.

However, it is highly unlikely that RT is making any money out of its distribution in the country. In fact it is highly probably that it is digging deep into its pockets to pay carriage fees to the cable and DTH operators. "In the case of DD Direct Plus it could be paying anywhere between Rs 1.5 to Rs 2.5 crore as carriage fees per year while on private DTH operators it could go up to Rs 5 crore per annum," says a senior media consultant.

With a tagline that reads 'Question More', who does RT cater to in India? While the country is home to a sizeable Russian population - either expats or regular tourists, RT claims it does not necessarily cater to the Russian diaspora but to 'anybody who can speak English'.

What do viewers get to watch on RT? Says RT MD Alexey Nikolov: "RT covers major international stories and significant regional developments in politics, society and finance for viewers of all backgrounds and nationalities."

Regular RT viewers observe that the channel discusses all major political issues and current affairs, albeit with a Russian perspective. While the news caters to a global audience, there's some amount of India-specific content too. Of late, the coverage has included the Delhi gang rape, India being awarded permanent observer status in the Arctic Council, defence contracts with Russia, Indo-China military cooperation and potential expansion of major foreign multi-brand retailers in India.

More specifically, some of the popular shows on RT include 'Cross Talk', 'The Kieser Report', 'Breaking the Set', 'The Big Picture' and 'Larry King Live' hosted by Larry King who switched from CNN to RT with this show. "What makes RT stand out among other news channels is that we cover stories that most other media outlets either ignore or dismiss, or on which, they provide a one-sided take," exults Nikolov.

As things stand, RT does not have any bureau in India to cover news from here. While it works with a number of stringers across the country, when asked, it was unwilling to share the exact number with indiantelevision.com.

However, in April this year, RT did launch their own video news agency named Ruptly, which works with various stringers and videographers across the globe. Earlier on, the channel also had a dedicated correspondent named Priya Sridhar, who would report about happenings in India. She has now moved on.

A huge list of hotels show RT on their screens, including the Taj Mahal, The Leela, Hyatt, Marriot, The Lalit and others. Hotels are keen to carry international channels because of the diverse visitors they attract from foreign countries. Although it is available in HD (high definition), as of now, it is limited to the SD format.

On Airtel DTH (Direct to Home), RT is available a la carte for Rs 5 while on Big TV, the rate is Rs 20. Sun DTH and Dish TV air the channel only in packs, along with other English news channels, while DD Direct Plus is the only channel which offers it free.

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