MAK TV ready for rollout, plans to start 4-channel test feed 24 August

MUMBAI: It's been a long time in the incubator but Manoranjan Aur Kya (Mak) Television Network is apparently ready to roll. The test signal starts 24 August for four of the channels of the six-channel pay network, says Mak chairman and managing director Karan Saluja.

The four channels are Mak Prime (Hindi entertainment), Mak Telugu, Mak Music and Mak Bangla Movies and are expected to be broadcasting with a full-fledged eight hours of fresh programming daily in digital free to air mode from 16 September, according to Saluja. By mid-October Mak Sindhi and Mak Style (fashion) will also be up and running as digital FTA, which is when the other four channels will become encrypted feeds, Saluja says.

By mid-November all six channels will have completed their encryption and would be a completely pay-driven network, he asserts.

On the distribution front, Saluja says Mak will be seeding about 15,000 Technosat set top boxes across the country and pricing them at Rs 15,000 per STB. Mak will be uplinked out of Singapore and has taken 21 MHz transponder space on the Telstar 10 satellite for downlink, Saluja says.

The industry had written Mak off but Saluja says work has been on at a feverish pace keeping the status of the project out of the public eye. Saluja, formerly head of Reminiscent Television, was the man who set up the Gujarati Channel 'Gurjari' and Punjabi Channel 'Lashkara'. 

Saluja has been working away these past months even as network directors like Satish Menon (ex-Zee and now Sahara TV president), Prashant Sanwal (ex-Sony and now director of the Zee Group's Alpha regional channels) and Hitesh Sabharwal (Sony's former distribution head) upped and left. Saluja has put together a new team with Vishnu Patel (he was the programming head of Zee TV for brief stint till March 1999) heading programming and Sanjeev Fernandes heading distribution. One person who has been associated with Mak from the beginning in an advisory capacity and is still with them is Amit Ray, executive vice president, media, Mudra Communications.

Regarding finances, Saluja said he has put together $ 10 million for the first phase of funding. Queried as to who were Mak's promoters, Saluja says besides himself, there are three other promoters - Deepak Agarwal (he's in the impost export business), Sunil Kishorepuria (of the Kolkata-based Jeevan Sagar Group) and Somnath Battacharya (running a pharmaceuticals company). Saluja clarified that his was not sweat equity but funding, as was the case for the other four.

For three of the channels, Mak Prime, Mak Telugu and Mak Bangla, Saluja has the following as attractions that he says will immediately draw in viewership. For Mak Prime Saluja says he's in serious talks for concepts that are being developed around a few of Bollywood's brightest. Aishwarya Rai, Urmila Matondkar, Manisha Koirala, Rekha, Sunil Shetty, Ajay Devgan are some of the names that he throws around. 

Mak Telugu will have a blockbuster show featuring Telugu film star Krishna as its channel driver, Saluja says. As for Mak Bangla Movies, Saluja claims he has the rights for 750 Bangla films, including rights for one year to "all 13 movies of the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray." 

Saluja is certainly not thinking small. Now it remains to be seen how successful he is in seeing his vision through.

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