Entire Middle East Aaj Tak's target for 2002

Aaj Tak, the Hindi news channel that has forayed into the UAE with a tie-up with a cable operator late last year, plans to cover the entire Middle East in the near future.

Aaj Tak signed a deal with E Vision, a leading UAE cable company in November 2001 offering the channel on a free to air window to all subscribers of the cable op, spread in Dubai and parts of UAE. According to CEO G Krishnan, the channel will shift to 'a la carte mode' from mid-February. In effect, the channel will be available to subscribers for a nominal payment after that. The deal, says Krishnan, was struck to explore the international market within the footprint area of its existing carrier satellite Insat 2 E. Aaj Tak is currently targeting Asian homes through E Vision, owned by ETISALAT.

The channel is also rationalising its rate card from 1 April 2002 in order to make it more attractive to advertisers. "Our ad revenues have consistently grown from the time we launched", he says. The channel's only source of revenue is advertising and Krishnan hopes to exceed revenue targets of Rs 400 million for the current fiscal. One big success that Aaj Tak has chalked up is in managing to mop up a wide range of ads from players who were traditionally not known to set aside budgets for television.

In India, Aaj Tak is currently available to 100 per cent of the cable homes while the current Cable & Satellite connectivity is over 85 per cent, claims Krishnan.

Krishnan says the company is also in touch with existing DTH players in the UAE and will be signing a deal shortly to attract all DTH homes as well in UAE. He hopes to acquire an additional 60,000 to 70,000 homes by the end of 2002 if a deal with any of the three DTH players in the region works out. Only two of the three existing DTH players in the region, he says, are interested in Hindi content.

Aaj Tak, which was rated as one of the most popular news channels by the time it completed a year of operation in December 2001, has however shelved its plans of launching an English news channel for the time being. Krishnan however is confident that the channel will have a better share of the international market by the end of next year.

At the time of inception, the Living Media group, TV Today's parent had decided to offload up to 25 per cent in the new entity. While the Bharati group picked up a 10 per cent stake in the company recently, ICICI Venture Funds holds another 10 per cent. Krishnan says the company does not plan to offload any more equity in the near future.

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