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Singh panel report: no speedy impact on DTH

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NEW DELHI: The recommendations of the NK Singh panel on FDI that the media cap of 20 per cent in a DTH venture should be hiked to 49 per cent is highly unlikely to have any immediate impact on the proposed plans of those players - Rupert Murdoch and Subhash Chandra - interested in entering the KU-band DTH TV service sector in India.

According to broadcasting industry observers, the reason that such recommendations would not have an immediate is impact because the government will take its own sweet time in accepting the suggestion and subsequently directing the various departments and organizations to act on the suggestions.

But it has been accepted by the industry that certain sections of the government - NK Singh is with the Planning Commission, which is a government body - have at least acknowledged the fact that mere policies would not attract private players , specially FDI. The case of DTH is an example. The policy was announced late 2000, but till date no player has even firmed up its plans to enter this sector.

The Planning Commission had earlier also observed that the media cap of 20 per cent in a DTH venture should be relaxed and the policy guidelines relaxed as the whole policy had failed to create any sign if life in this sector. Apart from saying that the ministry was looking into the suggestion, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj or the government has done precious little in this regard.

Even if everything is hunky-dory and the government gives all necessary permissions in a jiffy, after having co-opting suggestions on relaxation in FDI caps in a DTH venture, the final okay can come only sometime in the fourth quarter of this calendar year, industry experts have opined.

Even with relaxed FDI norms, a DTH venture will still need Indian partners who have an appetite for pretty investments in a venture where the gestation period is long.

Coupled with other things which need to be put in place, even Star, probably, cannot start a DTH venture before the first quarter of 2004. If work is done at a break-neck speed, the DTH venture may get off the ground sometime during the last quarter of 2003.

A typical DTH venture will need investment between $ 400 - 500 million and various studies undertaken in India have indicated that any company starting a DTH venture in India would be fortunate if it manages to corner a couple of million subscribers with three years. Considering the investment involved and the slow pace of cobbling together a decent subscriber base, a DTH venture will take that much long to even reach the level of operational profits.

Though Star executives can raise a toast to the positive recommendations of the NK Singh panels, it is Subhash Chandra and his satellite company that has to be watched where DTH is concerned.

ASC Enterprises Ltd, implementing the Agrani satellite project, is one of the two applicants that have sought permission for a DTH venture from the government. The other is Space TV, an affiliate of Star India Ltd.

Though sources in ASC Enterprises Ltd today told indiantelevision.com that the Singh panel report does not have any immediate bearing on the company's plans, Star sources indicated that it is a positive step forward, but lot more needs to be done and clarified.

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