Maximum action in Mumbai as news channels ready plans

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: It's action time. And one is not referring to a particular brand of shoes, but the stage that has been set for the battle of news to begin, come March-April. There is certainly anticipation and anxiety in the air as hectic preparations are on.


But if there is one single aspect that will be markedly different in the way the news channels conduct their operations, it must most certainly be the way the scene of action has shifted from political capital Delhi to the business and entertainment capital Mumbai.

The lead taken by Star to headquarter operations in Mumbai and go in for a super bureau in Delhi has forced all the others to follow suit in different ways. Whether it be NDTV, Aaj Tak or Zee News, all are planning to majorly increase their presence in Mumbai.

As far as coverage is concerned, there will not be too much to choose from between one or the other and at the end of the day, it will be the packaging and presentation that will decide who wins over the viewer.

Flashy packaging and increased emphasis on the glamour angle looks like being the order of the day. The case of Aaj Tak is interesting here. It made its name and grabbed the viewership numbers by being able to reach out to a wide spectrum of viewers. In the next stage, there is going to be much more focus on the aspirational point of view in the kind of issues that are taken up for coverage. 

And what about all the new hirings that have taken place? It certainly has not been smooth sailing all round. The problems here are apparently linked to the new pecking order created by the rise of the Hindi-speaking journo in the scheme of things. 

In the print media, it has always been the English-speaking scribes who've lorded it over their "vernacular" cousins. In the current scenario, all that has gone for a toss. This has led to not just ego clashes, but also problems of adjustments in working together. It's also an issue of a clash of mindsets that is at work here. offers a brief look at the preparedness of various existing and proposed news channels for the road ahead:


Aaj Tak is arguably the best news channel of the lot at the moment. But does that mean the English offering from the stable would be as good and successful? The group's owner and media baron Aroon Purie would like it that way, as would countless others in the organisation. The dry runs of the English news channels are on, company sources point out. 

It is also a fact that TV Today Network has decided not to hype up its proposed English news channel too much. Rather, information available indicates that it'd be quite a soft launch and will ease into the market slowly. That is why one hears so little about the English channel (its name is still a bit of mystery with one theory being that the name may carry the 'Today' brand name too) except the odd-little information that is deliberately leaked. 

But TV Today Network's television venture has been a victim of some big time poaching with some known faces and anchors on Aaj Tak leaving for rival camps - a few have gone to NDTV (the likes of Dibang, Prasoon Vajpayee and Naghma can already be seen on Star News' Hindi bulletins being produced by NDTV), while a few others have left for Star that will take full editorial control of Star News on April 1, 2003. 

Still, a senior executive of TV Today Network, put up a brave front and said, "Agreed, we have lost some people as part of the churning and new demand in the market, but the second team is being put in place." 

It is reliably learnt that apart from recruitment for the English channel, that is all poised to be launched, TV Today Network has also taken in people for Aaj Tak Hindi. Some new faces can already be seen. 

When is the English channel being launched? Since these days even tarot card readers can go wrong (as we saw Ma Rithambara go so way off the ball on the India-Australia World Cup match last Saturday), we'd not like to do any crystal ball gazing. Still, according to information emanating from within the India Today Group (ITG), work is on at a feverish pitch, targeting a big bang splash for the English channel towards the end of this month. 

The new channel is also expected to be a digitally encrypted free to air channel, like Aaj Tak. That means TV Today Network will not charge subscription money from cable operators for accessing the channel. Only the IRDs will have to be bought from the company by the MSOs and cable ops. The boxes for the new channels are also expected to go out in the market from later this week, according to sources in the cable industry. 

How would the new channel fare? It would not be easy. Points out a media planner with a trans-Atlantic ad agency, "Aaj Tak has become a success because the competition was weak. In the English segment, any new news channel would have to contend with the quality of standards set by NDTV that proposes to come out with its own two channels." 

Considering Aaj Tak lost quite a few senior hands to rivals, is it a worry? This gem of an explanation came from a senior person at Aaj Tak, "All those who have left us are talented professionals. But they are trained to bring out Aaj Tak and will do the same wherever they have gone. Good for us." 


First the breaking news. The Sahara group, aiming to implement one of the most ambitious media projects involving investments of over Rs six billion, through a combination of print and electronic medium offerings, has rescheduled the launch of its national news channel (s) to 11 March. Reasons offered as of Monday: some technical glitches that need to be overcome. 

Having said that, one needs to take a look at the people who are at the helm of affairs. Vinod Dua as an advisor to the news channels (seven + 30 through streaming) project gives the whole project that much more strength. At the end of the day, like Prannoy Roy, Dua has been one of the original products of the boom in Indian television and, by some, is considered as good as one-time associate Roy, where on-screen presence is concerned. It is another thing that Roy went on to build an institution, while Dua's is a case of individual brilliance. 

The national news channel head Arup Ghosh, who cut his teeth at NDTV during its hey day at Star News, is a former print medium journalist. Shireen, the head of the news channel meant for the National Capital Region of Delhi is, again, a colleague of Ghosh, and flowered at NDTV before leaving the organisation to pursue her own path. Prabhat Dabral, the head of the region-specific channels is a former Doordarshan man. A fine professional, but at times may get hampered because of his grounding at public service broadcaster DD. Rajiv Bajaj, the head of the Mumbai channel, has had some experience of television when he was with the Hinduja group. 

Acoording to Sahara group chairman and managing worker Subrata Roy, out of the total investment envisaged, over 70 per cent has already been spent in state-of-the-art hardware and software (these days every news channel is claiming it will employ fancy gizmos with equally hi-tech software). 

The proposed launch of the two Sahara channels - the Samay and Samay Uttar meant for Uttar Pradesh - have been rescheduled several times and a sense of scepticism had set in that, probably like Videocon, Sahara's promises are also like waiting for Godot. Until the promoters swung into action and started briefing the media in detail about their plans, that is. The first interview on the detailed plans, of course, appeared on 

The manpower is more or less in place for Sahara for the first two launches at least. The only niggling problem, that is reportedly being sorted out, is the technical part. Sahara claims to be setting up the largest V-sat network in the country for news gathering and other streaming purposes. The catch is the issue of the boxes for the digital channels to be seeded in the market and ensuring a good distribution for the free to air news channels, considering distribution has never been a strong point of the Sahara group. This is evident in the visibility of Sahara TV, the entertainment channel, which despite airing some compelling shows, is not really a hot favourite among cable operators. 

What are Sahara's chances? As they say in cricket, it's a reachable target. Points out a media analyst based in Delhi, "Products in Indian languages, including Hindi, have more chances of succeeding in the country." 


Ah! That's the real big one. Because it is Star, not only the anticipation level, but anxiety too is more. And the government dilly-dallying over permission for uplinking from India hasn't helped the cause much. 

But side by side, one learns, training has been going on. And the dry runs are expected to start soon, according to company sources. 

The regional bureaux or regional correspondents may still not be in place everywhere, but in Delhi, envisaged as a super bureau, and at the headquarters of Star News in Mumbai, hectic activities have been taking place, including training sessions by people from Sky News and Fox News. 

The channel, after Star takes full control of it on 1 April 2003, would be low on politics and more on everything else - from human interest stories to glamour to you name it. 

Will it succeed in India? The chances of failure and success are equal, industry observers say, as India is a country where politics and politicians make more news, probably as much as Indian cricketers. Since the channel would be dominated by Hindi programming, the Hindi-speaking viewers in the Hindi heartland simply eat, sleep and breathe politics. Which is what makes it such a tough call for Star. 

But who knows? The viewers may just like something away from the usual? Critics be damned. Kaun Banega Crorepati was panned by every critic as being juvenile, but it went on to become the greatest success story for Star India. 

Will the launch be on time? Star has no option but to put up something on 1 April as a day before NDTV-Star content agreement would have ceased to exist. Even if Star has to fly down a whole team of editors and anchors to Hong Kong to put up a show from 1 April, it would have to be done. That is, if government permissions don't come through by then. 

But Rupert Murdoch is known to take some unusual steps. He may just decide that the Star News can be off air for some time. But that seems a remote possibility as too much of pride, rather than money, is at stake. 


The company has admitted two channels in Hindi and English would be launched simultaneously around 1 April. What it hasn't revealed yet, is the name the channels would carry. Speculation is rife on that. In English, NDTV World seems fine, as per one rumour. But the same name in Hindi may not sound so pleasing to the ears. Unless they settle for something like `NDTV Ki Duniya', again a long winded name for a news channel. 

If any company has poached the most and got poached the least, it would have to be NDTV. Apart from some behind-the-scene producer-types, none of the big names or the known faces have left NDTV to join rival camps, speculations about Rajdeep Sardesai, Pankaj Pachauri and the likes notwithstanding. 

One gets the feeling that Roy and his team of management at NDTV, in every sense, started preparing for life beyond Star quite early, probably earlier than Star itself. What's more, apart from the occasional snippet slipping out, NDTV has also managed to keep things under a pretty tight wrap. 

What is the success rate? Experts say, NDTV will race ahead of everybody where the English channel is concerned, but the Hindi channel may not find it that easy. 


The original product had a beginner's advantage, which was frittered away through complacency and some indifferent handling/managing of the channel by successive chief executives and channel heads. 

Zee News amplifies the state of affairs at Zee Telefilms - a house in shambles that has managed to consolidate over the past few months after the promoter family decided enough was enough and took direct control of the company last year. 

The old warhorse hasn't done very badly in recent times. The fact that competition monitors it more than Star News is a clear indication that Zee News is regrouping well. 

At a post New Year party that was hosted by the current Zee News head, Laxmi Goel, one of the younger brothers of Subhash Chandra, the general refrain was that the team has given itself 90 days to perk up to near-perfection. 

And the results are showing. More stories are being filed, more stories are being broken on air, the approach is becoming reporter-led rather than studio-based and, above all, money is being pumped in. Though Goel would refrain from specifying the investment that has already gone into Zee News and that may do so in future, he admits, "We'll do whatever is needed to turn around the news channel." 

The channel is being given a fresh look, part of it can be seen already and some new faces too would surface. Zee News hasn't yet given up! 


Now that's another big one. Unlike Star, it may just turn out to be one of the biggest disappointments. 

After the initial announcements by the Dhoots, nothing seems to have moved on the BBC (Bharat Business Channel) front that had been promised. Unless, the Dhoots are giving shape to their plans in some other planet far away from the prying eyes of the media.

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