Sahara news channel launching 25 February

LUCKNOW: Emotions before economics. Sounds good in advertisements, but don't be mistaken that the Subrata Roy-promoted Sahara India group (current assets: over Rs. 320 billion) has given the bottomlines a complete go by.

"We certainly have made some revenue assumptions, and if our assumptions are correct, then we may break even with our media expansion - including satellite news channels - in the first year," Sahara India group's managing worker (as he likes to call himself) and chairman (in that order) Subrata Roy, told yesterday on the eve of the group's 25th anniversary. Company sources revealed that the launch of Roy's first (and main) news channel - Sahara national channel - has been set for 25 February.

The anniversary celebrations were held in Sahara City, a city within a city in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh state, with a start-studded entertainment show that saw the likes of Kareena Kapoor, Urmila, Mahima and Sonu Nigam perform before a packed house.


Besides the homeground, the group is also planning to cover the foreign markets as well. The Sahara group is close to finalising a deal with the US-based TV Asia, whose former shareholders included Amitabh Bachchan and Ketan Somaiya, for a business relationship. The project will start off with content sharing and later may be expanded to Sahara picking up equity stake in TV Asia, thus get a foothold in the US market.

"Some negotiations are on, but at present I cannot divulge the details. Still, the content sharing may start within a few months," Roy said, as politician-friend Amar Singh smiled.

After the US, the next destination for Sahara channels would be the UK and Canada.

The Sahara group has also opened up talks with the likes of Reliance and Bharti to ride their fibre optic network around the country.

"We are in talks with the likes of Reliance and Bharti. We are essentially to looking at finding a synergy to reach people's home with our various products. But such deals would not be finalised unless we find a solution to the problem of last mile all by ourselves," Roy said.

One can debate on Roy's style of functioning, but one cannot ignore the passion with which he takes up new ventures and puts them together.

"In the last 25 years there have been talks of competition, but I think others (NDTV, Aaj tak and Star) should feel that we are competition," Roy asserts to a query from on the impending competition, adding, "We will do what we feel we can do and achieve and let others do what they think they should be doing."

As regards the news channels, Sumit Roy, head of the group's media and entertainment business, had earlier told that seven region specific channels and 30-odd city-specific channels would be streamed riding the respective parent news channels, and the news weeklies to be launched in 31-odd cities would "complement each other."

"What we are looking at, is to have the weeklies compliment the news, reports and coverage of our news channels. The local news will attract viewers that in turn will get us local ads too. If we can combine the print and the electronic medium ideally, I don't feel there would be a dearth of business. And that is our aim," Roy said. "But we don't always start a venture with immediate financial benefit in mind. The channels are guided by the principle that they would be people's channels and provide them with a platform to voice their concern and issues related to them."

Can Sahara pull it off? Especially at a time when heavyweights like NDTV, Aaj Tak and Star have already decided to flex their financial and professional muscles having had past experience in the business of news channels.

The answer to this question lies in the five-page ads that has been brought out by Sahara group on the occasion of the silver jubilee today that proudly says that starting from a capital base of Rs 2,000 25 years ago, the group is fast growing towards an asset base of Rs 1,000 billion.

Tall claims? The history of the group says otherwise.

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