Television

Seth becomes biggest stakeholder in MCCS; another uplink extension granted

NEW DELHI: Setting at rest speculations and playing safe, Media Content & Communications Services India Pvt. Ltd, which has applied for a licence to uplink content for Star News, has not got a replacement for Kumaramangalam Birla whose 25 per cent holding, instead, has been bought by an existing shareholder, ad man Suhel Seth.

As if on cue, the Indian government also gave another weekly extension --- the fourth in a row --- to MCCS to continue uplinking news content from India through Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. MCCS had earlier got an anticipatory stay from Mumbai high court against VSNL snapping its uplink arrangement from India.

"Now I am the single largest shareholder in the company and I am an Indian too," Seth told indiantelevision.com, in between a meeting that he was attending.

Seth, who earlier held 5 per cent stake in MCCS, now becomes the single largest shareholder in the news venture with 30 pr cent stake. Star News Broadcasting, a Rupert Murdoch company, is the second largest shareholder with 26 per cent stake.

According to Kaushal Dalal, a board member of MCCS and a Star India employee, all shareholders would be on the board of MCCS, contrary to an earlier arrangement when not all the Indian shareholders were represented on the board of the company.

Dalal today submitted MCCS' reply to government posers that were lengthy and includes the business plans of the company that has justified its relatively small capital base on the grounds that most of its services are "outsourced".

Meanwhile, Seth's acquisition of Birla's shareholding also signifies the rise of the Kolkata-educated ad man man who is a permanent fixture on Delhi's cocktail circuit and loves to throw stylish and lavish parties himself.

However, today he seemed to be extra busy, taking mostly calls from the media. Given to flamboyance, Seth, who also wears the hat of the CEO of Equus Red Cell advertising firm, refused to spell out any financial details.

"Those who know, know how much I paid for buying the stake (held by Birla)," a tantalisingly vague Seth told a journalist before whizzing off to another meeting earlier in the evening.

Seth, as per associates, friends and those who have known him in Kolkata, has always been a go-getter and a compulsive debater at college.

"While one of Jadhavpur University's better debaters prepared before an outing, Suhel would speak extempore like a bull in a China shop and would continue debating till he managed to convince the others," a batchmate of his revealed.

After a short stint at Kolkata-headquartered ITC, Suhel, along with his brother Swapan, started Equus advertising agency where the now-troubled Daewoo India, then targeting India aggressively with its cars, is reported to have been the first client.

Between mid and late 1990s, Equus managed to get investment from one of Korea's biggest ad firms Korad, which held a minority stake in the Indian ad firm.

It is also said that Suhel managed to get global advertising world's big daddy Martin Sorrell, CEO WPP, interested in his works and ultimately hitched up a relationship with WPP. Of course, as per Seth's own admission, he owes a lot to the late marketing wizard Shunu Sen who was instrumental in shaping Seth's career to a large extent. Not to mention Seth is a close friend of the Doon School-educated Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea too.

GOVERNMENT RELENTS ON UPLINKING

After showing signs of indecisiveness, the government admitted late this evening that it has granted another weekly extension to Star News. The extension given last week expires at midnight.

Pointing out that the replies from Star News and MCCS were not conditional for extending uplinking permission, an official of India's information and broadcasting ministry said, "They (the replies) are adequate, if not satisfactory."

The government official also said that the replies would be "analysed" by the government and the ministry would hold consultations with the inter-ministerial group that would look into various policies regarding the media, including shareholding and ownership patterns.

It has also been indicated by the government that it would look into the shareholding pattern of companies like Touch Telecontent (India) and Hughes Electronics, corporate entities in which Rupert Murdoch is likely to have holdings directly or indirectly. The former, anyway, has been set up as an infrastructure company owned a 100 per cent by Star.

The government is looking into Hughes Electronics because as per a deal done abroad Murdoch's News Corp has bought into Hughes Electronics India's parent company and would, thus, be having a hold over the Indian entity too.

According to Star News-MCCS combine, Hughes Electronics India would be used for outsourcing news gathering connectivity-related equipment. Hughes Electronics is a V-sat company and has a vast network of broadband and other related infrastructure in India.

Government officials, quoting from the reply furnished by Star News, also pointed out that Touch Telecontent would be responsible for the ad sales of Star News, which had mopped up about Rs 850 million in advertising revenue last year.

Star News Broadcasting Ltd has licenced the usage of the Star News logo.

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