Zee terms Chernin's comments on its DTH plan 'amateurish'

NEW DELHI: The battle between Rupert Murdoch and his one-time-but-now-estranged-ally Subhash Chandra has taken a new turn with Essel Group - the umbrella entity under which he carries out various business ventures - taking umbrage to remarks by News Corp COO Peter Chernin on the direct-to-home (DTH) service recently launched by a Chandra company.

According to Essel's official spokesperson, "It is shocking and surprising when senior and respected industry professionals (referring to Chernin) make such amateurish statements."

In an exclusive interview to in Cannes during Mipcom, Chernin, to a question on being beaten by Zee as far as launching a DTH service in India was concerned, had said, "Zee TV has not launched as yet. They keep making announcements. It is a soft launch. And you are not going to see a hard launch of Zee TV's DTH."

A Chandra-promoted company, ASC Enterprises, in association with Zee Telefilms, launched India's first KU-band DTH television service on 2 October. While ASC is the DTH license holder, Zee (with Turner International India) is providing and entering into third-party programming contracts for the platform.

Joining issue with Chernin, the number two in News Corp after Murdoch, the spokesperson added, "We can understand their (News Corp and its Indian arm Star India) predicament as their high profile DTH project has been a non starter. For us, at least we have made a small beginning."

Chernin had told, "The only place in the new markets we see potential for DTH is in India. And we will abide by and live under all regulatory norms, the countries that we operate in, ask us to. You saw that in the Star News case. We see limits on ownership and those are fine by us."

Hammering home his point of a humble beginning that would give them the first mover's advantage, the spokesperson said that Dish TV, the brand name under which the KU-band service is being marketed, has launched five exclusive channels for DTH including Premier Cinema, which will showcase the latest Hindi blockbusters not more than five years old, and Smile TV, a comedy channel. Another new channel is Care TV.

These channels are being given over and above the basic bouquet that is presently being offered by Dish TV for Rs100 (excluding local taxes) as an introductory incentive.

The other general entertainment channels being offered by Dish TV include Zee TV, Sab TV, Sahara Manoranjan, DD National and DD Metro, apart from the likes of Zee News, Aaj Tak, Sahara Samay, NDTV India, Headlines Today, Trendz, MTV, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, SplashTV and NDTV 24x7.

International news channels like CNN, BBC and CNBC are also on Dish TV. Some non-Zee regional and Punjabi music channels too are on Dish TV, it was pointed out, as too the fact that the service also offers, at present, four satellite radio channels.

Explaining the advantages of Dish TV, Kaul says, "ASC's Dish TV will not only have DVD-quality video and CD-quality audio but advanced features like electronic programming guide (EPG) and control on viewing via parental lock are being offered."

Dish is giving impetus to customer care, the spokesperson says, "Better customer care through a 24/7 call centre is being ensured as we understand that happy and satisfied customers is the key to the success of DTH."

Though the subscriber base is still low, Zee is optimistic that within a few months it will corner a sizeable market.

Over the past few years, the DTH satellite industry has emerged with the launch of 55 DTH platforms worldwide. Subscribers to DTH platform or satellite premium services worldwide had skyrocketed to reach 60 million households in 2001, representing 200 million viewers, with an impressive growth in revenue to Rs 1,100 billion in 2001. Another 45 million households receive free-to-air TV channels through DTH.

In recent times, satellite has clearly emerged as the potential leading media for live events and video distribution, both for global and local needs. Major successful platforms are Direct TV of the USA (+10 million subscribers), Echostar of the USA (+8 million subscribers), BskyB of the UK (+5.5 million subscribers) and Canal Satellite of France.

At present, there are approximately 87 million TV households (Source: NRS - 2002) in India, out of which 31 million are CTVs and 56 million B/W.

Last year, a total of seven million TVs were sold, of which approximately seven per cent were of 21-inch size or of the "flat" category. The television market has been growing at a rate of 11-13 per cent and is expected to grow at a similar rate in the years to come. Currently, there are 44 million C&S Homes, which have been growing at a rate of 20-24 per cent in the past and are likely to grow at a rate of 18-20 per cent in the near future.

The concept of multi TVs in one home is also gaining popularity in many urban homes because of varying TV viewing habits of different members of the house. As per a study, 11 per cent of the total C&S homes in Mumbai are multi TV homes. Industry experts forecast a healthy growth of multi TV homes not only in the metros but other A category towns in the country.

There are several geographical regions in India where the distribution of population is very scattered, including villages.

"A large percentage of households in such areas are not serviced by cable operators because of economical non-viability. A substantial number of households in such areas have the paying capacity but do not have access and hence are high potential customers for Dish TV services, this being an untapped market," the spokesperson concludes.

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"Our aim is clear: creating content and news and distributing it as far and wide as we can" - Peter Chernin

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