Regional news channels: The new Gold rush!

NEW DELHI: As if the surfeit of already existing news channels was not enough, several others are round the corner -- including one in Hindi and another from the Gujarat Samachar stable. 

The powerful and cash-rich Gujarat Samachar group has decided to come out with a news channel in Gujarati by March 2004, and later expand the foray to the entertainment genre too.

"Yes, we are looking at a Gujarati news channel and our target is to commence it by March 2004," Gujarat Samachar CMD and managing editor Shreyans S Shah told today, on the sidelines of a press conference on newsroom technologies.

According to Shah, the initial business plan envisages an investment layout of Rs 300 million for the satellite-based yet-to-be-christened digital Gujarati news channel, which would be beamed through an Insat satellite. He added that necessary permissions have been sought from the Indian government.

"After the launch of the Gujarati news channel, we would expand the portfolio and the next target may be a Marathi news channel," Shah said, adding that it could ultimately become a toss up between Marathi and Hindi. However, he opined a Marathi channel may take precedence as there is already enough competition in the Hindi language category.

Pointing out that the proposed Gujarati channel would be free to air, Shah said negotiations are on to see whether it is necessary to join some bouquet to get better distribution.

"The channel would air news related mainly to Gujarat, but the focus would be on local news of Ahmedabad," Shah said, pointing out that at some later stage they may also look at tie-ups with some foreign company for distribution overseas. He, however, ruled out any foreign investment in Gujarat Samachar's television ventures.

The satellite news channel, to be uplinked out of Mumbai or Ahmedabad, is not the maiden foray of the group into the electronic medium, though. At present, the group produces a weekly news capsule, focused on Ahmedabad, which is delivered via various cable networks in Gujarat.

Shaf broadcast Pvt Ltd, which has also done the work for Sahara group in association with IBM, whose hardware has been used for the purpose, is doing the news automation for Gujarat Samachar too.

If Gujarat Samachar is proposing forays into the electronic medium, can other powerful regional media groups be far behind?

If the buzz from the hardware industry is to be believed, then the Madhya Pradesh-based Dainik Bhaskar group is also giving the final touches to a regional news channel, which would heavily leverage the already existing infrastructure of its various news bureaux and manpower, spread across several states of India.

Dainik Bhaskar is one of top three circulating dailies in the country. Another news channel in Hindi that is likely to go on air by the year-end is Sky News India (no way related to Rupert Murdoch's Sky News in the UK) with funding from a non-resident Indian couple.

This channel, which promises to cater to the Hindi heartland (comprising the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar) in "a unique way", according to the channel's executive producer Rakesh Shukla, would be totally using Internet Protocol-based delivery that would reduce the investment cost drastically and would enable them to do live video streaming too.

Pointing out that the initial cost envisaged is just Rs 80 million --- the channel is to be beamed through Thaicom 3 --- Shukla said that unlike the Sahara channels or other Hindi news channels, Sky News would be having highly-localised content like live coverage of local festivals that seldom get mentioned or covered by other news channels.

"The idea is to give more regional and colloquial content that will attract small and local advertisers," Shukla said.

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