Tata Sons, Star Group ink DTH deal; Tatas to hold 80% stake

MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: News Corp's Star Group and Tata Sons today announced the inking of a deal for a 20:80 joint venture agreement for a KU-band direct-to-home (DTH) television service for India.

This follows several draft memoranda of understanding and meetings between Star Group and Tata executives over the past few months. It was last September that broke the news that Star had zeroed down on the Tatas to be their partners in the Indian DTH venture.

The Tatas, being the the majority shareholder, would reportedly be nominating a CEO, while a Star person is expected to be the COO. A name that has been thrown up as a likely candidate from Star's end is G Jagdish Kumar, who is anyway the COO of Space TV, the company Star had set up for its DTH foray.

It is also expected that a formal revised application will be moved in this regard with the government, which has already given a conditional letter of invitation to Space TV.

As far as the investment in this project from the Tatas is concerned, it is reportedly coming by and large through Tata Sons.

A statement issued by Tata Sons states that "the Tata Group and Star Group look forward to building India's largest digital television platform and offering a range of channels including exclusive channels, with interactive features and services."

Expectations of some finalisation of the DTH have been doing the rounds ever since the Star Groups big three of CEO Michelle Guthrie, COO Steve Askew and CFO John Lau flew down to Mumbai last week.

Industry experts pointed out that if Star has to start a DTH service in India, it should not delay the foray as completion of formalities is likely to take some time. With the country and the government getting into the general election mode, such a process may take up more time than usual, if delayed further.

Subhash Chandra's companies ASC Enterprise and Zee have launched a DTH service under the Dish TV brand in the last quarter of 2003. Though the subscriber base may not be as high as is being claimed (50,000), there is no denying that any further delay by Star may give Chandra's companies enough lead time to consolidate operations.

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