Astro to tap Indian market via radio services

NEW DELHI: Astro, the entertainment major from Malaysia-based Measat, is once again attempting to tap the Indian market but this time it is doing it through radio services.

Astro CEO Ralph Marshall has been quoted by the Hong Kong-based Media Partners Asia publication Media Routes that the company would expand regionally with pay TV investments in Indonesia and radio ventures in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam.

No details were, however, made available as to the nature of the radio venture that Astro was looking at for the Indian market. The options before Astro, keeping in mind the Indian government guidelines for radio ventures, is to start a digital satellite TV radio service on the lines of those been made available by Worldspace at the moment.

Another option for Astro is to hitch up with a local partner to start community radio services. But the licence procedure for community radio service is cumbersome, which has been a deterrent for several other players. Or else, Astro can optimistically wait for the Indian government to review foreign investment norms in FM radio sector, which is nil at the moment.

But, Astro's parent company Measat did have a relationship with Indian pubcaster Doordarshan in the mid to late 1990s for starting a KU-band DTH television service in India. The memorandum of understanding was allowed to lapse, as DD did not get the requisite permission from the government.

Astro, an integrated media major (pay TV, radio and movies), has, however said it's bullish on maintaining robust pay TV subscriber growth at the 300,000/year level and expanding regionally. According to Media Routes, Astro's first quarter result was marginally below expectations amid noise about piracy and new competition (MiTV, Telekom).

Astro also plans to complete a $300 million syndicated loan facility this year, which will be used to repay its outstanding $250 million term loans. On a conservative note, MPA has forecast that Astro is likely to add slightly under 260,000 subscribers for the 12-month period to end in January 2005, taking Astro's overall residential subscriber base to 1.542 million.

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