Star India launches wireless division

NEW DELHI: Well, we had alluded to this development happening in March, and so it has come to be. Not content with dominating the Indian cable and satellite TV market --- media analysts project that Star Group's growth in Asia would be largely fuelled by the Indian operation's stridency -- Star has now set its eyes on tapping the wireless segment in a big way in India and China in conjunction with its TV business.

An initial target is to reach 10 million cable homes in India where there are multiple mobile phone users within 12 months.

For starters, not only has a new division been created within Star India to focus on this business opportunity, but the company has also concluded deals with various telecom companies to mop up additional revenues.

The newly created wireless business development division is being headed by Sumantra 'Sumo' Dutta, who attended a session relating to the wireless business in Hong Kong recently. He also looks after the FM radio venture Radio City carried out in association with a PK Mittal company.

Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea told, "Globally wireless is becoming a lucrative business opportunity. Even if we do not garner big time revenue in India initially, it has the potential of growing exponentially over a period of time as we involve more and more TV-watching people and the number of cellular phone users grows."

According to Mukerjea, the deals signed with telecom companies envisage Star India cornering 30 per cent of the revenue from SMSs sent (related to Star-supported services like horoscope and news) over cellular networks.

The companies with which agreements to this effect have been signed include pre-dominantly GSM players like Bharti (Airtel) , Hutch, Orange and BPL. Those like Reliance and Tatas, offering limited mobility through wireless in local loop, have not yet been targeted.

How is Star looking at tapping the wireless business?

Not only is it going to promote the usage by cellular phone users of its four-digit universal access number, 7827, to SMS and participate in various TV programme-related contests, but it is also looking at offering a host of services like horoscope, weather reports and news. What's more, there's going to be a Star loyalty club as well where the aim would be to reward people who have sent a large number of SMSs to 7827. "The more SMSs you send, more the points you get. More the points you accumulate, more

the chances of winning grand prizes," Mukerjea said, adding that Star is not averse to giving away cars as prizes.

"If we successfully manage to tap into cellular phone users and leverage our strengths in TV, there's sizeable revenue to be made from wireless ," he explained.

Asked what does he feel about Star's latest business moves, Hong Kong-based media analyst Vivek Couto of Media Partners Asia said, "For Star Group, as a whole, while advertising represents a dominant revenue stream, followed by subscription or affiliate fees, revenues from programme syndication (sales) and wireless/SMS will also provide valuable top up, a valuable incremental revenue stream in other words."

Star has global trends to support its grand plans. In its latest issue, dated 7 June, in an extensive coverage of the wireless domain, Newsweek has written that all over the planet, wireless is making waves, from the text-message-mad teenagers outside Tokyo's Shibuya station to a Wi-Fi-equipped McDonald's in New York City to Everest climbers calling home from the summit. With dizzying rapidity, wireless innovations move from the cutting edge to the routine. Just like what happened with Marconi's

magic box during the first wireless revolution as the cell phone increasingly incorporates the features of traditional TV and PC, the magazine concludes.

India is not far behind in adopting global tech and gizmos. Take, for example, the growth in cellular connections.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, at the end of May, 2004, total fixed lines were 43.18 million, while cellular phone users numbered 36.3 million, taking the total of telephony subscribers in the country to around 79.5 million.

No wonder, Newsweek is the most preferred magazine in Star India offices these days.

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