Television

Rupert Murdoch coming to India in March, expected to launch Space TV

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NEW DELHI: Its now official. News Corp chairman and media czar Rupert Murdoch is coming on his fifth visit to India in the second half of March, which could coincide with the Indian government clearing Space TVs application for a DTH licence.

According to government sources, a request from News Corp, through its Asian subsidiary Star Group, has been received by the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) for an appointment with Dr Manmohan Singh. The two dates that have been indicated are 22 and 23 March.

The government sources also said its likely that Murdoch would come calling in his private jet for the five-day visit for which necessary permissions are being sought from the civil aviation authorities.

Though the full agenda of Murdochs India visit is not known yet, Indiantelevision.com has managed to collate some information on the subject from political and government sources.

Murdoch is likely to make the 'courtesy call' rounds in the ministries of information and broadcasting (Jaipal Reddy) and IT and telecommunication (Dayanidhi Maran). Similar visits are being co-ordinated with the office of Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi and Leader of the Opposition LK Advani in Delhi.

Another interesting point is that Murdoch, who is unlikely to visit Kolkata to meet up with his Indian partner for the Star News venture, may discuss with the ABP Ltd boss Aveek Sarkar the equity structuring and other financial details for a Bengali news channel being proposed by Media,Content & Communication Services India Pvt. Ltd (MCCS).

MCCS is a 74:26 joint venture company between ABP and Star that manages the affairs of Star News channel, which after a recent revamp in look and content is inching closer to the second highest market share owner NDTV India.

At present, its not clear whether the proposed Bengali news channel would carry the Star logo or not or have both the Star and ABP logos. A former ABP Ltd. veteran and Sarkar loyalist, Suman Chattopadhaya, anyway, is tipped to head the Bengali channel.

Meanwhile, government sources indicated that information and broadcasting ministry is poised to clear an application of Space TV (a 80:20 JV between the Tata group and a Star) before Murdochs arrival. The DTH projects estimated cost: Rs 16 billion.

Though some clarifications on certain issues are still awaited by the ministry, it is expected these would be fruitfully resolved soon. Space TVs revised application has been pending with the government for over a year in which time two DTH service providers, Dish TV (20 per cent owned by Zee Telefilms) and DD Direct Plus, have already entered the market offering a host of services.

Every time Murdoch Sr. comes to India, not only does it generate loads of media hype, but it also results in some major happenings in his Indian venture, Star India. Once when he came in the late 1990s, he ended up hiring a bureaucrat as the CEO of his Indian operation. Murdochs first Indian visit was in 1994 after he acquired Star Asia from Hong Kong-based tycoon Li Ka Shing's son Richard Li.

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