Sun targets April launch for Bengali channel 'Surjo'

NEW DELHI: Come April and Bengal will get its first view of the southern "Surjo" (sun). That is the timeline that Kalanidhi Maran, the king of the TV media space in the south, has set for the launch of the Sun Network's first non-southern regional language channel.

Christened "Surjo" (meaning sun obviously), Maran's channel will be taking on five well-entrenched players in the Bengali regional language space.

Asked by about expansion plans on the sidelines of the India Economic Conclave 2005 organised by CNBC-TV18 in the capital today, Maran said, "A Bengali channel in April will mark our first foray into the non-South Indian market."

This remark of Maran comes soon after Sun TV signed a $ 25 million joint venture deal with Malaysia's Astro All Asia Network to originate, aggregate and distribute television programming and channels for a global audience. The agreement envisaged the launch of a Bengali channel for distribution in India, South East Asia and other markets within the Bengali diaspora.

In India, the Sun-Astro combine will face stiff competition in a market that already has five channels fighting for viewer attention --- national broadcaster Doordarshan's DD Bangla, ETV bangla, Alpha Bangla, Tara Bangla and ATN. In the pipeline is a Bengali news channel from the ABP-Star stable too.

According to Maran, after the Bengali channel, which will herald Sun Network's arrival on the northern side of the Vindhya mountain range that roughly divides India into North and South, the next target would be to launch a Hindi channel.

"We have just launched a Telugu channel and now targeting a Bengali channel for April. I won't rule out a Hindi channel, but that would happen some time next year (2006)," Maran said, adding that he possibly could not discuss at the moment the format and content of the proposed Bengali and Hindi TV channels.

Quite mysteriously, Maran indicated to journalists that another joint venture is in the offing on the lines of one with Malaysia-based Astro. "It would be a big one, but I cannot tell you the details now," he tantalizingly dangled a carrot before whizzing out of the venue after having ruled out an initial public offer for the Sun group of companies.

Sun TV content reaches more than 100 million Indian-speaking viewers, covering Asia, North America, Europe, Middle East, North Africa and recently, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

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