Rupert Murdoch begins 1st leg of India visit in Mumbai

MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: It's been five years since media mogul Rupert Murdoch last visited India, and much has changed in the interim. The biggest of course being that the Star network, a distant number three in 2000, is today India's most powerful broadcast network by a good distance.


And as Murdoch's private Boeing 737 jetliner landed at Mumbai's Sahar International airport this afternoon on the first leg of his India visit, the question doing the rounds is - what are the new challenges he has charted out for what is undoubtedly the jewel in Newscorp's Asian crown.

BARON HAS LANDED: Newscorp chairman Rupert Murdoch looks around just before entering the hotel he's putting up in while in Mumbai.

Murdoch, who was whisked from his plane into a waiting Mercedes limousine provided by the Taj Group of Hotels (owned by the Tata Group, which is partnering Star in the soon-to-launch Rs 16 billion DTH project Space TV), was immediately driven down to the Taj Mahal Hotel in south Mumbai.

A convoy of vehicles that included all the top guns of the Asian team, including Star Group CEO Michelle Guthrie, Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea and COO Sameer Nair, were part of the entourage that accompanied the still sharp as nails 75-year-old media magnate to the Taj.


Murdoch has a packed schedule in his five-day trip during which he is also expected to review Star?s businesses in India, of which the key issue will likely be the Tata-Star DTH project.

INDIA SMILING: Newscorp chairman Rupert Murdoch seems to have something to smile about. Is it over the way his Indian operations have been performing?

Before Murdoch flies out of India on Wednesday night, a series of meetings are scheduled with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Information & broadcast minister Jaipal Reddy, as too others among the top echelons of government.

But before all that, Murdoch will be spending Sunday meeting the heads of India operations at the Star India headquarters in Mahalaxmi in Central Mumbai. He flies to Delhi tomorrow evening where he will spend the remainder of his India tour.

Murdoch is scheduled to meet some of the top editors of newspapers over breakfast during his Delhi stay.

Another issue that is likely to crop up in his meetings with his Star team --- and will, unless Murdoch changes his mind --- is whether to make the South Indian foray in partnership with the biggest player there, Sun TV group, or independently.

The latter would mean taking on Sun TV and the politically-connected Maran family that controls various media ventures down south, including cable, broadcasting and print.

It is learnt that the Indian operation of Star has some thoughts on the South Indian foray, but much would depend on how Murdoch views the whole thing. According to earlier plans, he was not scheduled to meet Kalanidhi Maran of Sun Tv group, but may drop some hints on doing business together to Kalanidhi?s brother, Dayanidhi, who?s a minister of communication in the present government in Delhi.

Radio FM and TV news are the other two segments where Murdoch?s views would shape the future course of action for Star. Having got out of the radio business, Star is definitely trying to shake off perceptions that it?s taking the Indian rules and regulations for granted. While on the news front, it needs to be seen whether the present association with the Kolkata?based ABP Group would be extended to other news products, like the proposed Bengali channel. Probably, this uncertainty has held back Media Content & Communications Services Ltd, a joint venture company that manages Star News, from applying yet for uplink permission for the Bengali news channel.

A hectic timetable no doubt. That is of course why Murdoch travels everywhere with his personal trainer. To ensure the media maven remains shipshape and does not lose that competitive edge.

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