Firms tuning in to FM phase II a diverse grouping

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is optimistic that the companies evincing interest in FM radio licences, up for grabs during the second phase, are serious players and have done their homework.

"At this moment we would not like to comment on the nature of companies that have come forward during an initial round, but we hope they are serious players and understand the nuances of the business of radio broadcasting," an official of the information and broadcasting ministry told The official adds,"it would not be prudent to officially name" the companies at this point of time without studying the applications and would rather wait till the financial bids are open.

The companies that have expressed interest in running private FM radio stations in 91 cities, range from traditional media outfits to clothing outfits to dairy product manufacturers to consultancy firms to trading establishments.

Until now, 100 firms have shown interest in the two-stage bidding process for 338 FM channels in 91 cities across India. Quite a few companies have not yet specified the number of frequencies they would bid for as this is just a pre-qualifying round.

"We have just mentioned that the company's net worth is Rs. 100 million (which makes it eligible for a pan-Indian presence). We are not talking numbers at this stage," a source in Radio City said.

Another company, which is part of a newly formed power-to-finance-to-media conglomerate, opined that numbers are "useless to talk at this stage" as by the time financial bids are opened next month, the scenario may undergo a change.

Interestingly, Anil Ambani's Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Enterprise (ADAE) has decided to make forays into radio broadcasting through Mumbai-headquartered Adlabs Films Ltd, a company in which majority stakes were picked up by a group entity of the undivided Reliance Industries Ltd. Ambani's FM venture will be managed by Adlabs Films Arya Communications Services.

Another point of note is that the Adhikari brothers Markand and Gautam are making their FM pitch through two companies --- Sri Adhikari Brothers Films Division and Sri Adhikari Brothers Media.

Though I&B minister Jaipal Reddy on Wednesday expressed the hope that the second phase of FM radio would bring about a true revolution in radio broadcasting in the country, skepticism abounds.

In 2000, when All India Radio's monopoly was first broken, over 200 private sector companies had come forward. Very few remained to even fulfill the formalities and fewer still started radio stations.

So, names like (the company runs a greeting card and jokes portal in India), Aadi Shakti, Writers Private Ltd, Holiday Ventures, Kashmir-based Ghousiya Pvt Ltd, Shubhaka Entertainment, Sambhav Media and Systech Ltd only provide fodder for the doubters.

According to the latest FM radio guidelines, a company can bid for only one station in each of the 91 cities shortlisted for the second phase. In addition, a company also cannot corner more than 15 per cent of the total number of frequencies on offer.

But, India's track record in FM radio is nothing much to write home about. Of the 108 frequencies in 40 cities that were allotted in March 2000 by the government to private parties, only 22 stations are actually on air in about 12 cities.

In contrast, cities like Colombo, Jakarta, Manila Kuala Lumpur have over two dozen FM channels.

After sifting through the list of 100 companies, one conspicuous absentee is NDTV, which had picked up relevant documents in the first phase, but did not bid. "We are keeping away from FM radio," an NDTV source categorically states.

The well known media companies that have shown interest are:

* Asianet Communications Ltd

*Adlabs Films Arya Communications Services

*B.A.G. Infotainment Pvt Ltd (subsidiary of Anurradha Prasad's B.A.G. Films)

*Entertainment Network India Ltd (that runs stations under Radio Mirchi brand name),

*TV broadcasting and print major Eenadu through ETV

*HT Music & Entertainment Pvt Ltd (Hindustan Times' FM foray will probably be in association with Virgin Radio)

*Malayalam Communication (promoters of Kairali and People TV)

*Malayala Manorama Company (Malayalam language print major)

*Mathrubhoomi Printing Publishing Company (Promoters of Malayalam language newspaper Mathrubhoomi)

*Music Broadcast Pvt Ltd (Radio City)

*Pan India Network Infravest (the Essel group company that runs Subhash Chandra's online lottery venture Playwin)

*Radio Mid-Day West India (Go 92.5 FM)

*Raj Television Network (promoters of Raj TV)

*Rajasthan Patrika (Hindi language newspaper)

*Radio Today B'casting (Red FM)

*Sri Adhikari Brothers Films Division Ltd

*Sri Adhikari Brothers Media Ltd

*Sandesh (Ahmedabad-based Gujarati newspaper)

*Shaf Broadcast (suppliers of backend equipment for broadcast and post production operations)

*TV9 Associated Broadcasting Company (promoters of the Telugu channel TV9).

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