Malayala Manorama plans to launch news channel in 2006

MUMBAI: Malayala Manorama Limited is planning to launch a news channel, strengthening the growing trend of print media companies expanding into television business.

Malayala Manorama's top brass is still tight-lipped about the channel's genre. But according to sources close to the company, Manorama will be launching a news channel, MM TV, coinciding with the Kerala assembly polls which are due in April-May 2006. Manorama might enter the entertainment space at a later stage.

There are two factors that make industry observers believe that Malayala Manorama will play the news channel card first. It would like to leverage its strength as a print medium powerhouse. The group controls 21 publications, including the English-language magazine The Week and need not worry much about infrastructure facilities as well.

The other most crucial driver is the upcoming assembly elections in the state of Kerala, which is expected to take place during April-May 2006. Any news channel in India would salivate at the prospect of debuting ahead of elections that gives the channel enough political fodder to whip up for the audience. The same formula was executed recently by the Malayalam channel Kairali TV as it launched its news channel People TV during the local elections in September.

Manorama has already done its ground work in the programming and infrastructure areas. It runs a television software division called Manorama Vision, which has already established itself in the business by catering to all the major channels, including Asianet and Surya TV. Second, it has built a state-of-the-art studio in Kochi. Additionally, according to some reports, the company has initiated talks with leading foreign channels for sharing content.

Malayala Manorama has been working on its television project for the last two years. It is learnt that the company is still waiting for its news channel uplinking licence from the I&B Ministry. In October-November last, it had carried out a recruitment drive for the administrative and human resources divisions. Now, slightly opening the lid, Manorama has kicked off another recruitment drive for journalists and technical staff.

2005 is the year Malayalam television market saw the birth of five channels, taking the total number of television channels in that space to 12, including DD Malayalam. The total market offers an advertising pie of Rs 1.8 billion and the news channels command approximately 20 per cent (on the upper side) of the total ad pie, according to industry estimates. Asianet News, Indiavision and People TV constitute the market's news channel community presently.

Industry observers feel that irrespective of the clutter factor, Malayalam television still offers opportunities to new players.

"The Malayalam television programming hasn't evolved on par with the Indian television standards yet. What is still lacking is a clear understanding of the TG and a certain USP to offer. If the new channels (including news channels) are able to better the standards, they have better chances to survive," points out a senior executive of Asianet.

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