Zee to re-enter radio FM race in second round

NEW DELHI: Acting on expected lines, Zee Telefilms has made it official that it is re-entering the FM race.


This was confirmed to here this afternoon by Zee Telefilms chairman and managing director Subhash Chandra who said, "The issue (of bidding for the second phase in 91 cities) would be discussed in the company's board meeting which will be held on 28 September."

Chandra was speaking on the sidelines of a media briefing announcing the signing of a ten-year telecast deal for all domestic football matches played under the aegis of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the apex body of football in India.

Zee Telefilms had bid for a few cities during the first round of FM radio privatisation. After winning the bids though, Zee had withdrawn from the process citing unreasonably high licence fee costs.

The maverick media entrepreneur, who had the guts to take on Rupert Murdoch after falling out with his one-time business partner in Asia a few years ago, however, refrained from commenting on the company’s earlier aborted FM radio foray.

But on one thing Chandra was sure. Zee is not looking at bringing in any strategic foreign partner for the radio FM business. “I think, we can do it alone,” he said.

On Dish TV turning profitable: If company calculations prove correct, Dish TV, the country’s first private sector DTH service that is 20 per cent owned by Zee Telefilms, might just get into black next year.

“The venture should turn profitable from next year,” Chandra said confidently, basing his assertions on the swelling subscriber base of Dish TV.

Dish TV’s present subscribers number 450,000 and the service offers over 100 Indian/foreign channels under various packages.

However, pubcaster DD’s subscription free DTH service - DD Direct Plus - has proved to be a success, too, in states where cable penetration is either not extensive or the service indifferent.

Prasar Bharati, which manages DD, has claimed that the subscriber base of its DTH service at present totals approximately 2.2 million (and that it does not include grey market sales).

Other players who are eyeing the DTH market in India include the Tata-Star's joint venture TSky, Sun TV group, public sector petroleum company BPCL and Anil Ambani’s Reliance Skymagic.

Chandra also ruled out any talks with Ambani for the DTH venture. Media reports some time back had indicated that Ambani and Zee were exploring the possibility of a partnership.

On Star & Sony’s elusiveness vis-?-vis Dish TV: Though several communications have been exchanged between Dish TV and Star and Sony Entertainment TV India separately, the latter’s channels are still absent from the DTH platform.

“Nothing concrete has happened as of yet, but there is a Trai (broadcast regulator) regulation on must-provide. Let’s see what happens,” Chandra said, adding there has been no firm commitment from Star or Sony on being part of the Dish TV platform.

As per a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) mandate, all content has to be made available to all delivery platforms on a non-discriminatory basis for the benefit of consumers.

On mandatory content sharing with pubcaster DD: Chandra supported pubcaster Doordarshan’s case on mandatory sharing of content with it by private sports broadcasters. But he made it clear that such agreements should be commercial in nature, minus external pressures.

Pointing out that Zee Telefilms has conveyed its views to a group of ministers, studying the proposed mandatory content sharing clause in the uplink and downlink laws, Chandra said, “We are of the view that about 40 million homes that don’t get cable should have access to popular sports through DD. But such deals should be based on commercial terms and without any arm-twisting by the terrestrial player.”

He also made it clear that any law in this regard should not be made effective with a retrospective effect.

On Budha Films’ case against DD: The issue is likely to get resolved soon as the arbitration process is over.

“That issue should get sorted out any day now as the arguments are over and we are awaiting a verdict (from the arbitrator),” Chandra explained.

Budha Films, an offshoot of Zee Telefilms, had entered into a marketing deal with DD for cricket matches a few years ago. The deal was worth approximately Rs 4500 million. Somewhere along the line, the two parties concerned had disagreements and the case had gone in for arbitration.

On private players’ entry into terrestrial broadcasting: Chandra feels that entry of private players will turn out to be good for pubcaster Doordarshan, which has a monopoly in the area.

“More players would mean competition and that would be good for DD too,” he asserted, adding that Zee has always had a cordial relationship with the terrestrial broadcaster.

Asked whether Zee Telefilms would be one of the early movers when the segment is thrown open to private players, Chandra quoted a local saying ---- “Dilli doorasth” or Delhi is still far away --- to emphasise that such decisions would be taken at an appropriate time.

“I don’t think private players’ entry in terrestrial broadcasting would become a reality before five to six years,” Chandra said.

On Zee's Middle East plans: After having headquartered its international operations in Dubai's Media City, Zee Telefilms has got plans to launch some channels there having a dash of local content.

"We are launching in the Middle East two channels, including one for movies that will show Hindi as well as films made in that region," Chandra said.

The other channel, Zee Arabia will have a mix of Indian and local content. Both these channels, according to Chandra, should get launched over the next three to four months time

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