Malaysia's Astro eyes significant FM presence in India

MUMBAI: South East Asia's leading media group Astro All Asia Networks plc is eyeing a major expansion of its activities in India. It is currently in advanced discussions with strategic partners on various initiatives, including participation in a nationwide consortium of FM radio networks.

Speaking to reporters after Astro's third AGM at the Mandarin Oriental in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Group CEO Ralph Marshall said, "We expect to finalise partnership arrangements in the coming months. Appropriate announcements will be made in due course." Added Marshall, "We expect that we would have a 20 per cent interest in a nationwide radio licence as soon as we receive the approvals."

Astro already manages two FM radio stations in Kolkata. Astro's direct FM operations in India are managed through AMSI (Airtime Marketing & Sales India). Astro, working with its local Indian partners Power107.8 FM and Aamar 106.2 FM, provide studio facilities and airtime sales and marketing services to the two FM radio stations in Kolkata.

Additionally, Marshall mentioned that Astro also wants to create content for distribution in both India and China.

A key part of Marshall's interaction with the media yesterday was devoted to Astro's plans to invest $135.8 million over the next three to five years to build up its business in Indonesia. The pay-TV operator is to take a 20 per cent stake in a joint venture in Indonesia, known as PT Direct Vision (PTDV). Terms and conditions of the joint venture are expected to be finalised in six to eight weeks, reports Malaysia's Business Times. Astro also expects to introduce more services, including pay and premium programming, in Malaysia and Brunei once it has access to MEASAT's new satellite transponder capacity on Measat-3.

"We will have a significant number of new services for our customers in Malaysia and Brunei once we have access to new satellite transponder capacity on Measat-3. Malaysia remains a growth market for us and content is key to driving future growth and customer retention. Our programming team has lined up a suite of local and international programmes of various genres and languages. In this regard, we are pleased to have received confirmation from satellite owner and operator Measat Global of a new launch slot for M3 between 28 November 2006 and 26 January 2007," said Rohana Rozhan CEO Astro TV.

The company will soon also launch Astro MAX, its next generation set-top box that incorporates an 80GB integrated hard disk drive.

"Outside Malaysia, the Group is focused on expanding our distribution platforms and content development, particularly multi-lingual, multi-ethnic content, for the regional markets," said Marshall.

It was just last month that Astro and Prannoy Roy's NDTV jointly announced the launch of a 24 hour news, infotainment and lifestyle channel called Astro Awani in Djakarta, Indonesia. The language of the channel is primarily Bahasa Indonesia. Astro Awani is the first channel launched by NDTV outside of India.

With this launch Astro Awani became the first news channel in Astro's bouquet, and is being distributed throughout Indonesia on PT Direct Vision's platform, that is currently licensing the 'Astro' trademark.

Astro Awani is the first channel launched by NDTV generating news that is not India-related and is specifically for viewers of that country. NDTV will be launching a similar channel with Astro in Malaysia by this year-end.

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