Television

"YOUNG INDIANS ASPIRE FOR CNN"

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It wears the badge of being the cable and satellite television pioneer in the Indian market thanks to its coverage of the Gulf war in the early nineties. But it has taken the Time Warner group almost a decade to decide whether south Asia is a market worth investing in. A lot longer than local programmers, Murdoch‘s Star TV and Aunty Beeb which have all been proactive and have a dedicated service for India and the region. But then that‘s probably how the folks at CNN work, slow and steady. The Indian Cab&Sat Reporter spoke to CNN International President Chris Cramer about what the management intends to do with its new south Asia channel. Excerpts:

HOW DID THE CNNI SOUTH ASIA CHANNEL PLANS EVOLVE?



It‘s been our ambition for a number of years now, that if we go sub regional that we‘d look at India as the first possibility. We are an organization that has three rules before we enter a marketplace. Does it make journalistic sense-which it clearly does in India. Does it make operational sense, which it probably does. And does it make business sense. We are in this for the long haul. I don‘t expect a fast return on investment.





I had to complete our regionalisation process in English, and then look at possibilities of doing regional language versions. And, then, quite properly turn to India which is what we are doing now. I drew a plan to do a modest five hours of programming. But then one needed to devote an entire transponder to this part of the world. Which is a very big investment.

WHAT IS THE CHANNEL‘S STRATEGY?



The strategy for CNNI South Asia is no different to our strategy for regionalisation of CNNI. We are an international news provider. But is necessary to produce international news through regional eyes. When we launched regionalisation in l997, our competitors derided us. They said that we should continue to be an international news provider. But our research told us that our audience had an appetite for a more regionally specific look at the world. It‘s like a newspaper with slip editions. You‘re prioritizing news and giving it page form. People in Europe may be upset with Bosnia. But in Asia you don‘t tend to be. That doesn‘t mean that you don‘t cover Bosnia. Your running order of your news program reflects a different sense of what‘s relevant.



WHAT ARE THE CHANNEL‘S IMMEDIATE PLANS?



We need to get a sense of how our programs are received. What the audience say of our programs, and listen to the audience. This is very exciting, very strategic, and very important. This is the way I like to operate. And I think that the audience will like the programming we offer to them.

ISN‘T THE INITIAL FIVE HOURS OF PROGRAMMING A CAUTIOUS MOVE?

When I speak of five hours of programming, I don‘t mean that it‘s the only time we will focus on this part of the world. You will see new feature material, new news material, a new channel ID the entire day. I am concentrating on the five hours, because they are prime time.



WILL YOU CONSIDER LOCAL PROGRAMMING?



We should be in a position to air two-third TV programs in the next two or three months. I am not able to announce them for reasons of negotiations and discussions. And by next year I expect to ramp it up. My ambition is to broadcast daily programming, both news and business next year. But we will do it in a strategic way.



WILL THE CHANNEL REMAIN FREE TO AIR?



It is an encrypted, free-to-air channel. CNNI philosophy is that you are free-to-air when possible. If you encrypt, it‘s for quality or satellite configuration reasons. You still make it free. So this is not a pay channel.



HOW HAVE CABLE OPS AND ADVERTISERS RESPONDED?



I am very pleased with our distribution thus far-about 4 million households. There has been phenomenal interest from cable operators and advertisers. The South Asia CNN feed brings up a whole new opportunity for us.



IS IT CATCH UP TIME WITH THE BBC?

The BBC has a 75 year start on us here. People here have affection for the BBC, but it doesn‘t seem to be the case with the younger generation. The younger generation is more Internet savvy. They look to something more cool, more new wave. Our research tells us that the younger generation aspires for CNNI in a more dramatic way. I am not trying to play catch up with the BBC. I am trying to redress a balance here. One imbalance in one part of the world, and we will do it.



HOW DOES CNNI LOOK AT CONVERGENCE?



Convergence will play a dramatic part. It‘s already playing that. We are talking to potential partners in a variety ways in different parts of the world, when it comes to local language versions on the Internet. CNN‘s Interactive MD based in Asia is devising advanced plans for television and the Internet for Asia and India this week.

 

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