"WE WANT DOMINANT SHARES FOR OUR REGIONAL LANGUAGE CHANNELS"

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Rathikant Basu is un-putdownable. The former bureaucrat has worn many hats in his long career: as a bureaucrat he handled various portfolios in Gujarat, amongst which the more prominent was as municipal commissioner of Surat. He went on to become DD acting director general and left that to become Star TV CEO. And then moved up as executive chairman. Finally, he was eased out and designated as non-executive chairman in favour of current chief Peter Mukerjea when he failed to get Star TV's India direct to home project off the ground.

Today, Basu has turned entrepreneur and is the promoter and CEO of Broadcast Worldwide, a company that is bidding to become a player that counts in the television broadcasting business. Indiantelevision.com spoke to R. Basu in a frank and no-holds barred chat.



Excerpts:

*ARE YOU STILL ASSOCIATED WITH STAR TV?

I will continue to be on the rolls of News Television until the contract between the two of us expires in 20001. I am also non-executive chairman of the network in India and have access to all its facilities.

*WHO'S BACKING BROADCAST WORLDWIDE? There's a bunch of 15-20 high net worth individuals - none of them from the media business - backing our project. Mr Rupert Murdoch has taken a 5 per cent equity stake with an option to go up to 20 per cent at a later date.

*WHAT WILL BROADCAST WORLDWIDE DO AND WHAT KIND OF INVESTMENT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

The entire project's cost is estimated at Rs 1200 million. We will launch four regional language channels between April and June. We have finished our first round of financing with Andersen and now are going in for our second round. Venture capitalists are also evaluating our project. We will be capitalised at around Rs 3500-4000 million at the end of the second round of funding. We are also looking at an IPO very soon.

*WHAT IS THE ROLLOUT PLAN?

The first channel - a Bengali channel - will launch in April. The Marathi channel is expected to debut in May with the Gujarati and Punjabi channels surfacing in June. We will launch each of them with six hours of original programming going up to eight hours in three months on each channel. We are trying to build up an inventory of two months before launching and a lot of the work is in process to help achieve our target. I am commissioning programmes; there is no revenue sharing arrangement with producers. And I have queues of producers wanting to sign up with us. We are currently working out of rented studios but are looking at setting up the infrastructure in Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai as we intend to source programming inhouse. After their India debut, I see our channels being on various platforms in the UK, the US, Canada, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand, wherever there are pockets of Indian diaspora.

*WHAT ABOUT DISTRIBUTION IN INDIA?

We have booked a transponder on Thaicom-3 and the four channels will be digitally transmitted. Currently, we are examining an arrangement wherein Star TV will look after ground distribution. We will go for the best deal we can get even if it is outside the Star TV framework. We are also considering buying either Pace or Zenith or Samsung IRDs with NDS software. Our four channels are expected to become part of the six channels that Star TV has been talking about that it will launch. Our vision is to have dominant shares in every language market that we are operating. The current crop of language channels has failed to make a dent on the viewership of Zee TV, Sony and DD. The three channels are still the most favoured by audiences in India, apart from Sun and Eenadu. Alpha Marathi has stolen a per cent from Zee, a per cent from DD and possibly a per cent from cable. It has not really grown the TV market. Additionally, in Bengal, DD-7 is way above every one else with 18-20 per cent shares. We are hoping that the TV audiences will expand with our channels.

*HOW WILL YOU MARKET THE CHANNEL?

We have got tieups with major print media in their respective language regions. We have forged a deal with LokSatta in the west, Sandesh in Gujarat, Indian Express in Punjab, and are in talks with a leading Calcutta publishing house to market our channel. We will jointly package the airtime on the channels with each of the publishing houses' print space to offer a good deal to advertisers. No one is doing it well; Eenadu is trying it. This will enable us to focus on running the channel and we will be hiring mostly production, management and technical executives.

*WHAT KIND OF REVENUES IS BROADCAST WORLDWIDE ENVISAGING?

We are looking at garnering 2-3 per cent of the advertising market in the next five years. 80-85 per cent of this will come from advertising, 10-12 per cent from subscription and syndication will bring in the balance.

*HOW WILL YOU DIFFERENTIATE YOUR CHANNELS FROM THE REST?

Everyone thinks they are different in television. But remember that nothing that you do in television is unique. You have to ideate, grow and retain your first mover advantage. We will try and maintain proportions of programming that will be unique and perhaps which will help us stand out. We will be targeting - like others - a younger audience, because 50 per cent of it is less than 20 years of age. For the Bengali channel, we've acquired fabulous programmes: we have got filmmaker's Ritu Punnu Ghosh's latest film, Buddhadev Dasgupta's latest film and we have got some of Sandeep Ray's television programming. In Punjabi Preeti Sapru, Mahesh and Kiron Sippy are making shows for us. Sachin, Nitish Bhardawaj, Pallavi Joshi are doing Marathi shows, whereas film maker Ketan Mehta has been signed on for the Gujarati channel.

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