Television

"Sony is a perfect fit for us" : Prannoy Roy NDTV president

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The 50-something president of NDTV, Prannoy Roy, is not only his competitors' envy and the idol of millions of Indian youngsters aspiring to make it as TV journalists and news presenters in an industry that is slowly throwing up newer opportunities, but also a heart-throb of sorts. His female fan following is said to be legion as the man sporting a salt-n-pepper beard still retains his handsome looks even as his charm off-screen is infectious.

But Roy remains elusive to the prying media and shy of the limelight, unlike some of his counterparts in the industry. His oft-repeated defence being `let my work speak for me and the organisation' or `when the time comes, I'll speak to you.'

But in recent times, Roy has shed some of his inhibitions and made a few public appearances - one of the rare occasions being Indiantelevision's Indian Telly Awards in November 2002, where he was bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement honour.

Repeated requests for interviews have been politely turned down by Roy, who is now poised to convert his TV software company into a broadcasting company. A trained economist, Roy dabbled in psephology before hitting the big time in Indian television towards the latter half of the last decade when the country's TV viewing choice was more or less limited to Doordarshan.

If New Delhi Television today claims in promos and audiovisuals that `if it's news, it must be NDTV' (as an A/V did during a press conference today to announce a distribution tie-up for NDTV's two proposed news channels with One Alliance), it is not much off the mark.

Through its 15 year history, NDTV has striven to better its quality and the technology used. From the revolutionary The World This Week (nominated one of India's five best TV programmes since Independence) on Doordarshan to the first privately produced nightly news bulletins on DD, The News Tonight, NDTV has always been in the forefront, setting industry standards. No wonder then, that TV personality Vinod Dua, who has worked closely with Roy during his earlier days, feels that NDTV is a true "blue chip TV company."

Though, some critics also maintain that a large portion of the success of Roy and NDTV should also be reserved for influential persons in the government and elsewhere who have, in times of need, given that necessary push, the lack of which has sounded the death knell for many an organization in an increasingly competitive world. Still, there is no denying the fact that Roy and his colleagues run one of India's best news and current affairs outfit.

Today, as NDTV stands almost at the fag end of its five-year old - at times tumultuous - association with the Rupert Murdoch-controlled Star (NDTV was contracted for producing content for Star News channel), Roy remains as enigmatic as before.

In this piece, indiantelevision has attempted to collate the replies to various questions that Roy fielded from the media, including us, during a press conference and on the sidelines. The piece also gives some insight into the mind of a person who is gracious when faced with awkward questions (`how would you describe the association with Star now that you two are parting?'), alive to competition and ready to write another chapter in the history of Indian television.

For reasons of sensitivity and to avoid confusion, the questions have not been attributed to the journalists from various organizations.

Excerpts:

What would be the name of the channels that NDTV is launching ?

This press conference is all about the distribution deal with One Alliance, so I would like to restrict myself to that. But, to answer your question, we'll reveal all these details (like the name of the channels) at another press briefing. So bear with us till then.

Which satellite would NDTV be using to beam the channels and will it be an Indian one?

Again, these are some things, which are not in our hands as the satellite provider would like to announce the association jointly. I promise you these details would be given at another briefing.

(However, indiantelevision.com learns from industry sources that NDTV would be on to a PanAmSat satellite like many other channels, including Sony)

"The basic idea is a step up in news genre where we will turn broadcasters and come out with two channels that would be of international standards"

What sort of investment has gone into or is still being made in the two news channels?

(Jestingly gives a dollar-denominated figure that sounds outlandish, admits he was joking and requests reference to the figure should not be used)

You know I actually cannot discuss figures. But be assured we are well funded.

Is NDTV looking at offloading more equity to FIIs/FIs or other some outside company, apart from what already has been done?

At this moment, we are not looking at doing that. We are well funded and NDTV is a debt free company.

"The technology we will be using, will help us do local breakaways to cater to local audience in various places as done in the United States where networks break away for affiliate networks during weather and other such shows"

What would be the structuring of the company and its subsidiary and their role in managing the news channels?

For technical reasons, NDTV will manage the English news channel, while NDTV World will manage the Hindi channel.

Is it right that all association with Star would come to an end on 31 March, 2003 ?

That's right. We'll cease to have an association with Star from that date. The basic idea is a step up in news genre where we will turn broadcasters and come out with two channels that would be of international standards.

"We hope to bring news channels that'll have the reach of entertainment channels"

You mean that Star News was not world class?

(Smiles) It certainly is of international class. But in our channels, we'll be introducing more innovations and bring to viewers something that has not been seen here both in hardware and software.

Would it also mean that NDTV will stop producing the hourly news for Vijay TV that is controlled by Star?

NDTV will continue to work with Vijay TV.

Would NDTV continue to make programmes for other channels like Zee and Sony ?

Certainly we'll continue doing that. We recently did some cricket programmes for Sony.

What made NDTV join One Alliance?

To be honest, we were wooed by others too. In the end, we decided to go with One Alliance as it is a team of extremely professional and talented people. They became the first choice. It also is a perfect fit for us and vice versa. They did not have a news channel (in their fold) and we fitted in. It's a great step forward for us. We hope to bring news channels that'll have the reach of entertainment channels.

What makes NDTV such a hot property ?

We bring credibility, experience and quality along with TV at international standards.

Do you think that the Indian market is ready to accept so many news channels as being proposed by various media companies, including NDTV ? What would differentiate each news channel ?

Globally, there has been an explosion in news channels and India is no exception. We hope to be No.1 in both Hindi and English (language amongst news channels). An Indian viewer is very discerning. Viewers now look for experience, credibility and quality. On that front, we should be able to deliver international standards.

What are the new features and innovations that you were referring to ?

New features come both in software and hardware. The boxes (IRDs), for example, come with new features that will have specific addressability for each TV set that receives the signals. We would be using Irdeto software that has not been used in India till now. We are getting the latest and updated version of the software which would help us do many innovations.

Would you elaborate on the innovations?

The technology we will be using, will help us do local breakaways to cater to local audience in various places as done in the United States where networks break away for affiliate networks during weather and other such shows. For instance, if we have to show some major traffic problem issue to Mumbai audience, we would be able to breakaway for the Mumbai audience for that happening. The rest of the country can continue watching the national news channel without having to sit through a Mumbai-specific event. Such things are common abroad and we'll be doing it for the first time in India.

Does that mean, you can do any number of `breakaways' in a day and how many places would you start off with ?

We have the option to do any number of `breakaways' as the software is a superior one. In the initial phase, we would start off with the metros and do it all ourselves.

Can the `breakaway' news for a local region be done in local languages too ?

Yes, it can be done. We are looking at doing that too at a later stage.

How has been your association with Star now that you are parting ways ?

Good.

Just good? How good?

(Smiles) No comments and don't do your usual mischief.

When is NDTV's floatation (IPO) coming ?

(Thinks for a while) No comments.

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