Star applies for DTH licence? Altaf Ali Mohammed says no

The past few weeks have witnessed some hectic lobbying for easing up of the bug bear clauses as far as DTH regulations are concerned. Star TV Asia chairman James Murdoch, and News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch have made whistlestop visits to India for meetings with information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj. Murdoch Jr in fact in a public address at Ficci Frames blasted any move to legislate conditional access, and privately made a pitch for DTH with Swaraj.

At around the same time there was also the buzz that Zee TV was considering a joint DTH venture with AOL Time Warner, which was denied later by both its Turner India boss Anshuman Mishra and Zee Group chairman Subhash Chandra.

Now the unconfirmed news emanating from Delhi is that Star India has applied for a DTH licence (or is seeking to do so in the very near future) through a company called Space TV. The fact that Star India is indeed thinking of such an initiative is an indicator that the government may be backtracking on its tough stance on quantum of foreign equity permitted, and cross media restrictions in DTH ventures. Star India was the first mover in DTH in India through ISkyB in 1997 but had its foray scuttled by a skittish government and rivals. The government issued a ban on distribution of Ku-band reception equipment and the regulations were eased up only a year and a half ago when it issued DTH guidelines which placed a cap on foreign equity and cross media equity of 20 per cent. No one applied for a licence, because TV companies and others found the DTH guidelines too draconian.

When contacted Star India denied that it had made any move in recent times on its part to apply for a DTH licence. Altaf Ali Mohammed, president digital platforms group, who oversees its DTH project and is currently operating out of Dubai, said: "We continue to explore the DTH option but we have made no firm decisions on that score."

Market sources insist otherwise. "The reason Star wants to clam up on its decision is because it does not want a repeat of the ISkyB disaster of 1997," says an industry observer.

Watch this space to find out more.

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