2002 has come to a close and its time to take stock again. If truth be told, the singular feeling that seemed to pervade through last year was that nothing much was happening. Whether programmingwise or the general mood, there seemed to some sort of a carry-over that marked the doom and gloom of 2001.

It all began to change though in the last quarter of 2002, with the most momentous happening of all being the passage of the conditional access systems (CAS) Bill by the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) during the Winter Session. There was also Subhash Chandra's Zee TV making yet another radical programming initiative with its Thursday movie premiere and Sunday to Wednesday daily programming strategy. There were big moves on other fronts, namely sports and news. And the cumulative momentum of all that is building as we get into 2003, which promises to be very different, no two ways about it.

All this indiantelevision.com will be examining in great detail over the coming fortnight. From detailed articles that will give a broad-spectrum coverage of the industry, guest columns from key executives, to an exclusive interview with information & broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj. All this and more will be on offer on a daily basis.

We kick of the proceedings with an a recap of 2002; looking back on the year that was. We will conclude the year-end series, as always, with some crystal ball gazing into what we see happening in 2003.

We expect this exercise, which has demanded a lot of effort from the whole team, will prove of immense value as a ready reckoner for anyone with a more than passing interest in the business of television in India.

We at Indian Television Dot Com believe that 2003 will be very positive for Indian television. Let's all raise a toast to a great 2003, even as we look back on 2002, which promised more in the beginning of the year than it delivered at the end of it.

One thing stands crystal clear: Year 2002 definitely belonged to the Indian government and the policy-makers. It was a time when the whole government machinery flexed its muscles in almost every sphere of the media, be it electronic or print or the outdoors.

From programming to making policies (or not taking decisions) to distribution of TV channels to investments through FDI, the government had a role to play in an omnipresent avatar.

But if one aspect overrides all the developments throughout 2002, it is that of conditional access. It was, again, one instance when information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj displayed her doggedness in the face of stiff opposition to literally have the CAS issue steamrolled through the Indian Parliament.

On 7 May, in a momentous decision, the Cabinet passed a bill seeking to amend The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 making it obligatory for every cable TV operator to transmit or retransmit programmes of any pay channel (like Star Plus, Sony, Discovery, NGC, Zee TV, Zee Cinema, ESPN and Sports) through an addressable system. The bill also covered free-to-air channels (like MTV, Sahara TV and DD channels) that are to form part of the basic tier, which will come at a nominal cost to the viewers. The government will decide the minimum number of channels to be included in the basic tier and the maximum rate that can be charged by cable operators from viewers.

But this was achieved not before a lot of hectic lobbying for and against CA had taken place in and outside the corridors of the government. From the friendly neighbourhood cablewallah to the sundry consumer activists to the broadcasters and self-styled experts, all had pitched in with their views on CA.

But the doggedness of Swaraj finally prevailed.

As she pointed out during an interaction with journalists towards the end of last month, "It gives a great sense of pride to us that we have managed to get the conditional access (amongst other initiatives) okayed by Parliament. This will revolutionise the TV industry in the coming years."

The enormity of CAS, as and when it starts getting implemented, can be gauged from these vital stats. Sample the facts: an approximately Rs 150,000 million cable TV industry; 74-odd million television homes of which 42 million (current estimates) are cable and satellite (C&S) TV homes; 10,000-odd cable operators round the country; some of the biggest global media companies like News Corp, AOL Time Warner and Sony Pictures Entertainment operate here.

But even as the Indian consumer waits with some trepidation as to what exactly CAS has in store for him, on the ground broadcasters and MSOs were working out ways in which to do business. Though naturally wary of the other, both agreed that more money had to be squeezed from the consumer who'd had it too good for too long.

On the distribution front there were some mergers, defections as well as much speculation around which channel would be going where. The first half of the year saw the addition of the Discovery channels to the Sony bouquet. Sony Entertainment Television CEO Kunal Dasgupta pulled off something of a coup at the end of the year when he managed to poach premium English movie channel HBO from the Zee-Turner bouquet. This was after the fact that CNBC India was defecting from the Sony-Discovery platform became the worst kept secret in the industry. In both cases the switches were decided by the rivals offering a higher minimum guarantee (40 per cent higher is what is being talked about).

Coming back to the government's actions. It also opened the lock on the decades-old issue of FDI in the print medium, something which successive governments since the 1950s have kept away from because of the sensitivity involved.

In a comprehensive review of the policy on allowing foreign investment in the print media, the government decided to allow publication of Indian editions of foreign scientific/technical/specialised journals on a case-by-case basis. Foreign investment has been allowed up to 74 per cent in Indian entities publishing scientific, technical, specialised journals, while FDI up to 26 per cent has also been allowed in Indian entities publishing newspapers/periodicals dealing with news and current affairs, subject to certain pre-conditions.

If that was not enough, the government also set in motion a process whereby FDI in TV channels operating in the news category is to be reviewed and likely to be linked to the parameters prevailing in the print medium. Whether it's Star's good fortune (becoming the test case) or misfortune (Star News uplinking permission is still pending), it has to be said that whatever decision the government takes on the Star News issue will result in a paradigm shift in the way business of broadcasting is done in India.

What's more, the government has also said that all such permissions given earlier to the likes of NDTV and Zee Telefilms will be subject to the new policy guidelines.

Not content, the government cracked the whip on TV channels asking them to take surrogate liquor and tobacco ads off the airwaves. The channels quickly complied with the directive. It is another thing that towards the end of the year some such ads have resurfaced, especially on sports channels where cricket is the latest mantra.

That also brings us to the fact that cricket, sponsorships and TV telecast rights hogged quite a bit of limelight throughout the year with Sony Entertainment Television announcing that it had bagged the satellite telecast rights of all ICC-organised cricket till 2007 for a whopping publicly admitted figure of $ 255 million earlier this year. ESPN Star Sports hit back by announcing it had more cricket days in its bags up to 2007 for what indiantelevision.com believes is $ 135 million.

The year also saw the upstart sports channel Ten Sports launching in April and putting a spanner in the works of the cosy arrangement that ESPN and Star Sports had worked out regarding farming out sports properties. It made its mark almost immediately after it bagged the exclusive terrestrial and C&S telecast rights to the FIFA soccer World Cup held in South Korea for a piffling $ 3 million.

If Sony's Dasgupta made the most expensive acquisition of the year in cricket, his network also had the dubious distinction of the biggest programming dud of the year in the Madhuri Dixit-hosted marriage show Kahi Na Kahi Koi Hai (K3H). Industry sources say Sony lost well over Rs 200 million in the UTV-produced fiasco.

Talking of production houses, Balaji Telefilms continued to ride the wave created by Ektaa Kapoor's hit soap formula but as the year drew to a close there were definitely signs of slackening as far as viewership of its top soaps were concerned.

On the commissioning front as well, the broadcasters, especially Star, appeared to be looking to broadbase their content sources, with other production houses getting big budget assignments coming their way.

2002 was also a year when news was very much in the news, as a fallout of 9/11. New news channels have been proposed in the coming months, including those from the Sahara group, and a comparatively younger player, Aaj Tak, using a new idiom of language, raced to the top and was suitably awarded by our parent company at The Indian Telly Awards 2002 for emerging as the country's best news channel. While it is 2003 that will see all the new news channel launches, 2002 saw an over 100 per cent increase in overall viewership for news.

The split of the year has to be the divorce between NDTV and Star. Though industry observers had seen it coming, in 2002 it was made all official. Star would take full control of Star News from 31 March 2003 and NDTV announced it would launch two channels of its own around the same time.

While the reasons for the break have been publicly ascribed to the fact that the five-year contract between NDTV and Star was loaded in favour of the former, the real issue was without doubt editorial control. Nowhere in the world has Rupert Murdoch abdicated editorial control of his news media outfits, whether it be print or television. And that was the principal reason for the parting of ways.

Of course, there were splits on the personnel front as well - when Star sued its ad sales head Raj Nayak for leaving the company and trying to join a rival, namely NDTV, and Zee decided it has had enough of its chief executive Sandeep Goyal who, reportedly burnt up millions of rupees in launching new programming, most of which bombed at the box-office.

Though the past two years had been completely dominated by Star (courtesy KBC and the emergence of the Star Network as India's No. 1), this year Star was in the news for the wrong reasons, more often than not. Whether it was James Murdoch blasting CAS earlier in the year to permission being withheld till now for Star News' uplinking, as the company races against time to put together a team, it has not been rosy for Star.

Even programming head Sameer Nair's elevation to the chief operating officer's post was seen by some in the media as a move to ease out chief executive Peter Mukerjea who also got married recently. Nair's promotion in April, almost in tandem with the announcement that former HFCL Nine Gold CEO Ravina Raj Kohli had been appointed as president, Star News, is what ultimately led to Nayak's exit as he clearly lost out in the designation race.

Star's so-called clipping of subscription rates of the Star channels may have had its effect on parliamentarians, but the real effect is slowly surfacing as court cases are being filed by cable operators. But the king continues to rule the TRP listings. However, the same cannot be said of Star's distribution bouquet as analysts and media specialists feel that the Zee bouquet has got better breadth.

Zee Telefilms, of course, had its own ups and downs. From a position it had been shoved into by competition and the company's own whimsical ways of functioning, it could have only done better for itself. Which it is trying to do.

If there was one masterstroke that chairman Subhash Chandra conjured up in 2002 it must surely be the Playwin online lottery. By year-end Playwin was generating Rs 200 million in revenues a week. According to the industry grapevine, it was profits from Playwin that Chandra used for his audacious Thursday blockbuster film programming strategy. Soaps between Sunday and Wednesday, premiere the latest movies on Thursdays at prime time, celebrity shows on Fridays and events on Saturdays was a completely new programming matrix that Zee introduced.

The scythe ploughed through the portals of Zee Telefilms yet again in 2002. Zee TV's ideation head Vinta Nanda, who was brought in by Zee Group Broadcast CEO Sandeep Goyal as part of his A team to give the network that programming chutzpah, quit. Additionally, another 10 senior managers among which figure old Zee timers such as the international business head Monica Dalton, ad sales head Kanta Advani, programming head Madhavi Mutatkar and even relatively newer entrants in the programming department such as Subu are all out.

Then came the bombshell (most say it was inevitable). The high-profile broadcasting CEO Sandeep Goyal was ignominiously shown the door soon after which director marketing Partha Pratim Sinha was also handed the dreaded pink slip. Chandra, along with his brothers and a core team of professionals, took direct control of day-to-day activities.

Sony Entertainment TV India hopes that what it acquired in 2002 will pay dividends in 2003 and later. Chief executive Dasgupta meanwhile, who many thought would be handing over the baton after the World Cup to (most probably) Sunil Lulla - brought into the company to look after SET - firmed his position somewhat as the year drew to a close.

The regional players have had more or less a quieter year with the likes of Kalanithi Maran's Sun and Ramoji Rao's Eenadu deciding to consolidate instead of making flashy forays and announcements. Sun had to consolidate its position in its home base Tamil Nadu especially after rivals, including political nemesis Jayalalitha's Jaya TV, the Star group's Vijay TV and Raj TV radically improved their content and presentation. Vijay TV led the move towards pay in TN and will soon be followed by all the others. Sun meanwhile, decided to first test the waters in Andhra Pradesh before taking the plunge in TN. In all the four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, it is Sun that shines strongest.

The much-touted FM radio too seems to have failed to live up to the hype. Still, the fact that FM radio has failed to be the hottest thing on the horizon does not seem to have dampened the spirits of the players, who are now readying to launch an attack on Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai in the coming months. A big reason for the `coldness' in the FM radio business is the high licence fee that the players have paid. Now that money, coupled with other investments, is making the business unviable. Many surrendered their licences too in various cities, including the Music Broadcast-Star combine.

As far as ad revenues go, despite a sluggish economy, some estimates put out say advertising spend on television has grown by as much as 15 per cent over 2001. Indiantelevision.com however, puts the increase in ad revenues at 10 per cent - from Rs 29 billion in 2001 to Rs 32 billion in 2002.

But if 2002 was a year when the overall economy was still not buzzing with activity, there is hope yet. Confederation if Indian Industries' (CII) 58th Business Outlook Survey points out that industrial growth would continue to trend upwards in the second half of the current fiscal, according to a majority of the respondents of the survey. The survey, conducted bi-annually, has revealed that business confidence that had strengthened during the beginning of the year has not weakened despite the weak monsoons and the prevailing uncertainty in the global economy. The expectation of enhanced growth amongst the respondents has also led to plans of stepping up investments in the forthcoming months.

That should be music to the ears of TV channels and newspapers. Because if the business confidence is looking up, then the moolah will be there to spend on media by April.

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