Crystal Ball gazing

2002. Now that the Convergence Bill has been tabled, we should have a convergence law by mid to late this year. After five years of wait a broadcasting regulation should finally be in place.

What will not be in place this year is direct to home television. The on-off hopes for DTH in India received yet another setback following overseas communications provider Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd's call to kill its DTH plans.

With the backtracking of the telecom operator, Star India, which has had its backend ready for a while now and was probably hoping to launch DTH as part of a consortium where it and VSNL would be the dominant partners will have serious viability issues to confront.

And the pace at which Cable TV operators have been sprucing up their networks providing cheaper options makes DTH that much more unattractive in the present context.

Cable over Internet access and broadband will however continue to be more of possibilities than actualities.

Cable ops look like girding up for another reason as well. The first months of the year look like being pretty tense with a major scrap likely with broadcasters over revised subscription rates. The government looks like being drawn into the conflict along with the courts as the call for conditional access systems to be put vin place grow ever louder.

After a lean year, a plethora of new channels, Hindi and regional are set to launch meaning that hundreds of hours of fresh programming will be hitting the screens. A foretaste of things to come was provided by Star which went south to take on Sun TV with Star Vijay TV. It scored a six off "Marumagal" with film star Khushboo in the lead and has given Sun promoter something to ponder over.

The biggest buzz however, is around a new seven-channel network that is launching in the early part of the year - Manoranjan Aur Kya (Entertainment What Else).

The Ramoji Rao owned Eenadu Television Network is also launching eight channels over the next year, six of which will be launched in January itself.

These are but two of the bigger networks that have scheduled launches but there are a whole slew of new channels in the pipeline it seems.

The existing groups will meanwhile, focus on consolidation in different ways. While Star sans KBC will have its work cut out to keep off the challenge of its rivals, 2002 could well be the year when Sony Entertainment in a leaner, meaner version rediscovers the hunger and focus that it represented in its heydays.

Zee programming initiatives will continue to flail around in uncertain waters so much so that the movie business may well turn into a major revenue source in the coming year. The success of 'Gadar' as the 2001's biggest grosser by a long way certainly makes going into movie-making an attractive proposition. And according to industry sources, there are currently three movies on the floors in various stages of production.

Broadcasting ad revenues will continue on the slow growth path in the coming year and channels will really feel the crunch with more players fighting for an ad pie that is just not growing fast enough. The year ahead will see a couple of closure or near death encounters amongst the channels.

On the programming front while extended family politics look like hogging the limelight this year as well the pressure to explore new ideas and genres should finally get translated into reality. The industry really needs some fresh ideas.

The reasoning for the preponderance of family serials is that ratings indicate it is what the viewer wants. The merger of market research agencies AC Nielsen's TAM Media and ORG MARG's INTAM in mid-2002 will hopefully address a major grouse among channels that the ratings are not really giving a true picture of viewing patterns.

Any which way you look at it though, 2002 does not look like being half as turbulent as 2001. And all the predictions are that by the second half of the year the economy as a whole will see a real upswing. If this happens in tandem with an upswing in the creative output in the industry as well as some order and discipline in the workings of the cable industry, 2002 could be really worth looking forward to.

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