IN TV, the cable channel of IndusInd Entertainment Ltd (IEL), is in the process of formalising a contract for the supply of India-specific news content to Singapore-based Channel News Asia. "We had begun supplying content quite some time back but we will be coming out with a formal announcement to the effect some time soon," disclosed Rajiv K Bajaj, president, IEL. He also added that his company is in talks with five more channels for the same. "I can't disclose the names but talks are on," he said. Observers say Sahara TV is one of the prospects.
Channel News Asia is a satellite channel owned by the Media Corp Group. It started beaming into India, free-to-air, beginning early this year, from PALAPA-C2 and UPSTAR-2R, according to published reports. IN TV is owned by IEL, which is raring to grow as the content arm of Hinduja's media business. It is supported by two other media entities - IndusInd Media & Communications and Cable Video India. While the former functions as an MSO (multi-system operator) in the cable business and has an investment from Intel, Cable Video owns the largest Hindi movie library under the Cable Master collaboration.
IEL's IN TV began operations five years ago by telecasting city-specific news and events, interspersed with music. In the last 11 months, it has transformed itself into a primarily news channel under the leadership of Bajaj, who was given charge of news last year. Beginning August 15, it plans to turning itself into a satellite channel while consolidating its new revenue stream in news content-sharing. "I don't know whether we will be able to stick to the August 15 deadline," he admits, "but the channel will be up this year. That's for sure."
A key issue that affects both its designs is its Mumbai-oriented business. While the channel has come up very well in Mumbai, its success elsewhere is in serious doubt. Bajaj disagrees but admits that IN's acceptance in any of the other 11 cities it operates in is not anywhere as strong as in this metropolis. But what gives Bajaj the confidence is the channel's growth in the last year, its nature of news coverage, the sister company's distribution muscle, and the group's forthcoming bouquet of channels.
In the last year, since Bajaj began overseeing news at IN, news bulletins have grown from two (Hindi and Marathi) to 24, in four languages - English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati. It comprises ten 30-minute bulletins and 14 short bulletins (15 minutes). In addition, more news-based shows have come up. The focus now is: news, events, music, in this order. The subjects being covered: business, crime, politics, movies and sports, in that order.
What differentiates IN's news, besides its local and grassroots approach, is the as-it-is kind of feel. IN tries to differentiate its news with an on-the-spot feel. It is not uncommon, for instance, to find IN reporters field uncomfortable questions to police inspectors sitting in police stations, or for public servants to repeatedly shout at IN cameramen to stop rolling. Unlike the glitzy packaged news on STAR, Zee or Aaj Tak, IN Mumbai's news, for one, has a Blair-Witch like real feel. It smacks of amateur work for sure, but perhaps that is its charm. "Unlike all other channels, we don't package news," claims Bajaj. "This may sound cliched, but it is news you can actually use."
Currently, the channel is completely digital in its news-gathering. Bajaj is laying a lot of emphasis on productivity. IN Mumbai, for instance, works with only 21 journalists to produce the 24 daily bulletins in four languages. They are supported by a staff strength of 101, including 15 cameramen and video editors.
It is helped by sister company, In CableNet's distribution muscle - a claimed 1.5 million of Mumbai's 2-million C&S households. Currently, IN TV also runs a 24-hour live news beam on IEL's Internet property, forindia.com. "It has been received very well by viewers in the US and Dubai," says Bajaj. It has not been as successful in the UK though.
Too make IN a better satellite prospect for both advertisers and distributors, sister companies are making arrangements for CVO (run by Cable Video India) to acquire satellite rights for more movies. Simultaneously, work is on to launch a tele-shopping channel and an events channel. The 24-hour shopping channel may be called Twentyfourseven.
As IN readies to take to the skies, Bajaj is unfazed by the prospect of competing with the likes of Zee and Aaj Tak. "It is not too much of a task. The staff and infrastructure is all there," he says. "It is only a question of synergising them," he says.
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