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Retrospect 2003: A year of hectic media activity

By , agencyfaqs! | In | January 05, 2004
The year 2003 was probably one of the busiest in terms of media activity with print, television and radio witnessing some major developments. A quick recap


In short, 2003 could be best described as an eventful year, characterised by hectic activity on all three fronts - print, television and radio. There was CAS, DTH, STAR News and FDI - issues that kept surfacing through the year - pushing the role of the Government to the forefront. Indeed, 2003 was one year when the I&B Ministry found itself in the limelight more often than any recent year, having to contend with issues that were expected to change the media landscape in India.

The mood was set in March last year, when the newly-elect I&B Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, who succeeded Sushma Swaraj in a cabinet reshuffle, made a bold assertion at his first press conference in Mumbai on the occasion of the FICCI Frames seminar that Indian television would be regulated by a conditional access system (CAS).

After much deliberation, the date fixed for the eventual rollout was July 14 with the metros as a test ground for the rest of the country. However, the lack of a cohesive voice on the subject saw the date postponed to September with only Chennai falling under the purview of CAS in the first phase. While CAS was imposed in south Delhi on December 14, Mumbai and Kolkata remained outside the purview of CAS. However, uncertainty prevails over the implementation of CAS in Delhi with the Centre calling for a review on the issue just last week.

If the much-publicised and debated conditional access went back and forth last year with sharp differences emerging between pay TV broadcasters and cable operators/MSOs, work on the DTH (direct-to-home) front gained momentum with Essel group company ASC Enterprises, launching its services, and STAR and Doordarshan set to follow suit.

Two thousand and three was also the year of the news channels with as many as five national news channels, NDTV India, NDTV 24X7, Sahara Samay Rashtriya, DD News and Headlines Today, jostling for eyeballs in a genre prominently occupied by Aaj Tak, STAR News and ZEE News. The activity on the regional front was restricted to the launch of Sahara Samay Uttar Pradesh, Sahara Samay Mumbai and ETV2, the first 24-hour Telugu news and current affairs channel.

Of the lot, STAR News made news in the second part of the year on account of its uplinking application, which saw the Government modify its uplinking policy for news channels. The new directive stipulates that an Indian entity should have a minimum of 51 per cent stake in any news uplinking venture.

STAR News fell in line and invited the Aveek Sarkar-promoted ABP Ltd to invest in the venture with the result that ABP acquired a 74 per cent stake in Media Content and Communication Services (MCCS), the holding company of the STAR News venture, with the balance held by STAR.

However, the heat was not off STAR India's back as its radio venture, Radio City (for whom the group provides air times sales and content via subsidiary Digiwave) got in the eye of the storm. The issue was a loan given by Digiwave to the PK Mittal-backed Music Broadcast Private Limited (MBPL), which holds the licence to broadcast in four cities and is the promoter of Radio City. The I&B Ministry contended that this was in violation of the licence agreement, which has been challenged by the company in the Bombay High Court.

At a broader level, optimism came alive in the beleaguered private FM space, when the Amit Mitra-headed Radio Broadcast Policy Committee submitted its report towards the end of the year. The report had been finalised for the second phase of privatisation, which is expected to kick start in the New Year. Some of the recommendations included a 26 per cent FDI in the sector, allowing news and current affairs programming, the appointment of an interim regulator and of course, the movement to a revenue sharing model, fixed at 4 per cent of gross earnings.

Foreign direct investment was a recurring topic of discussion throughout the year with the age-old debate of FDI in print gaining ground what with Hindustan Times and Business Standard opening their flanks to foreign investment and the Times group signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BBC Magazines to "explore a partnership in magazine publishing".

One of the year's biggest news in the print sector was the acquisition of the Reader's Digest title by the India Today group and the release of the SPARR study, short for Sections, Pullouts and Attitudinal Research, by the Media Research Users Council (MRUC).

But the bigger debate that swept the print industry in the latter half of the year was the one concerning the National Readership Survey (NRS) 2003, which was mired in litigation, amidst claims and counterclaims that the data had been leaked.

For individual media entities, the year proved to be a mixed one with the Ansaris of Mid Day Multimedia Limited, publishers of the tabloid Mid Day in Mumbai, deciding to off-load their stake in the company, even as subsidiary Radio Mid Day West India Pvt Ltd, sent a conditional notice to the I&B Ministry to surrender its licence for FM radio broadcasting in Mumbai with effect from June 29, 2004. This was preceded by WIN 94.6, another player in the private FM space in Mumbai, going off air, only to bounce back a few months down the line.

In the broadcasting sector, the Initial Public Offering (IPO) by TV Today Network Ltd., promoted by media baron Aroon Purie, was oversubscribed 36.26 times at the price of Rs 95 per share, while events and movies channel MAX from the stable of Sony Entertainment Television, India, stood to gain in the earlier part of the year, thanks to the Cricket World Cup, the rights to which it had acquired along with all other ICC tournaments held between 2002 and 2007.

Sister channel Sony Entertainment Television attempted a turnaround with Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin, unleashing a marketing campaign unparalleled in tellydom, while Apurva Purohit, president, ZEE TV, who was credited with bringing the channel back into the reckoning in 2002-03, put in her papers after a 15-month stint at the media company. She is presently serving her notice period.

Meanwhile, group channels ZEE MGM, Music, Cinema and English donned a new avatar and niche channels Trendz, Reality TV and History Channel, burst on to the scene, increasing fragmentation in the process.

For STAR Plus, it was a year of status quo with the lead general entertainment channel maintaining its commanding position in C&S homes, despite losing its programming head, Tarun Katial, who quit in October, 2003, after passing an internal transfer to Hong Kong.

CHannel [V] upped the ante in the otherwise sedate music space dominated by archrival MTV with Popstars II with loud claims of having acquired the pole position in the top six metros in weeks 39-42 of the year apart from the Diwali weekend of October 25 and 26, 2003. MTV and etc, the music channel from etc Networks belonging to the Subhash Chandra-promoted Essel Group, wasted no time going to town in their attempt "to set the record straight".

In the end, 2003, will be best remembered for its pendulum swings, with the fraternity looking ahead to 2004 with great expectation. © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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