Alokananda ChakrabortyPublished: 29 Dec 2003, 12:00 AM

New 24-hour Tamil news channel in the pipeline

RR Gopalji, who is executive editor of Dinamalar, Salem, is set to launch a 24-hour Tamil news channel in the next three to four months

The year 2003 will probably be best remembered as the year of the news channels. The genre got crowded over the months fragmenting news channel viewership. If the bulk of activity was witnessed among national news channels in the Hindi language, the enthusiasm did percolate down to the regional level with a number of players either launching or seriously toying with the idea of launching a news channel. Three of them actually saw the light of the day - namely, Sahara Samay Uttar Pradesh, Sahara Samay Mumbai and ETV2, the first 24-hour Telugu news and current affairs channel, which was launched on December 28.

One more to be added to the list of regional players with a broadcasting agenda is the RR Gopalji-promoted Malar TV in Tamil Nadu. Executive Editor of Tamil daily Dinamalar in Salem, Gopalji is set to launch the channel (in his personal capacity) in the next three to four months (by March-end/April) under the banner of Malar Network.

Billed as the first 24-hour Tamil news channel, the network has recruited around 160 to 170 members in the editorial team, who, according to Prem Menon, CEO, Malar Network, will cover the "length and breadth of Tamil Nadu". "The idea is to present unbiased news," he says. "News as it is," he adds.

For the media veteran, who helped set up Asianet, the leading entertainment channel in Kerala, the issue of unbiased reportage is crucial given the broadcasting scenario in Tamil Nadu. The leading general entertainment channel in the state is Sun TV, which is promoted by Kalanithi Maran, son of Murasoli Maran, who is the nephew of DMK supremo, M Karunanidhi.

Jaya TV, another player in the general entertainment space, which was known as JJ TV earlier, is promoted by close associates of the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalitha. In such a scenario it is Raj TV and STAR Vijay, also general entertainment channels, which are considered "neutral" in nature.

Also in the fray are smaller players such as WIN TV and Tamilan TV, movie channels such as KTV and Raj Digital Plus, Sun News, a 24-hour bilingual news channel (in Tamil and English) and, of course, terrestrial player, DD-Tamil.

The advertising spends in cable and satellite television in the state, according to analysts, is pegged at Rs 290 crore with Sun TV walking away with the lion's share of revenues at Rs 120 crore, followed by Raj TV at Rs 25 crore, STAR Vijay at around Rs 17-18 crore, KTV, the leading Tamil movie channel from the Sun Network, at Rs 10-12 crore, and Jaya TV at Rs 9-10 crore. The rest of the money is splintered among other players doling out movies, music et al.

While analysts agree there is enough space for a 24-hour Tamil news channel, it is apparent that the market is dominated by general entertainment and movie channels with both viewership and revenues swinging in their favour.

Menon plans to wean away audiences from "serials and movies" with great content coupled with a channel of "digital quality supported by top-of-the-line infrastructure and technology". "There will be no compromise in matters of technology," he says.

The channel will be uplinked via an INSAT satellite and will be free-to-air, at least "to begin with". "We do have some unique plans in terms of marketing the channel, but I cannot disclose anything at this point, " Menon says. © 2003 agencyfaqs!