Come August 15, 2002, Swagat, Indian Airlines'' in-flight magazine, is likely to have some unsolicited company as a co-passenger. Another in-flight magazine, called Darpan, will compete with Swagat for the attention of the passengers of the Indian Airlines. But it is not so much the passengers'' favour that Darpan has an eye on. The bone of contention is an almost Rupees One crore a month in advertising revenue that Swagat rakes-in.
The publishers of this new magazine-to-be are the same who publish The Pioneer - an English daily from New Delhi - CMYK Printech Pvt. Ltd. Xavier Collaco, President of Media Transasia India Limited - Publishers of Swagat - is in no mood to welcome this new passenger. They don''t have a valid ticket to ride he seems to suggest. "We have a five year contract with India Airlines good till, and up for renewal in, 2004. We have been the pioneers of the concept of in-flight magazines in India. We introduced the magazine twenty-two years ago and have been running it ever since. Even the names - Swagat for Indian Airlines and Namaskaar for Air India - were our creation." (Media Transasia lost the rights to publish Namaskaar to Business India group two years ago. The rights have since moved to another company called Mediascope.) The apex of the Media Transasia is in a huddle to think-up their moves in the wake of this catastrophe. And catastrophe it will be. For a company that does about Rs.16 crores'' turnover annually, Swagat''s contribution of approximately Rs.12 crores in jeopardy can be a debilitating knock.
Mr. JS ''kuku'' Uberoi, Chairman of the Bangkok based, Media Transasia Group (Rs. 200 crore in annual turnover) has rushed to Delhi. So has their Mumbai based President and also summoned from Malaysia, in the midst of his holiday, their head of Ad Sales, Raju Sarin.
Durbar Ganguly, Executive Vice President, at CMYK Printech Pvt. Ltd is gung-ho. He says the matter is absolutely clear of any glitches, legal or otherwise. "We have a perfectly legal 5 year-agreement with Alliance Air, the subsidiary of Indian Airlines. In fact, the same consultant who drew the agreement between Indian Airlines and Media Transasia drew it. We came through a process of tendering and offered the best deal to the Airline. Just as Alliance Air has been keeping Swagat as its in-flight magazine all these years, Indian Airlines will reciprocate and keep Darpan. There is no clause in the Media Transasia''s agreement with Indian Airlines that could keep us out."
It promises to be an interesting battle for the sheer variety of terrains it is likely to be fought on. Legal, bureaucratic, political, marketing, advertising, PR…are a just few of them. None of the combatants are likely to give-in easily. One has survival at stake and the other has virtually smelt blood. Stay tuned for a ring-side view.