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Television Interviews

Rajat Sharma

Editor-in-Chief & Chairman | 08 Jun 2012

India TV is at the take-off stage as far as other projects are concerned. We have infrastructure in place from where we can start six channels. We are expanding into new media and are exploring possibilities in training and research. We are ready for execution of our plans and are waiting for the cable digitisation process to get underway.

Rajat Sharma is best known for his popular show ‘Aap Ki Adalat’. The show has engaged viewers for the last 16 years and more than 500 personalities have been grilled so far. Before branching out into television in 1992, Sharma had a 10-year tenure in print media. He has been editor with some of the important publications. Sharma co-founded India TV with his wife Ritu Dhawan in April 2004. In 1997, the duo set up a production house –Independent News Service (INS), the parent company which owns India TV.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Abid Hasan, Sharma speaks about impact of cable digitisation, developments in news broadcasting, expansion plans of India TV and more…

Q. Post digitisation, what are the significant changes that you see in the broadcast industry?

Digitisation of the cable industry is a revolutionary step; it will give viewers a much enhanced viewing experience at reasonable rates. Till now, the cable industry has been totally disorganised and unregulated, I want to congratulate I&B Minister Ambika Soni for taking this historical step towards bringing some discipline in the broadcasting industry.

As far as the broadcast industry is concerned, digitisation will help broadcasters spend more on research and development on quality programming. At the same time, viewers will get around 500 to 700 channels. There will be more competition, as viewers will decide what content they want to watch. Digitisation will create healthy competition and lead to better programming.

Q. Digitisation will also lead to fixed carriage fees, which means distribution cost will go down. How will this affect television revenues as well as quality of the content?

At the moment news broadcasters are by and large dependent on advertisement revenue to meet their expenses. Revenue from subscription is minuscule. There are two issues here: firstly, the news genre is paying a carriage fee of around Rs 800 crore to the cable industry. All this will change with digitisation as we have been assured by TRAI and I&B Ministry that carriage fees will go down drastically and will be eliminated in a few years’ time. Secondly, subscription revenue will increase, hence less dependence on advertisements. All this will improve the health of news broadcasters. As of now, most news broadcasters – national and regional – are running into heavy losses, and digitisation has come as a breath of oxygen for the broadcast industry.

Q. We are seeing more corporates investing in the media industry. Is it a good thing or is it worrisome?

I think it is a positive development. We already have FDI up to 26 per cent and we have private equity funds investing in media, so if Indian investors want to put in money it’s a welcome step.

Q. Will this impact content?

I don’t think so. No one has ever tried to influence content. In our industry, content is left to editors. I haven’t come across a situation where the investor has tried to influence the content and that is the way it should be - content has to be free and fair.

Q. Are there any fresh interests for further investments in India TV?

People keep approaching us but there already is private equity invested in India TV. At present, we are focussed on our expansion plans. Once these plans are ready, we will then consider the various offers that have been made to us.

Q. Do you think digital is becoming a strong alternative revenue stream?

New media is a growing industry. There is an increased number of audience in metros and bigger cities that is looking at newer media very actively today. It is obvious that we as an organisation are looking to expand in new media and we have to see how this eventually manifests into becoming an alternate revenue stream.

Q. What are your plans to further strengthen India TV’s position in the news television sphere? What are your key focus areas?

India TV is at the take-off stage for various projects that we look to expand into. We have the infrastructure required to run and operate six channels.

We are expanding into new media and we are also exploring possibilities in training and research. We are waiting for the cable digitisation process to get underway. Once that happens, we will be able to execute all our plans as well.

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