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Guest Column Retrofit: The Indian media scene is alive and kicking

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Guest Column Retrofit:  The Indian media scene is alive and kicking

Activity in media, yes. Revival, not yet. Though some green shoots are beginning to be seen. There is certainly a revival in cricket related advertising. By charging Rs 4 lakh for a 10-second spot in the just completed IPL2, Sony Entertainment Television has made a gangbuster Rs 491 crore as billings. That tells us once again that cricket sells and how. ESPN-STAR Sports is not far behind. It, too, has tied up a raft of sponsors and is reported to be charging as much as Rs 5 lakh for 10-second spots. Where is the slowdown, I say?

Anyway, back to the original stream of thought. Over the last fortnight or so, two big media entities and barons have entered India and a third one is reportedly on the verge of tying up with an Indian outfit and arriving in India shortly. News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch after carving a large swathe in India over the years finally entered the print domain last week. Murdoch cut his teeth in the media business by acquiring newspapers. At the core of his being were newspapers. It is only subsequently that he ventured into the electronic media. After launching their website in February, the acclaimed Wall Street Journal launched its facsimile editions out of Mumbai and Delhi. This is after securing clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board to bring in Rs 2.16 crore into the country.

Writing ‘The Murdoch Mission – The Digital Transformation of a Media Empire’, Wendy Goldman Rohm presented a dramatic narrative of the Murdoch family and News Corp’s strategic forays into digital media and broadcasting, new Internet-based businesses and the creation of the biggest enterprise of Murdoch’s career: The multi billion dollar mammoth Sky Global Networks.

In the same 2002 book, Rohm has a chapter on India titled ‘Rupert and Rupees’. In this chapter, she details, “In India, as in China, the media business was a protected industry.” Newspaper barons have been loath to opening up the print sector, though over time this bastion too has fallen. The book has interesting tidbits about Murdoch’s Indian experience, including the warrant for his arrest, which according to M was ‘trumped up.’ Anyway, Murdoch has always nursed the ambition to launch a print product in India. This is his very first foray. Now that 100 per cent FDI is allowed in a facsimile edition.

Even earlier, Murdoch was architecting a foray in to the magazine market. I know for a fact that a magazine called ‘Star’ on the lines of ‘People’ was being architected at Star Group. But when both Peter Mukerjea and Sameer Nair were knocked out in a palace putsch, this plan was shelved. Interestingly, Dow Jones is hiring aggressively in India for its wire service. I reckon it is only a matter of time before Murdoch will enter the print space more actively with original Indian content. I guess he will wait for the FDI rules to be relaxed. Meanwhile, he will test the waters. Get his feet wet.

Around the same time last week, noted Republican Steve Forbes brought ‘Forbes’ magazine to India in conjunction with Raghav Behl’s TV18 Group. Though this has been a long gestation project and was conceived some time last year, it is now finally up and running. The first issue is impressive, but it remains to be seen whether the editorial team can sustain it over the next few issues. This is one of TV18’s many print projects that have actually seen the light of day.

So, if Murdoch and Forbes are here, can Bloomberg be far behind? Michael Bloomberg, is yet another heavyweight media Democrat with many a plan and business around the world. India along with China is the final frontier for men like Murdoch, Forbes and Bloomberg. Forbes entered the Republican primaries for the President of the US in 1996 and 2000. Though he won the Delaware and Arizona primaries, he never came close to winning the Republican nomination.

There is talk that Bloomberg, who has been on the periphery of India’s media landscape for long, is all set to finally pitch his tent here. When Bennett first thought of launching its TV operations, their first dalliance was with Bloomberg. But this didn’t work out because Bloomberg is fastidious about editorial control. Bennett did not want to cede editorial control and Reuters walked in. Even Reliance ADAG tried to bring Bloomberg to India to launch a business telly channel. But after many meetings, the entire project fell through on two counts – editorial control and, if I remember right, a $5 million license fee. This is when Reliance ADAG was seriously contemplating a broadcasting bouquet.

Now one hears that Bloomberg’s wish of editorial control may well be granted by a standalone channel. Compliance with India’s strong and tough regulatory mechanism is a must. And I am sure Bloomberg will do that. Incidentally, is one of the five most trafficked sites on the Internet, in many ways it is the by-word for financial data. The company’s Bloomberg terminal is used by one and all in the financial markets.

All three media tsars realise that despite regulatory impediments and a protected mindset, the Indian media scene is alive and well. And all three want a piece of the action. Murdoch has tasted success. Although Star Plus has to make a fist of it to retain its suzerainty in the GEC space, what with Colors making tracks. Murdoch’s large electronic media empire now needs integration with print. This is as good a time as any. What is perhaps more fascinating is the entry of Republicans Forbes and Bloomberg (he has changed colours over time) into this highly regulated market.

With talk of changes in the FDI regulations in media gaining currency all the time, at least rationalisation in Phase I is a given, methinks. Here I must add that Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat, but before seeking elective office actually switched his registration in 2001 to become a Republican and won the race to become Mayor of New York. In June 2007, he quit the Republican Party to fuel speculation that he was standing as an Independent in the 2008 Presidential Elections. One of the richest Americans, Bloomberg does not take a salary from the New York Mayor’s office. Both Bloomberg and Forbes, who I remember meeting when he first came to India in the mid-1990s to tie up with Dalal Street Journal (I was the magazine’s editor then), are mavericks and mercurial. Maybe that is why they are successful.

Sony, NBC Universal, Viacom, Fox, Walt Disney, Liberty through Discovery, Turner, Warner, et al, are already here in the general entertainment and movie space. CNBC, Fox and CNN are the only ones here in the news space. Now, the new news scouts are in place. Prepare for big American news media’s grand arrival and then invasion.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir. The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not necessarily those of the editors and publisher of


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