New Uplink Economics Spur Indian Channels

New Delhi, India-The liberalization of a government policy regarding channel uplinking from private, in-country facilities is helping to fuel an expansion in earth stations and networks.

Recently, two southern India-based networks-Sun TV and Eenadu TV-set up their own uplinking facilities. Jain TV, based here, is also expected to have its own facility up and running by July.

What's more, heavyweight Zee Telefilms Ltd. has also set up an earth station here, but it is still awaiting government approval to operate it. Officially, Zee is barred from using its own earth station because owner and chairman Subhash Chandra is a nonresident Indian holding a British passport.

Until the regulations changed two years ago, the only uplinking facility channels could use within the country was that of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd., a government-owned telecommunications company.

"At last, we can provide live coverage for our news and current-affairs channel, and the 'deferred factor'-where even live coverage was delayed by at least half an hour-belongs to the past," said Bapu Needu, general manager of Eenadu, a Telugu-language news and current-affairs channel.

In the past, time delays would enable the government to censor content it considered unpalatable. But with the explosion of channels, the government considered the task impossible for all except foreign networks.

Jain executives said its new earth station will enable the programmer to cut costs significantly. "We were paying VSNL a fee of 600,000 rupees [$13,800] per month; we will save that," Jain CEO Sunil Gupta said, estimating that the channel's operating costs will be halved once its earth station becomes operational.

Many Indian channels in the past had chosen to uplink from sites in other countries, such as Singapore. By uplinking from within India, they will now be able to transmit local advertising.

Earlier restrictions had forced networks to restrict all ad deals to companies that had foreign-currency revenue from export sales, since payments had to be made in U.S. dollars. Programmers said their ad revenue may triple now that they can sell to local firms more widely.

With a lower cost structure, Eenadu was recently able to launch ETV Bangla, a general-entertainment channel. An Eenadu Urdu-language channel is also expected to make its debut in the coming weeks.

Sun's facility became operational at the end of March, and the network is already expanding, with plans to start seven new channels over the next few weeks.

Three Telagu-language channels-featuring news, music and movies-have already completed trial runs. And Kannada-language news and Tamil-language entertainment channels are also in the pipeline.