Star TV Eyes Big Investment in India

New Delhi, India-News Corp.'s Star TV will invest more than $300 million in India over the next two years, high-ranking company executives said.

India has become the largest market for the Hong Kong-based, pan-Asian cable and satellite programmer, far outdistancing such others as China and Taiwan.

Star's major thrust in India will be through the launch of a new bouquet of channels that will spill into other south Asian countries.

"We plan to launch an education and health channel in the first quarter of 2001," said Star TV senior vice president Yash Khanna. "The contents are being worked out. For the education channel, we are tying in with U.S. universities."

Launch of these channels comes on the heels of the Star Gold movie channel, which bowed in early September. Star spent about $10 million over the last several months to acquire rights to 600 vintage Hindi movies, according to film-industry sources.

Next on the list are a women's channel and the local launch of Fox Kids, which is part-owned by News Corp. Star is also in discussions to distribute Disney Channel in India.

The company also hopes to secure overseas distribution for its Hindi-language general-entertainment channel Star Plus and its 24-hour news network, Star News.

Such a move would mirror ones made by competitors Zee Telefilms Ltd. and Sony Entertainment Television, which have boosted their efforts to reach the estimated 15 million Indians living abroad.

"We want to become the number one media brand in India," said Star TV India CEO Peter Mukherjea.

Star hopes to earn 7 billion rupees ($152 million) in revenue for the year ending next June, company sources here said. The programmer forecasts an ad-revenue increase to 5 billion rupees ($65 million) from 3 billion rupees ($109 million) one year ago, Khanna said.

"Our ad revenue grew by 60 percent last year, so a 70 percent increase is in the cards," said Mukherjea. "Since all our channels are encrypted channels, our subscription revenues have gone up in India 100 percent from last year."

News Corp. continues to push into new lines of business in India. In August, it agreed to buy 26 percent of Hathway Cable and Datacom Private Ltd., one of India's top MSOs. The company is also acquiring or partnering with a variety of Indian Internet companies, including the portals and, and has invested in cyber cafés and mobile-commerce initiatives.

Star has also agreed to partner with Indian industrialist Pramod Mittal in Music Broadcast, a company that operates FM radio stations in six cities, and provides content, ad-sales and maintenance services.