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How Subhash Chandra plans to enter global English TV news biz

MUMBAI: The man who pioneered
private satellite television in India is
looking to launch a global English
news channel, a venture that will
require oodles of cash, guts and
Essel Group chairman Subhash Chandra
boasts all three of these elements.
He has loads of cash to carry out his
ambitious experiment. The market cap
of the four media outfits that Essel
Group controls is Rs 51,636.55 crore
(516.37 billion). While Zee
Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL)
has a market cap of Rs 36,789.99
crore (Rs 367.9 billion), Dish TV’s
stands at Rs 11,647.62 crore (Rs
116.48 billion), Siti Cable’s at Rs
2,236.18 crore (Rs 22.36 billion) and
Zee Media Corporation’s (ZMCL) at Rs
962.76 crore (Rs 9.63 billion).
Outside the media business, the group
has its tentacles spread across
packaging, infrastructure, education
and precious metals.
Chandra’s competence as a fearless
fighter was visible in his early days as
a media entrepreneur, when he took
on the might of Rupert Murdoch to
pitch a battle against Star India with
his Zee brand of channels. He also
bought out News Corp’s stake in
multi-system operator (MSO) Siti
Cable and ran India’s first direct-to-
home (DTH) business under the Dish TV
brand. Even in later years, he floated
the Indian Cricket League (ICL) as a
rebel T20 league to challenge the
cricket establishment under the Board
of Control for Cricket in India
Nobody can question the vision of
Chandra. He got into ventures when
other media entrepreneurs in India
had not even thought of them.
Realising that T20 would catch youth
audiences and take away viewership
from Test and One-Day International
(ODI) cricket, he came up with ICL
ahead of the Indian Premier League
(IPL). He was also the first national
broadcaster to move into regional-
language TV markets.
In talks with CNN to give Zee news
brand global teeth
To pursue his new ambition, Chandra
wants to give his Zee news brand more
teeth. He is planning to collaborate
with a global TV news brand, get the
news content engine operating on a
wider sphere, and present an Indian
slant in coverage.
Chandra saw an opening when Mukesh
Ambani-controlled TV18 Broadcast and
Turner International’s CNN decided
not to renew their 10-year brand
licensing and news service agreement
beyond January 2016. He initiated
talks with CNN for a strategic
alliance, including a possible equity
stake participation.
“Discussions are on with CNN for
having an all-encompassing
partnership. I am not averse to an
equity relationship. Even if it is
without equity, we are looking at a
wider partnership than just using CNN
brand for the Indian market,” he
For Turner Broadcasting System
(which owns CNN) to hold a stake in
the new channel, Chandra will most
likely float a subsidiary of ZMCL as
the news company already runs two
Hindi and eight regional news
channels (two through subsidiaries).
ZMCL also owns glish newspaper dna.
Chandra has long been toying with the
idea of launching English news
channels catering both to general and
business news. An international
partnership with CNN will help Zee to
foray into English television news as
it is a credible international news
brand, several media analysts say.
Why deal with CNN is possible
Chandra has a fair chance to strike a
deal with CNN. He shares an old-
running relationship with Turner in
the distribution space. It started in
2001 first as a television distribution
JV company, with Zee holding 74 per
cent and Turner 26 per cent. Zee–
Turner then went on to form Media
Pro Enterprise India, a 50:50 JV with
Star DEN, in 2011. Three years later,
Media Pro got killed, after the
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
(TRAI) disallowed bundling of
television channels from more than
one broadcaster. Though the Zee–
Turner JV also had to dissolve, Taj
Television India, a wholly owned
subsidiary of ZEEL, continues to
distribute HBO, Cartoon Network,
Pogo, CNN, and Warner Brothers as an
authorised agent of Turner
How will CNN gain? For international
channels like CNN, the only way to
grow in India is by tying up with local
partners. Indian TV news outlets are
very popular and there is little space
left for outside channels.
CNN took that strategic alliance
approach when it tied up with TV18. In
its brand licensing agreement with
TV18, chalked out under the
stewardship of founder and old owner
Raghav Bahl, CNN was to be paid a fee
based on the net revenue of the
channel CNN–IBN, or the annual
minimum guarantee, whichever is
higher. The minimum guarantee was in
the range of $500,000 to $850,000.
With Zee, CNN may be looking at a
much broader partnership, which would
enable it to reap higher returns.
Getting into local partnership is
nothing new to CNN. In Indonesia, it
has partnered with local media group
Trans Corp to launch CNN Indonesia
TV, a localised version of Turner’s
global news channel.
Chandra’s plan is to launch the
channel in the next fiscal, with or
without CNN. “We may or may not tie
up with CNN,” he says. “But we will
launch the channel in the next fiscal.”
The channel will be modelled on the
lines of CNN, the BBC, and Al Jazeera.
“We are looking to launch a news
channel for a global audience with an
Indian point of view. It will not only
serve the Indian diaspora. Today, we
receive outside news from agencies
like Reuters. The Indian point of view
is completely missing. We intend to
disseminate news to the global
community with our point of view. It
will require big investments,”
elaborates Chandra.
The channel will launch in India first
and then move outwards. “While the
BBC has a British angle to it, CNN has
an American point of view. We want
our channel to have an Indian slant,”
he explains.
Is Rohit Gandhi the ideal fit?
In this global drive, Chandra’s other
need is to build a strong editorial
team to match the stature of other
leading news outlets. He has
recruited Rohit Gandhi, who has
worked in global news outfits, to
spearhead the initiative. In a way, he
has taken a new position by going for
a face outside the popular names of
Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai and
Barkha Dutt.
English TV news in India is anchor-
led. Arnab drives Times Now to
leadership position, India Today
(earlier Headlines Today) has
Rajdeep, and NDTV has Barkha.
Chandra is relying on a different news
strategy and is getting inspired by
CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera models of
global coverage. He is planning to
launch a news network for global
audiences who want coverage from an
Indian point of view.
Gandhi, who is appointed as editor-in-
chief – English News Broadcast and
Related Content, has over 23 years of
experience across 40 countries. He
has worked with CNN, CBC, BCTV &
Global TV, Canada, and NDTV,
covering many war zones including
Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
He has worked on various
international field projects in the
areas of international relations,
politics, socio-economic
empowerment, human rights,
environment, civil rights and social
action and highly sensitive terror
investigation, amongst others.
He has won several international
trophies. In 2006, he won the DuPont
Award given by Columbia University
for coverage of tsunami in South Asia
for CNN. In 2008, American Women in
Radio And Television awarded him with
Gracie Award for ‘Who Cares About
The Girls’ on National Geographic
Television. In the same year, he also
won Edward R. Murrow Award for
‘Child Brides-Stolen Lives’. Gandhi’s
documentary ‘Afghan Warrior’, which
was aired on National Geographic, won
the Emmy Award and Golden Cine Eagle
in 2010.
Gandhi will work closely with the
business head and revenue resources
team and report directly to Punit
Goenka, Chandra’s son who also heads
ZEEL. On joining ZMCL, he said: “It is
a phenomenal opportunity for me to
work with Zee and Punit to deliver
world-class coverage to viewers at
home. We want to continue on the
path of providing in-depth, textured
coverage across platforms to address
the ever-changing needs of the global
Why Chandra can launch global news
In the commercial world of television
news, Chandra could have been the
only Indian to strive for a presence in
the news genre across geographies.
As the trend in the US shows, major
news networks are run by
entertainment conglomerates. Global
news channels are expensive to run
and pure news organisations in India
do not have the capital to start this
experiment. News business in India is
not highly profitable as there are too
many players and carriage fee to
MSOs is draining. The only other
Indian who could have launched a
global news channel is Mukesh Ambani,
whose Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL)
controls TV18 Broadcast.
Chandra’s task is by no means easy.
Apart from CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera,
there aren’t any widely popular
international news channels. In India,
his two national channels, Zee News
and Zee Business, are not leaders in
their respective genres.
Is the timing right?
Chandra is jumping on the global news
wagon at a time when India’s
importance in the outside world is
growing, its economy is getting
increasingly globally linked, and when
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is
following an aggressive foreign
policy. “India must have a news
product that is global in nature. The
Indian point of view is completely
missing and needs to be put out,”
avers Chandra.
In the jam-packed news channel
scenario, the Essel Group boss is
looking for a different positioning.
Both CNN and Al Jazeera have made a
mark with live coverage of
international news, which can be an
expensive affair. If the Gulf War
established CNN’s popular form of TV
news coverage, the war in
Afghanistan defined Al Jazeera’s
style. Al Jazeera has also played a
distinct role by presenting an
alternative perspective on global
issues, different from the American
or western viewpoint. The BBC, on the
other hand, has a long heritage of
credible news.
Finding a political role for the channel
will, perhaps, be easy. But the
challenge will be how to make its
form, style and substance globally
acceptable. In the case of Al Jazeera,
there was an interest to get news
about the Arab world from networks
outside the CNN or the BBC. Al
Jazeera’s popularity also grew from
animated studio debates and talk
It is not clear yet what kind of global
outing Chandra’s channel will have.
Will it hunt for news around the globe
the way global networks like CNN and
Al Jazeera do? The haemorrhaging in
the TV news business of this kind can
be detrimental. Al Jazeera reportedly
used to spend $100 million each year
to sustain the network. What Chandra
is probably looking at is a news
channel of a different and varied role.
Probably, it will not chase live news
as exhaustively as CNN or Al Jazeera
do, but study the news incidents from
an Indian point of view.
“It is an expensive experiment and it
may fail,” he says.
Whatever the outcome, Chandra will
be the first in India to launch a global
news network. Unlike his other first-
mover ventures, this one might prove
to be the toughest to crack. For a
man who has had so many successes,
he may just defy the odds and surprise
us by winning again.

How Subhash Chandra plans to enter global English TV news biz

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