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Times, TV 18 to launch new channels
BS Corporate Bureau in Mumbai
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April 15, 2005 08:38 IST
A fresh round of channel wars is in the air. While the Bennett, Coleman & Co-owned Times Television is gearing up to launch a business channel, Television Eighteen India Ltd [Get Quote] (TV 18) is getting ready to start a general news channel.

Bennett is believed to be close to signing a deal with Reuters India Pvt Ltd, which will pick up a 26 per cent stake in Times TV.

One media industry source estimated the deal size at around Rs 80 crore (Rs 800 million), putting the value of Times Television at over Rs 300 crore (rs 3 billion).

A Bennett source, however, said that it might be a no-cash deal with Reuters providing content and broadcasting technology in return for the 26 per cent stake.

TV18 has also put in place its plans for a general news channel and has roped in NDTV's managing editor Rajdeep Sardesai to lead the new venture.

The Raghav Bahl-promoted channel is planning to raise $50 million (approximately Rs 225 crore) from the international market for a slew of new channels.

Speaking to Business Standard, TV18's CEO Haresh Chawla confirmed that the funds would be used for the company's future expansion but he refused to elaborate further. "We cannot talk about it at this stage," he said.

Officially, TV18 did not confirm Sardesai's appointment either. But sources close to the development said Sardesai and NDTV's chief financial officer are set to join TV18 that runs the English business news channel 'CNBC-TV 18' and the consumer affairs channel 'Awaaz' in Hindi.

Meanwhile, Reuters India's managing director and senior company officer (South Asia) Venkat Ramani, was not available for comments on the deal with Bennett.

But it is believed that Reuters Plc CEO Tom Glocer, is in Mumbai to oversee the last lap of the deal and the company's Chairman Niall FitzGerald is expected to be in India on April 20 to sign the papers.

"Valuation is still an issue, though," sources in the know of the development said.

It's not difficult to see why media companies are adding more and more news channels to their bouquets. The ad spends on the television news genre are a robust Rs 700 crore (Rs 7 billion). Five years ago, TV news generated barely Rs 40 crore (Rs 400 million).

The Rs 1,800 crore (Rs 18 billion) Times group, that publishes The Times of India and The Economic Times, has invested around Rs 300 crore in its television venture with the intention to launch a host of channels.

The first off the block was 'Zoom' -- positioned as a lifestyle and entertainment channel. The group is also planning to launch a spiritual channel.

The group had ventured into the television business in early 1990s. Arnab Goswami, a former senior editor with NDTV 24X7, is heading the team of journalists for the business channel.

Sunil Lulla, former head of Sony Entertainment Television's digital division, is heading the business channel. Lulla was, however, not available for comments.

TV18, which went public with listings on the Indian bourses in 1999, tied up with CNBC Asia to launch CNBC India as a full-fledged business news and information channel later that year.

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