Indian Nets Detect Uplinking Upside


New Delhi, India-Cable and satellite channels are welcoming a recent Ministry of Information and Broadcasting decision to permit companies at least 51 percent-owned by local investors to establish local uplinking facilities for their networks.

Indian telecommunications company BPL Group and programming heavyweight Zee Telefilms Ltd. have applied for licenses to set up local transmission hubs.

Hyderabad-based Eenadu TV and Chennai-based Sun TV, two Indian programmers, were permitted to build their own earth stations two years ago.

"This facility is being used presently to uplink all of our channels, but if we do have surplus capacity, we will definitely offer it to others," Eenadu TV general manager Bappi Needu said.

He added that in addition to saving money, local facilities enable programmers to directly transmit news programming and end the task of having to send videotapes abroad in order for the programming to be transmitted back into India.

Officials at News Television India, a unit of News Corp.'s Star TV, said a domestic uplinking facility would be much more cost-effective than beaming the signals in from abroad. However, they added, the amount of the savings would depend on what kind of import taxes the government slaps on the transmission equipment.

Although News Television India is a subsidiary of a multinational programmer, it is considered an Indian company.

"Setting up a digital uplinking facility in India will cost [$11 million]," Star TV executive vice president Jagdish Kumar said. The programmer's Hong Kong facilities are operating at capacity, so uplinking from within India "will prove a definite boost to our business," he added.

According to Discovery Channel India CEO Kirnan Karnik, a big chunk of the savings would come from personnel costs.

Local uplinking could also enable networks to increase their advertising revenue, because advertisers would be allowed to pay in rupees, and not more costly U.S. dollars. It's hard to say by how much, however, because it's unclear how much ad time per hour they'll be given.

Minister of information and broadcasting Arun Jaitley, meanwhile, said local uplinking would enable the government to keep a closer eye on what's being transmitted.

"The channels that uplink from outside can easily be downlinked into India. We do not get the advantage of uplinking by way of revenue or by way of their abiding by our code. Therefore, we decided to reverse our policy," he said.

At the same time, sources within the ministry said the government was likely to require foreign networks to uplink their channels from within India.

Karnik said such a requirement could hurt channels that are part of larger network groups because their corporate parents are able to save money by uplinking a number of signals from one facility. Discovery, he added, transmits 12 channels from its Singapore earth station.