Indian Nets Go All-News as Vote Nears

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New Delhi, India -- Capitalizing on general elections thatbegin next month, two of India's biggest multichannel networks are extending theirbattle to the news front.

Zee TV, preempting archrival Star TV, on Jan. 10 relaunchedits flailing El TV general entertainment channel as Zee India TV, a 24-hour news andcurrent affairs network. Star TV, meanwhile, is beefing up its plans and is expected todebut a news-based network by mid-February.

India will hold general elections between Feb. 15 and March7. The hunger for election coverage is intense and Zee TV and Star TV aren't alone inmoving away from general entertainment to this brand of niche packaging.

Television News of India (TVI) switched to a news andcurrent affairs channel in mid-December.

'Redefining ourselves into a niche market network sawour viewership rise to 5 million. This has helped increase revenue through ads and tide usover our earlier financial crisis,' said Nandan Unnikrishnan, executive editor ofTVI.

Zee TV hopes its all-news network will help strengthen itsexisting channel platform, which includes Zee Cinema, Zee TV and Music Asia.

'The switchover has been achieved at minimal cost. Wealready had a full-fledged news gathering team with 11 bureaus all over the country at ZeeTV. They have all been shifted to Zee India. Since we are not a stand-alone network, wecan amortize costs very effectively,' said P.C. Lahiri, senior vice president of ZeeTV.

Covering the elections will be a difficult task consideringIndia's many languages and political parties, as well as the complexity of the issuesbeing debated.

'The entire logistics for covering the elections arebeing worked out. We have applied for permission to do live uplinking from the Ministry ofInformation and Broadcasting. Only after we have received clearance will we announce ourplans,' said Indira Mansingh, who heads news and current affairs for the Star Pluschannel.

Live uplinking is not expected to prove a problem. Mostprivate channels-- including Zee India, TVI, Sun TV, Udaya, Gemini and ABNI -- haveapplied for it. Sources at Star TV said it will use a transponder on AsiaSat 2. This mayprove to be a disadvantage since cable operators will need to install a second dish inorder to be able to telecast this channel.

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