New York -- India's Zee TV is prepared to go on a
major spending spree over the next year to expand in its home market and abroad.
The company, one of India's biggest pay TV
programmers, has earmarked up to $100 million for new programming, for the launch of two
additional European networks, for its new U.S. network and for increased worldwide news
gathering and equipment, said Vijay Jandal, managing director and CEO of Zee Worldwide.
To fund the expansion, Zee will begin an international road
show early next month, pitching a $100 million bond issue to investors. Jandal said he
expects the debt to attract mainly U.S. buyers. The value of the issue, led by Morgan
Stanley Dean Witter, was trimmed from a previously planned $125 million.
Jandal, who was here to promote the recent launch of Zee TV
USA, added, "$100 million is enough."
The biggest portion of the proceeds will go toward new
programming that will help to fuel Zee's domestic networks -- Zee TV, Zee Cinema, Zee
Music and Zee India TV -- and its growing global bundle.
In Europe, where Zee already operates a Zee TV
general-entertainment channel, the company is girding to launch dedicated movie and news
networks over the next four to six months, Jandal said, adding that the company will also
subsidize digital decoder boxes for its subscribers there, as many distribution platforms
move away from analog.
Proceeds from the bond sale will also help to front its
U.S. channel, which began transmissions late last month on EchoStar Communications
Corp.'s Dish Network direct-to-home platform.
Zee TV USA subscriptions cost $14.99 per month. Dheeraj
Kapuria, vice president of Zee TV USA Inc., said the company plans to invest
"millions" of dollars in the U.S. service on facilities and its program library,
as well as on original programming, which could begin next year. Kapuria declined to
specify a breakeven forecast.