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Despite easing of uplinking norms -- Channels still go for overseas hubs

Nithya Subramanian

The missing Indian link...

NEW DELHI, April 21

EVEN as the Government has given licences to 13 companies to set up teleport facilities in India, most of the mainstream channels continue to uplink from outside the country.

For instance, the flagship channels of the Zee group, Zee Telefilms and Zee Cinema, continue to use teleports in Singapore, though the Essel-Shyam venture is operational (Essel is also promoted by Zee Telefilms' promoter, Mr Subhash Chandra). Others like Star or Sony also do so from their centralised hubs outside the country.

Star had some years ago evinced interest in setting up a hub in India, but it finds it more cost effective to use its already existing hub in Hong Kong.

This, despite the Government liberalising uplinking norms and permitting TV channels "irrespective of their ownership" to uplink from India.

According to senior industry officials, most of the teleports have been set up to cater to the in-house need of broadcasters. Sahara TV, which has received official nod from the Government but is waiting for frequencies to be allocated, claims that its teleport would be used to uplink its proposed bouquet of over 30 channels. Sun TV, Ushodaya Enterprises, Jain TV have all set up facilities primarily for their own use.

"We will first use the teleport for our own channels. We are not talking to others," said Mr Mahesh Prasad, President, Sahara TV. Also, competing channels seem to be wary of uplinking from other facilities.

A senior official from Essel Shyam Communication Ltd, however, said that the idea was to provide a neutral platform. "We are only the carriage provider. The content is controlled by the broadcasters. So there is no reason why rivals cannot use each other's facilities,'' said sources. But the prime reason why channels have been setting up their own teleports is to increase their advertising revenues. Channels, which are uplinked from India would be deemed as Indian channels and can accept advertisements from local advertisers in Indian rupees.

Currently, advertisers on all foreign channels must obtain a clearance from the Reserve Bank of India for paying for their advertisements in foreign exchange. This restriction reduces the number of advertisements received.

"While the costs of setting up a teleport depends on the size, typically it could be anything between Rs 10 crore and Rs 12 crore. The investment is not large compared to the returns that can be accrued," said an industry source.

Even as the big broadcasters are setting up their own teleports, VSNL has also set up two such facilities in Delhi and Mumbai along with Thailand-based Thaicom. As a result Entertainment TV Network, which owns ETC channels, has dropped plans of setting up its own teleport.

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