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May 04, 2012, 11.26 AM IST | Source: CNBC-TV18

Star drops news arm, gambles on Satyamev Jayate

In the last three months, Star India has launched a new Hindi movie channel, exited the TV News business, and purchased the broadcast rights to Indian cricket. It is going all-out now to launch Aamir Khan's Indian television debut with Satyamev Jayate, reports CNBC-TV18's Anuradha Sengupta and Animesh Das.

Anuradha Sengupta, Reporter, CNBC-TV18

In the last three months, Star India has launched a new Hindi movie channel, exited the TV News business, and purchased the broadcast rights to Indian cricket. It is going all-out now to launch Aamir Khan's Indian television debut with Satyamev Jayate, reports CNBC-TV18's Anuradha Sengupta and Animesh Das.

Star India's tryst with news is done. After nine years, Star has dissolved its joint venture with ABP Group and dropped Star News, Star Majha and Star Ananda from its kitty.

Star India's chief executive officer Uday Shankar says, the decision to give up its 26% stake in the joint venture was precipitated by the lack of movement on increasing FDI in TV news.

"At 26%, with no editorial involvement and editorial role, we got reduced to almost financial investors. We are not in the business of making financial investment. This was a core investment, and if we can participate in the strategy, it makes sense. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense," says Shankar.

So now, Star India is working overtime to redefine its content. Early last month, it surprised viewers and market analysts by shelling out nearly Rs 4000 crore for the TV and online broadcast rights to Indian cricket. It believes this will become a money-spinner, once digitisation becomes reality.

"The inherent power of cricket gives us confidence that the value can be recovered. The story of Indian cricket will get stronger because the reach of cricket that is defined by analog carrying capacity. Once digitisation happens, year-on-year, we are seeing 8-10 million new cable and satellite homes come in because of DTH," says Shankar.

But this does not mean its existing joint venture with Disney's ESPN will take a hit.

Shankar says, "While we did acquire the rights, it was very clearly understood by ESPN and Star that the rights will be exploited along with ESPN Star Sports, the JV. Even the upcoming tournaments, the ones with New Zealand and England are going to be telecast on ESS channels including STAR cricket."

But it's thrust on cricket aside, was its decision to drop TV news due to its parent company, Newscorp facing its biggest PR problem to date? Uday Shankar says absolutely not.

"First of all, it wasn't even in the TV business. It happened with newspaper in one part of the world, and I think its completely limited to that part. Newscorp is a global company. It has businesses in many parts of the world. The newspapers in England have no relationship with business in India," says Shankar.

For now, the broadcaster is solely concentrating on getting Aamir Khan's TV debut Satyameva Jayate top billing. Estimated at costing the broadcaster upwards of Rs 84 crore, this is its biggest programming gamble to date, and Uday Shankar says production and marketing has been a major challenge.

"Yes the programme has given me sleepless nights, but with cricket and all the other things, I get sleepless nights often," says Shankar.

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