Thursday, February 17, 2005

The fight for the media space

Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd. (BCCL) are the most dominant player in the print media space. With their spearhead The Times of India, the largest circulated English daily in the India (and the world as well), BCCL command massive readership and a good chunk of the advertising revenue. Besides the TOI, they also have in their stable The Economic Times, the largest circulated business daily, Navbharat Times - a Hindi daily, Maharashtra Times - a Marathi daily, Filmfare - a movie magazine and Femina - a woman's magazine.

BCCL forayed into television in the early 90s and then gave up. Perhaps, they never thought at that time that the television world will grow to become a monster. In the 90s, television groups such as Subash Chandra's Zee TV and Murdoch's Star established themselves strongly. The television commanded much larger viewerships and slowly larger and larger revenue than the print media.

Another print media player India Today Group, primarily into magazines (India Today, Business Today etc.) forayed into an afternoon newspaper in Delhi and set up news television channels Aaj Tak (Hindi) and Headline News (English).

BCCL in the meantime established a stronger presence on the Internet with its No other established media player has a comparable online presence. Further to that, BCCL forayed into mobile space and established a very strong brand in 8888 - an SMS short code through which mobile phone users query and get information.

BCCL were missing television and so recently have started a television company. The first channel from them is Zoom, an entertainment channel (and pretty boring at that, at least for me). Soon enough there will be news channels, business channels and so on. Mediaah!, a blog specialising in media related news hinted last week that Reuters are looking at taking a 26% stake in this television venture, and also that Sunil Lulla (of MTV and later Sony) will head the venture. Subsequent to that BCCL sent Mediaah! a lawyer notice. But the same story has today appeared in The Business Standard.

In the meantime Zee Group which tottered for a while is looking at launching an English language newspaper, in partnership with Dainik Bhaskar. [This news was also initially highlighted first in Mediaah!, so if you are a media watcher, you would do better to follow Mediaah! first!]

Murdoch, because of the foreign ownership laws in India, cannot easily launch newspapers or magazines. In fact, even a television news channel is difficult and he had to go through several rounds of creative law breaking in establishing Star News (in which Star only holds a minority 24%).

Therefore the ground is now open for BCCL and Zee to fight it out on who will be the largest and most important integrated media player in India. BCCL are ahead in new media - mobile and Internet. Zee have no presence whatsoever and fairly clueless in these two areas. Their earlier forays included starting an ISP, which flopped bigtime. Zee's online content is also abysmal. As with everyone Zee also have a four-digit short code (which I cannot even recall). But this is not sufficient to take on BCCL's Indiatimes and 8888. Zee's Chairman and majority shareholder Subash Chandra has been chopping and changing his chief executives. With that kind of attitude, you cannot build a business. However his latest hire is Pradeep Guha from The Times of India.

On the otherhand, BCCL has a massive task ahead in even making their presence known in the television world. A news channel is an obvious choice, but NDTV is way ahead here in English, while Aaj Tak is ruling the Hindi. In business news section CNBC TV18 is number 1, while even NDTV Profit is struggling to keep pace. So the next few months will be interesting to watch as these groups battle it out for supremacy.

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