Most are for regional languages.
Reliance Big Broadcasting (RBB), the television arm of the Reliance ADA Group, is on its way to becoming the country’s single largest owner of television channels, under the brand name ‘Big’. It already operates 46 FM radio stations, the highest by a single radio operator and a Direct-to-Home platform, all under the ‘Big’ name.
The company has applied to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) for a licence to operate 33 news channels, the highest for any single broadcaster so far. It has already got the downlink licence for 18 non-news channels under the brand name ‘Big’.
Once it gets all the approvals, RBB would own over 50 television channels, the highest among all the existing broadcasters. The Zee, STAR and Eenadu groups own less than half this number.
Sources in the I&B ministry say of the 100 pending applications for news channels from 46 different firms, 33 are from RBB alone. And of the 33 applications, around 90 per cent are for regional news.
Among others, RBB has applied for news channels like Big News Business English, Big News Business Hindi, Big News Crime, Big News Urdu, Big News Sports and regional channels Big News Gujarati, Big News Marathi and Big News Punjabi.
Industry sources say the company is expected to begin operations of its business news channels (Big News Business English and Hindi) in six to eight months. When asked, a senior executive of Reliance Entertainment declined to comment.
Overall, there are 480 television channels allowed to operate in the country, of which 233 are news channels. Of the latter, 207 are uplinked from within the country.
Currently, the news channels generate around Rs 1,000 crore of revenues from on-air advertising, with a roughly equal share of Hindi and English.
“Regional markets are fast catching up with the news channel boom. And on a state to state basis, the market is registering growth in the double digits — perhaps one reason for national broadcasters to aim at region-specific news channels. Also, owning a news channel gives a clout to those running the channels on a state or a city level ,” says a media expert. Industry estimates say while the cost for running a national-level news channels is Rs 20-25 crore per month, it is less than Rs 4-5 crore for regional news channels.
Industry sources also say Reliance ADAG is also interested in a licence for operating Headend-in-the-Sky (HITS), the satellite-based cable distribution platform that will be used for digital delivery of cable channels on a pan-India basis. The policy on HITS is expected to soon go before the Cabinet. The company already operates a Direct to Home platform, also by the name Big TV.
Others who have also applied for a licence to operate news channels include TV18 India (CNBC TV18-South, CNBC TV18-Gujarati, CNBC TV18-Channel-3), Zee News Ltd. (Zee Biz, Zee Bangla USA, Zee Telugu, USA), Triveni Media (TML Voice of India-NCR, Voice of India-Gujarati, Voice of India-Punjab, Voice of India-Amchi Mumbai), Sahara India (Sahara Marathi, Sahara Bengali, Sahara Bhojpuri, Sahara Gujarati, Sahara English) and INX News (Delhi011, Mumbai022, Kolkata033, Bengaluru 080), among others.