Sony plans more Indian satellite channels

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BOMBAY -- Sony Pictures Entertainment is developing plans to launch two more satellite channels in India and also is in talks with Time Warner to launch the Home Box Office channel in the country.

"We are looking at both regional-language and pan-Indian family channels," says Patrice van de Walle, Sony Pictures's vice president-corporate development for Europe. The company is on the lookout for suitable local partners willing to hold a minority interest.

Sony's 80%-owned Entertainment Television India broadcasts Hindustani-language family programmes via the PanAmSat-4 satellite to South Asian audiences in the subcontinent, parts of Africa and the Middle East. It claims to reach nine million Indian homes, a 67% penetration of all cable connections in India.

But the channel's first-year revenue target of $20m will not be met. "The market has in general been a bit weak this year," says van de Walle. Stiff competition from Rupert Murdoch's 50.1%-owned Zee Network and state-run Doordarshan has been another difficulty, he admits. Doordarshan accounted for 69% of the $336m TV spend in India last year, while Murdoch's Zee and Hong Kong-based Star TV satellite networks gathered a combined 25% share.

Sony's lack of a CEO and vice president-ad sales is "one of the most pressing problems," according to van de Walle. The previous incumbent CEO Arun Arora resigned a few months ago to return to his former employer, Bombay-based Bennett, Coleman & Co., India's No.1 newspaper publisher. Arora is now executive director at Bennett.

Copyright September 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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