BY the end of January next year, it'll be a transformed Star—a leaner but not necessarily meaner outfit—that will be visible in India. Plagued by mounting operational losses, continuing governmental hostility and debilitating delays in expansion plans, Star TV, Rupert Murdoch's Asian network, is going in for significant structural changes aimed at putting itself back on the track. Quite clearly, these moves are a response to the troubles the network has faced in India in recent months as a result of the notification temporarily banning DTH transmission and the concerted bureaucratic offensive on Rathikant Basu, Star TV India's chief executive officer.
Star is abandoning neither DTH nor Basu. "Early next year, we'll digitally encrypt all our channels and beam them from C-band transponders on Asiasat-3. The ban's on Ku-band signals, not on C-band transmission," announces Star TV's chief executive Gary Davey, who was in India last week with a host of senior network and NewsCorp officials for talks with I&B minister S. Jaipal Reddy and cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramaniam. The parleys, he reveals, were cordial. "We've no reason to believe the Indian government is still out to get Star TV."
In another significant development, Murdoch held a crucial meeting with Zee chairman Subhash Chandra in early October and reportedly decided to divest 20 per cent of their 50:50 stake in the Hong Kong-based joint venture Asia Today Limited and place the shares on the New York Stock Exchange. While Davey isn't willing to divulge the exact quantum of equity to be divested, Zee TV sources are not yet sure any such thing's actually going to happen. But if it does, Star's cash flow is bound to improve.
The mood's clearly changing in Star's Indian establishment. Basu seems to have weathered...