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Murdoch, son call on PM
Other high-profile meetings on agenda, too.

Global media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch may be spending just two days in the capital but their stay would be filled with a string of high-profile meetings.

Sources said the Murdochs, who arrived in the capital today, have already met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of the Opposition L K Advani. Murdoch also met the brass of The Wall Street Journal Asia, which he had bought recently, and is also reviewing the Indian operations.

This is Murdoch’s first visit to India after the mega restructuring in the Asian wing. A few months ago, News Corp’s Asian broadcasting business was divided into three entities — STAR India, STAR Greater China and Fox International Channels. The restructuring signalled Murdochs’ intent to uplink most of its channels, including non-news and non-current affairs, from India instead of STAR’s Hong Kong office.

The application is awaiting clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. If approved, the move would help save 20-25 per cent of operational costs. It is estimated that STAR spends over $20 million annually on uplinking channels from Hong Kong.

STAR India has been one of the highest contributors to the News Corp’s Asia growth and profitability. Currently, STAR India is the most profitable arm among News Corp’s Asian operations, generating revenues of over $440 million (over Rs 2,200 crore).

But STAR Plus, the Hindi general entertainment channel, has being losing ground in terms of viewership. Network 18’s Colors and Zee TV, STAR’s oldest rival, have taken over its earlier leadership position in the space.

This year has been a disappointing year for STAR India, too, with a growth of 10 per cent in 2008-09, compared with a 20 per cent growth in the previous year. According to a report by Media Partners Asia, the international media research agency, STAR India posted an operating income of around $80 million (about Rs 400 crore) in the last financial year (2008-09) on sales of close to $440 million (about Rs 2,200 crore). Zee TV has also overtaken STAR India in terms of revenues.

During Rupert Murdoch’s visit to India in 2008, the media baron had said News Corp would invest $100 million to launch six regional channels in India. Since then, the company has launched a Marathi and a Bengali channel and two Malayalam channels through its JV with Asianet.

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Such mergers as formed by Rupert -SKY- and -Tata- bring in foreign investment also help entertainment boost with variety of channels.
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