THE CASE STORY OF STAR TV IN INDIA
Despite unprecedented growth in the worldwide expansion of the internet, it
is television that remains the most global and powerful of media. According
to industry figures, some 2.5 billion people across the world watch on aver-
age more than three hours of television every day and the largest growth is in
countries such as India, a late-comer to the era of multi-channel broadcasting.
Since visual images tend to cross linguistic and national boundaries relatively
easily, television carries much more influence than other media, especially in
a developing country where millions cannot read or write. With the global-
ization of television, the commercial model of broadcasting – with its roots in
the United States and largely dependent on advertising – as against the
Western European model of public-service broadcasting – where the state
(through grants and subsidies) or the citizens (through mechanisms such as a
licence fee) support public radio and television – has become the dominant
model across the world. Even in countries such as China, where the state and
the ruling Communist Party still control most of the media, commercial pres-
sure on television executives is on the rise . In most of the devel-
oping world, the privatization of the airwaves has opened up new territories
... view politics internationally was anarchic, it is when a state or country acts in order to benefit for its own interests and ... the globe. Everyday when we watch the news on the television we find that they have local and international news why ... us to learn what is going on in other countries? Well during world war one there was a birth of the League ...
for transnational media corporations as the generally discredited state broad-
casters have lost their monopolies, generating a debate about the ideological
imperatives of a commercially driven media system, dominated by a few
extremely powerful multi-media conglomerates (Herman and McChesney,
1997; McChesney, 1999; Thussu, 2000).
In India, the liberalization of the television market and new communication
technologies in the 1990s transformed the television landscape, with an expo-
nential growth in the number of television channels . The creation of one of the world’s biggest
television markets, consisting of an increasingly Westernized, middle-class
audience of 300 million, with growing purchasing power and aspirations to a
consumerist lifestyle, has attracted transnational media corporations into
India. Until 1991, India had just one television channel, Doordarshan, a no-
toriously monotonous and unimaginative state monopoly which was unchar-
itably labelled as being a mouthpiece of the government of the day – a status
that it rarely challenged. By 2005, there were more than 200 digital channels,
covering most genres of television – from sports to comedy, from children’s
programming to news and documentary, catering to a huge Indian market as
well as a large Indian, and indeed South Asian, diaspora, estimated to be 24
million strong .
Cable and satellite television have increased substantially since their intro-
duction into India in 1992, when only 1.2 million Indian homes had access to
these facilities. According to the trade press, in 2005 there were nearly 400
million television viewers in India, with cable and satellite penetration reach-
ing more than 61 million homes and growing annually at the rate of 10 per-
... interesting stories among those channels. Most of the time programs content illogical ideas ... life if we are fond of Indian TV channels. In addition, there are no morals and ... dresses which they see on the Indian TV channels. People like to feel themselves like a celebrity ... follow what the actors and actresses of TV channels are doing in their cultural and religious programs. ...
cent . The media business, one
of the fastest growing industries in India, is estimated to be worth $5 billion.
Television accounts for 46 percent of the total advertising industry worth
nearly 10 billion rupees (approximately $250 million): although this is very
small in comparison with US or Western Europe, transnational corporations
see huge potential given the size and youth of India’s population – 70 percent
of Indians are under 30 years old .
Star TV channels in India |
Entertainment Sports Movies Music News |
Star Plus Espn Star Gold Channel V Star News |
Star One Star Sports Star Movies Star Ananda |
Star Utsav |
Star World |
Vijay TV |
MURDOCH’S MEDIA STRATEGIES IN INDIA
One of the most significant influences on the broadcasting scene in India dur-
ing this period of unprecedented growth has been Rupert Murdoch, chair and
chief executive officer of News Corporation, whose pan-Asian network Star
(Satellite Television Asian Region) has transformed news and entertainment
on television in India, as elsewhere in Asia (Butcher, 2003).
He was respon-
sible for introducing the first music television channel in India (Channel [V]);
the first 24/7 news network (Star News); the first successful adaptation of an
international game show (Kaun Banega Carorepati? – an Indian version of
the British show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and the first reality TV
series (Lakme Fashion Show).
Murdoch’s extensive control of both information software (programme
content) and hardware (delivery systems) makes him a hugely powerful player
with a worldwide empire ranging across all aspects of media: from newspa-
pers, film, publishing, broadcast, satellite and cable TV, interactive digital TV,
television production and satellites, to the internet. It was Murdoch’s belief
in the commercial potential of satellite broadcasting that prompted him
... solves their problems. It gives them choices as many new media and channels are coming up. Yes sometimes it sensationalizes the news ... KHANNA 12-Jun-2008 “MEDIA IS VERY IMPORTANT AND EYE OF INDIA.” I think media also increases the interest of people ... ; today, etc. A lot of sources of media like CNBC TV18, AAJ TAK, NDTV, STAR NEWS, CNBC AWAAZ. etc. it gives all ...
relentlessly to promote the privatization of satellite broadcasting in Britain
when, in the late 1980s, he risked millions of pounds to invest in the
Luxemburg-based Astra satellite, Europe’s first major private satellite. It was
through Astra that Murdoch’s Sky network was able to beam across the UK
and, within a decade, change the broadcasting ecology of Britain.
Murdoch’s impact on broadcasting elsewhere has been equally far reaching.
His company lost a great deal of money on
satellite infrastructure in Asia before breaking even and eventually making a
profit. Satellites have been crucial in the expansion and consolidation of
News Corporation, making it one of the world’s largest media empires, truly
global in its reach and influence. What distinguishes News Corporation from
its rivals such as AOL-Time-Warner and Disney Corporation, is the fact that
it is the only media conglomerate created, built and dominated by the vision
and tenacity of one individual (Page, 2003).
As Robert McChesney has noted:
‘More than any other figure, Murdoch has been the visionary of a global cor-
porate media empire’ (1999: 96).
As the world’s largest, and potentially richest media market, Murdoch has
invested heavily in the Asian media scene. He can justifiably claim to have pio-
neered satellite television in Asia with the launch in 1991, from Star TV head-
quarters in Hong Kong, five English-language channels (Plus, Prime Sports,
Channel [V], BBC World and Movie), which became an instant hit with the
English-fluent urban elite in India starved of American television programmes
such as Baywatch and Santa Barbara. While the Indian urban middle classes
generally welcomed such programming, public opinion, both on the left (con-
cerned about growing consumerism) and the right (seeing Murdoch as a threat
to traditional Indian cultural values) of the political spectrum, was concerned
about what was labelled as ‘invasion from the sky’ Fearing political or censorship trouble, Murdoch visited
India in 1992 and waxed eloquent about the resilience of Indian culture –
‘Indian culture is too strong. It can look after itself very well,’ is how he
... , well-off and impoverished. The example of the Indian television sector demonstrates that India is not passively affected by globalization but constitutes one ... ., Indian media in a globalised world, Sage publications, 2010. SINCLAIR J., HARRISON M., « Globalization, nation and television in Asia : the cases of India and ...
charmed journalists in New Delhi.
While initially successful, Hollywood-based programming did not prove
profitable for Murdoch in India, as it was being watched only by a tiny
English-speaking minority (less than 5 percent of India’s 1 billion citizens).
Recognizing the limitations of this strategy, Murdoch’s networks first
Indianized then localized their programming to suit the range and variety of
cultural and linguistic tastes encompassing the Indian market.
By 2005, Star was broadcasting ‘over 50 television services in seven lan-
guages to more than 300 million viewers across 53 Asian countries’ and
claimed a daily viewership of some 100 million (Star Group, 2006).
Murdoch’s business interests in India include FM radio, it is his control of tel-
evision networks that has been the most important marker in his strategies in
India. The flagship of his operations in India is the Hindi-language family
channel Star Plus (India’s highest-rated private entertainment network) as well
as news operations such as Star News.
Star is providing a comprehensive mixture of programming, representing all major genres of television.
The examples of recent inclusion into the Star family of the southern Tamil-
language Vijay TV and Star Ananda, a 24-hour Bengali news service, are
indicative of the trend towards localization. The change of strategy on the part
of Star – from aiming at the elite to a mass audience – reflects the growing
realization that localization is central for success in uncharted media spheres.
The success of Murdoch’s TV channels in India – one of the world’s most
combative and until recently tightly regulated broadcasting markets (Page and
Crawley, 2001; Price and Verhulst, 1998) has largely been achieved through
their localization strategies, which have skilfully prioritized the local over the
global. This has included not only localization of content and adoption and
adaptation of Indian languages, such as mixing Hindi with English to provide
a hybridized media language – Hinglish – but an unmistakable emphasis on
the channel’s nationalist credentials, e.g. Star News promoting itself to the
... Channels Doordarshan operates 21 channels – two All India channels – DD National and DD News, 11 Regional language Satellite Channels (RLSC), four State Networks (SN), an International channel ... metropolitan and regional India, as well as overseas through the Indian Network and Radio India. For the London ... the Emergency. During Operation Blue Star, only government sources were used for reporting ...
audience as ‘your own’ channel.
Localization of global genres (such as soap operas and music videos) and
editorial priorities (moving from English-language transnational news net-
works such as the BBC and CNN to Hindi-language news channels) lends a
more ‘authentic’ voice and therefore a greater degree of credibility to the out-
put. Such indigenization – whether it is in the realm of popular entertainment
or television news – is an increasingly important dimension of globalization
discourse. In fact, transnational broadcaster MTV has already appropriated the
Hindi word ‘Desi’ (a corruption of the word Deshi, meaning ‘of the country’)
by naming its Indian network, without a trace of irony, MTV Desi. For many,
this reflects the power of the national and the local to resist globalization; for
others, it shows how business works in any field, no matter whether it concerns
selling television news or toothpaste – for decades transnational corporations
have used localization strategies as a business imperative (Banerjee, 2002).
Unlike other transnational media corporations, Murdoch evidences a
long-term strategy of what might be called ‘desi’ globalization. When he
entered the Indian media market in 1991, one of his first acts was to poach the
head of Doordarshan, Rathikant Basu, to lead Star’s India operations. He under-
stood that it was impossible to get ahead in the still highly bureaucratized
broadcasting system without having access to top-level mandarins in the broad-
casting hierarchy. Murdoch demonstrated further business acumen in 1993
when Star took over the Zee network, launched in 1992 and making a profit
within a year.
What made Zee work was its very Indian output, making programmes in
Hindi on Indian themes, drawing heavily on Bollywood, India’s commercial
film industry and the world’s largest producer of feature films. Murdoch had
already realized the importance of making programmes in Hindi on his own
channels but the fear of losing audience to Zee prompted him to take it over. For
The Term Paper on The influences of telenovela programs of the two major television network in the philippines
... programs of the two major Television networks in the Philippine television (ABS-CBN and GMA network) among the 4th year students ... Stewarts ventured into television. Using two cameras and a surplus transmitter, channel 7, the Philippines third television station, started airing ... cities and parts of South America through the international channel network. GMA was also the official broadcaster of the ...
Zee, it was a mutually beneficial partnership, as it enabled the latter to realize
its ambitions to be part of an international network and thus expand into the
South Asian diasporic audience. Though the partnership did not last, as Zee
bought back its shares in 2000, it gave Murdoch a crucial insight into the
Bollywood-driven Indian popular culture. By 2005, Zee had become the largest
media company in India and a major rival to Murdoch as well as the best-known
transnational Indian television network (Thussu, 2005).
Having powerful local
partners is crucial for transnational operators and Murdoch has shown an
uncanny knack at choosing these. Always investing in the future, the most sig-
nificant of joint-ventures that Star has signed in India is with Tata (India’s
largest industrial house) on Direct-to-Home (DTH) television, to be called T-
Sky, a pan-Indian state-of-the-art digital infrastructure for pay television.
Although localization – sometimes in the form of highly complex
hybridization of genres and languages – is not a uniquely Indian phenome-
non, what makes the Indian case interesting is the way it has transformed
television news. Unlike many other countries in Asia, in India foreign-owned
media companies are allowed to operate news channels. Given the political
influence of television news, this is an unusual step, reflecting confidence in
India’s complex democratic polity as well as plurality within its multi-lingual
and multi-layered media scene. Though news is nowhere as profitable as
entertainment or sport television, it can wield significant political influence.
Adept at recognizing this, Murdoch launched an English-language channel,
Star News, the first rolling 24/7 news channel, in 1998, to coincide with the
national elections that year, building on the CNN effect.
As with entertainment, having a strong local partner was a crucial component
of Murdoch’s strategy in entering the news arena. More importantly, since
Indian broadcasting regulation prohibits majority ownership of news channels
by foreign companies, it was also a legal requirement. New Delhi Television
(NDTV), a relatively small though respected media organization, provided all
the news material – both in Hindi and English – including its presentation and
packaging for Star. This was a convenient arrangement for both partners:
NDTV could reach the homes of affluent Indians as well as the diasporic audi-
ence through the Star platform, while Star could benefit from gravitas of a seri-
ous news channel – arguably India’s best television news network. Since then
the television news arena has become an extremely competitive marketplace,
where rival networks fight over advertising revenue both nationally and, even
more fiercely, for the regional sector.
As interest in news grew, other channels, including Zee Network, followed
suit. Unlike Star, Zee News aimed at a mass audience and therefore launched
a dedicated Hindi-language news channel, the first of its kind. Its main rival
Aaj Tak, part of the India Today group, publisher of India’s best known news
magazine India Today, launched a 24-hour Hindi news channel in 2000. In
less than a year, it came to dominate the news market, and, as Table 2 demon-
strates, continues to be at the top.
However, by mutual consent the Star–NDTV contract was terminated in
2003 and NDTV decided to go it alone, launching two channels, the English-
language, NDTV 24/7 and NDTV India, in Hindi. After the split, Star News
moved to producing news in-house. In this new stage of its indigenization,
Murdoch’s news network transformed itself into a Hindi-only channel to
widen its appeal in the language spoken by the largest numbers of Indians.
Within one week of this switch, Star News’ ratings almost doubled.
As if symbolizing the change in editorial focus of the news network, the Star
News headquarters also moved to India’s commercial capital and heart of
its film factories – Mumbai. Complying with ownership regulations for
news channels, Star entered a joint venture with Anand Bazaar Patrika (a
Calcutta-based Indian media company).
The Hindi news market is already crowded – apart from Zee News and Aaj
Tak, Star News also faces stiff competition from Sahara Samay, part of the
business group which owns one of the biggest-selling Hindi newspapers,
Rashtriya Sahara. In addition to the Hindi news channels, there is an English
language news market and to compete in it, India Today group launched
Headlines Today – a fast-paced, youthful news network, with its motto of
‘sharp news for sharp people’ (Unnikrishnan, 2003).
Since July 2005, Zee has
also been involved in a 24/7 English-language news channel South Asia
World, available in Britain and USA and being produced by Indian
Broadcasting Network (IBN) in collaboration with CNN.
The proliferation of news channels has inevitably sharpened competition
among news networks. To win the ratings battles, they increasingly show a
tendency towards infotainment – mixing information and entertainment and
focusing on human-interest stories, especially about celebrities, creating and
revelling in the preponderance of ‘commodity images’ (Mazzarella, 2003).
As part of Murdoch’s media empire, Star News has the resources to influ-
ence the news market substantially – with a team of anchors and reporters,
based in more than 20 bureaux across the country, providing live coverage.
Star News is leading the way with a news agenda that emphasizes metropol-
itan concerns, with an obsessive interest in glamour, crime and celebrity cul-
ture. At the heart of this agenda is the popularization of news by making it
accessible and entertaining, thus expanding the audience base for advertisers
as well as promoting synergies among Murdoch’s entertainment and news
operations in India.
At the same time, Murdoch networks in India are keen to emphasize their
nationalist credentials, as part of their ‘desi’ globalization strategy. Star News,
for example, has spent a huge amount on public relations to publicize the
Indianization of the news network, with a multi-million rupee advertising cam-
paign to celebrate the ‘national’. One highlight was a 2003 Bollywood-style
song, repeatedly shown on the channel, promoting the primacy of truth and fair-
ness in reporting in ‘your own language’, with the catch-line ‘apko rakhe aage’
(keeps you [the audience] in the forefront).
A more recent advertisement, aired in summer 2005, features Ajay Kumar,
the anchor of the flagship programme on Star News, National Reporter,
extolling the virtues of the programme, which he claims ‘stands out among
the crowded market of news providers’. The serious message continues thus:
‘Your reporter charts the condition and direction of the country, and cares
about its prestige and reputation around the world.’ Creating a patriotic fer-
vour, the advertisement ends with the message that Star News is ‘apke huq
mein’ (in defence of your [the audience’s] rights).
Ownership Pattern Of Main News Networks |
Network Ownership Language |
Aaj Tak India Today Group Hindi |
NDTV India New Delhi Television Hindi |
Zee News Zee Network Hindi |
Star News News Corp./AB Group Hindi |
NDTV 24×7 New Delhi Television English |
DD News State-owned Hindi/English |
Sahara Samay Rashtrya Sahara Hindi |
Headlines Today India Today Group English |
STAR NEWS AND THE NEW JOURNALISM
In 2005, to mark the tenth anniversary of its launch, the New Delhi-based news
weekly Outlook published an in-depth analysis of the state of journalism in
India. The magazine summarized the dominant traits of what it called ‘new’
Subjectivity, inaccuracy, misquote; marketing men as editorial heads; sexing it up, dumbing it down, sting operations with methods and morals mixed up; ‘breaking news’ a dozen times a day on TV; TV studios as courtrooms; SMS voting on serious human rights issues; the PR industry as source; selling of editorial space.
This rather uncharitable view of the malaise afflicting broadcast journalism in
contemporary India may reflect the print media’s pride in its editorial inde-
pendence and professionalism.
The article identifies a tabloidization of television news culture, where the
emphasis does not always seem to be on the journalistic skills of news anchors
and reporters but on how they look on camera, with style taking precedence over
substance. This trend demonstrates a shift from a serious to a more popular news
agenda, driven by commercial considerations, evidenced by a noticeable change
in style and content away from the considered, professional approach of NDTV
to Star News’s flashier and visually more dynamic presentation. Although the
Indian television news scene is still in its formative years, one can detect, in the
coverage of Star News, emerging themes that reflect wider trends in broadcast
journalism. These are discussed under the following five headings.
Since most private television networks have come into existence as a result of
the liberalization of television sector in India, they tend to follow a news
agenda which appears to champion the benefits of a free market. There is
more coverage on television news of the corporate world than was the case
during the pre-privatization period when the state broadcaster monopolized
airwaves. On Star News, financial programmes such as Fund ka funda
(Fundamentals of mutual funds) regularly inform and encourage viewers to
invest in stock markets. The increasing importance given to the coverage of
stocks and exchange rates reached fever pitch at the time of the national elec-
tion in 2004. During the election campaign, what one astute commentator
called ‘McMedia’ had its priorities clearly marked out.
More recently, in June 2005, the feud between Mukesh and Anil Ambani,
the brothers who own Reliance, one of India’s largest corporations, which also
features among the Fortune 500, dominated news coverage every day for at least
two weeks, with Star News discussing on a regular basis the minutest details of
the feud between the scions of the great industrial house about restructuring their
organization. The press conference by Anil Ambani was shown live and in its
entirety by television networks, while during the same period India’s Petroleum
Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar’s press conference about a path-breaking agree-
ment on a gas pipeline with Pakistan and Iran barely received a mention.
Ambani’s speech may have affected thousands of shareholders, mostly urban
Indians, but the pipeline would benefit millions of rural Indians.
The large amount of airtime given to news about the corporate world, for
privatization and against public ownership, reflects the growing privatization
of the media and its dependence on corporate rather than public sources.
SENSATIONALISM AND CRIME REPORTING
As the ratings battle has intensified, Star News has progressively moved
towards reporting sensational stories, which appear to be becoming more
gruesome by the week. Every day the channel runs two dedicated programmes
on crime reporting. Sansani (‘Sensation’ in Hindi) is usually about criminal
gangs, fraudsters and fixers. Murder, gore and rape are recurring themes, with
the tone and tenor of stories being inevitably populist. Exposés are routine,
with a good deal of hidden camera work being deployed to give the stories a
sensational edge. Although the channel claims to be presenting such stories
with a public interest in mind, more often than not there is a tendency to tit-
illate and shock. Some of the recent output in this genre includes: the snake
that guarded treasure in a temple; the lover who killed his girlfriend; illegal
immigration rackets involved in trafficking people from India to the Persian
Gulf states. As the name suggests, the emphasis is on highlighting the most
sensational aspects of a given story.
Its output is akin to that of another daily programme, ostensibly about
crime busting, called Red Alert. Here the reporters venture out looking for
stories about criminals and crime syndicates. The half-hour programme,
broadcast at prime time every day, shows how the police are coping
with criminal elements. The tone is tabloid, the stories often thin on
factual information. The presentation on both programmes draws broadly
on well-known and clichéd conventions of the visualization of crime and
corruption, inspired by B-grade Bollywood films, themselves cloned
copies of C-grade Hollywood originals. The rivals of Star News claim
that the network deliberately covers crime stories from towns and cities
where there are audience measuring devices, thus enhancing their ratings.
Sensationalism is not a prerogative of Star News alone. Zee News, for
example, used the saga of a divorced woman named Gudiya, whose soldier
husband had left her on suspicion of an extra-marital affair, in the ratings bat-
tle. This innocuous story was transformed into a live drama on the television
screen, with audiences sending their views on sms and emails as well as via
phone-ins, obviously benefiting the telecom companies in the process.
Murdoch’s media recognizes the primacy of cricket in India’s popular culture,
the colonial game having become the most important sport among Indians,
cutting across class, language and even gender barriers, and second only to
Bollywood in its popularity across the country. The game generates such
strong passions that, during a dispute about rights to broadcast the 2003
Cricket World Cup matches, the government of India petitioned the Supreme
Court, requesting that broadcasting live coverage of one-day matches as well
as test series was in the public interest and therefore Doordarshan should have
the rights to telecast it live. It was argued that if cricket was not available free
on the national network, there was a danger of riots in parts of the country, a
plea that the country’s highest court upheld.
As Murdoch had experienced in Britain, having control over broadcasting
rights to live sporting events is crucial for the success of a television channel.
BSkyB, Murdoch’s network in the UK, has become one of the most profitable
broadcasters in Europe, primarily because it owns broadcasting rights for key
sporting events, including major premier league football championships.
In Asia, through Star Sport, Murdoch has tried to replicate the British suc-
cess story. Cricket-related stories appear almost daily on Star News, as well
as on other private networks – and not just on sports news. These include
details of private lives of cricketing stars as well as regular stories about their
expensive lifestyles. When international test matches are under way, Star
News runs a regular hour-long programme titled Match ke Mujarim (The
Guilty of the Match), where ex-cricketers and commentators dissect the day’s
sporting action, with active participation by audiences, naming and shaming
the worst-performing players on a particular day. Interactivity is central to
such an enterprise, as this kind of coverage can lead to channel loyalty in the
long run and, at the same time, provide a new revenue stream for privatized
telecom networks, which obviously benefit from this convergence.
As ‘desi’ globalization takes root in India and the ratings wars and advertis-
ers’ demand for demographically desirable consumers, including the famed
NRIs (Non-Resident Indians), intensifies, it is possible that the distinction
between the national and the global will blur further. The opportunities provided
by the new communication technologies, coupled with substantial foreign
investment in news and the professionalism that globalization has brought to
India, seems to have been largely wasted. It could have been a different story:
globalization could have elevated Indian television news to an international level,
given the advantage of having emerged from a vigorously autonomous,
critically informed and English-fluent journalistic culture, and having at last
been released from the stranglehold of state broadcasting bureaucracy.
However, the market,
What we have instead is an ethnocentric television news increasingly act-
ing as an important element in shaping public discourse, a discourse that is
predicated on infotainment. Despite their avowedly nationalist credentials
and constant reiteration of their native identity, networks such as Star News,
in the name of defending the national interest, may in fact be propagating
dominant neoliberal ideology and helping to legitimize a media marketplace
in which global corporate clients can consolidate and expand, while the rural
poor move further to the margins of the rapidly globalizing and
Americanizing urban Indian middle classes.