Murdoch India trip comes as caps end

Foreign investors don't need gov't approval to start prod'n, distribs

Global mogul Rupert Murdoch will be in Bombay next week to press the flesh — just days after India’s government lifted certain restrictions on foreign investment in the growing film and broadcasting industries.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced, in the wake of a review of the entertainment biz, that foreign investors no longer need government approval to start film and television production studios, distribution companies or satellite TV companies.

It also may remove a 49% foreign investment cap on direct-to-home satcasting ventures.

Move opens the way for foreign media and finance companies to invest in the sector — and it’s good news for Murdoch, whose News Corp. backs India’s popular Star pay TV network.

He will be in India on Thursday and March 15 — his fourth visit in 10 years — and at a time when his son James, CEO of the Star Group, will already be in the country as the keynote speaker at an industry confab.

On Thursday, Rupert Murdoch will host a dinner in Bombay for corporate leaders, top Indian entertainment industry execs and Bollywood film stars including Amitabh Bachchan, host of India’s top-rated “Millionaire” show “Kaun Banega Crorepati,” on the Star Plus channel.

Murdoch is known to have big plans for the territory. On his last visit to India in March 2000, he announced plans to ramp up the local broadcasting industry and commit $200 million to Internet-related ventures. “It’s a huge opportunity for India,” he said at the time. “There could be faster growth here than anywhere else in the world.”

Other major investors in the sector are Universal and Sony.

Murdoch isn’t the only honcho homing in on India. AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin will give a speech titled “Internet: Infrastructure of Freedom” before Indian entertainment industry bigwigs at a New Delhi lunch Thursday.

BBC World managing director Patrick Cross and NHK Japan director general Yoshirnori Imai will be in Bombay also next week meeting members of the government and broadcasting industry, including execs from Indian pubcaster Doordarshan, to explore business opportunities.

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