Country's booming economy draws satellite channels

NEW DELHI — India’s rich were a television audience waiting to be discovered — and in the last few months Discovery, Rupert Murdoch’s Star and Indian media group Bennett Coleman’s Zoom web have done just that.

And others are lining up to tap into the lucrative market.

“There is a vacuum in the upmarket lifestyle and travel segment in India,” says media analyst Nikhil Vora, of Mumbai banking firm SSKI Securities.

“We can expect a lot of new channels (tapping this sector) in the next few years,” he tells Variety. “There is always a plethora of options when financial markets boom.”

Attracted by the opening up of the economy, foreign investors have been pouring money into the Mumbai stock exchange, giving investors average returns of around 60% — among the highest in the world.

Vora says the booming economy also has seen an explosion of satellite channels beaming from around the world into India, where a survey by the independent National Council for Applied Economic Research shows the middle and upper classes are growing at a furious pace.

In the next four years, the survey shows, the number of millionaires in India will increase from 20,000 to 140,000 — way up from the 5,000 who were rolling in rupees in 1995.

The number of middle-class households is expected to rise from 10.7 million to 28.7 million by the end of the decade.

It is this market Discovery India managing director Deepak Shourie is after.

“We believe there is a big market for aspirational products in this business today,” Shourie says. “People like to emulate, so we go to the highest end.”

Shourie last year convinced Discovery to choose India to test its new Travel & Living channel.

“There was no dedicated lifestyle channel, and we recognized there is a market for upscale products and services,” Shourie says.

Since it launched in October, Discovery’s Travel & Living lifestyle has drawn 22 million viewers in India with its 24-hour stream of luxury living, hedonism, travel, decor and fashion shows.

All programming is in English, Shourie says, because English is seen in India as a language that leads to better career opportunities.

“Indians like to think they are citizens of the world,” he adds.

Since its successful launch in India, Discovery Travel & Living now is distributed to more than 75 million subscribers in 90 countries.

About the same time, Indian media group Bennett Coleman launched its own lifestyle channel, Zoom, in Hindi and English, aimed at a younger but equally upmarket urban audience.

Zoom’s programming is more locally skewed. Its mix of celebrities and socialites, gameshows, local trends and fashion has captured an equally impressive market of around 28 million.

Star channel, which has been including lifestyle items in its general-entertainment programming, has identified the core audience for its revamped StarOne channel as “aspirational young urban professionals” age 25 to 34.

Rather than lifestyle, however, StarOne is offering “high-end fiction” — the “next generation of Hindi entertainment television,” according to Star India chief exec Sameer Nair.

Starting in October, meanwhile, is an Indian version of the Voyages TV channel popular in Taiwan.

The channel is aimed at showcasing domestic and overseas locations for the Indian traveler, but also covering the logistics of getting there, accommodation costs and what specials are on offer.

The target audience? You guessed it — the upper middle class and upper classes.

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