Going down the tubes

A surfeit of channels, shoddy programming, clueless anchors and financials that would make a Greek cringe. Is the Indian television industry scripting its own epitaph?

Apni auqaat nahi bhoolna chahiye.” If you think that these are words lifted out of a very bad Hindi flick, circa 1964—when the village headman comes thundering down on the protagonist who has finally mustered up the courage (after copious amounts of alcohol, endless circumambulations around trees and other assorted inane activities) to ask Roop Kumar Narain Singh Thakur (or some such suitable name) for the hand of his daughter—you have another think coming.
According to a lawsuit filed by business channel Bloomberg-UTV, rival CNBC TV18 aired this sentence on 4 March 2010 during its ‘Bazaar’ segment.

Bloomberg alleges that its rival has accused it of “copying”, “cheating” and “lying” about its viewership ratings on the day of the announcement of the Union Budget.
Moneylife has in its possession a copy of the lawsuit which has been slapped on CNBC TV18 by Bloomberg-UTV. While the lengthy defamation notice goes on to describe—in great detail—about the alleged “accusations and representations” of CNBC TV18 against Bloomberg-UTV, our objective here is not to comment on the merits (or shortcomings) of the case, since the matter will eventually become sub-judice.

However, one cannot help wonder if this case is just part of a wider malaise that seems to have gripped the Indian television industry as a whole. Enough and more has been written on the no-holds-barred battles that are being fought between various TV channels—across genres—to grab viewership.

These skirmishes, somehow, don’t prevent the same talking heads from appearing on ‘live’ news capsules across various channels—one has to hand it these various spokespersons, they seem to flit in and out of various newsrooms in the span of a few minutes, (almost being in two places at the same time), mouthing the same platitudes, delivering the same slogans and flogging the same ideologies. And shouting down the same opponents. As far as the viewer is concerned, no, she is not spoilt for choice.

The financials of various broadcast houses are swimming in deep seas of red, as readers of Moneylife will know. But when will the wake-up call come about? Many viewers would agree that the battle for viewership has caused a steady deterioration in the quality of programming, across channels and cutting across all genres. So much so, people are fondly looking back on those days when we only had State-run programming—remember, there was no need for a remote control in the heady days of our ‘mixed’ economy? Even the latest Chinese remotes cannot keep up with the abuse that the ‘change channel(s)’ button is currently facing, as you read this, in a number of Indian households.

As far as ‘TV journalistic ethics’ go, this must be the biggest three-word oxymoron ever. News is not being reported, it is being manufactured. To call the soaps currently being aired ‘operas’ is surely not cricket.

When a smug anchor looks at you straight in the eye (or rather, camera) and proclaims, six hours in advance: “At 7.30pm, we’ll have ‘breaking news’ from our studio (or ‘journalist’) at (insert suitable Indian city/town/village/taluka/district/slum here),” one cannot but wonder if the world is actually more surreal than what our mystics make it out to be.

The great Indian television saga has been playing out for more than a quarter of a century now. Risking the taint of schadenfreude, one can only sit back and watch the drama unfolding before our eyes, and hope that the show picks up. Else, the audience will pack up and leave, with a poor score wailing in the background, even before the credits start flashing on the screen.  

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    K B Patil

    1 decade ago

    God save us from Hindi serials. All of them are destroying our eardrums with the loudest sounds and they call it background music. Colors channel shows a disclaimer before each serial stating that it's serials are a campaing against child marriage, female infanticide, violence against women blah blah blah. But these things are woven into each one of its serials. The channel seems to be catering to the basest instincts of men. All that the I & ministry can think of is banning FTV.

    Kingshuk Mukherjee

    1 decade ago

    Devarajan is absolutely right. The current "Mad Race" for TRP's by all these Business Channels is leading to nowhere. These business and other so-called " News Channels" have taken the “Dumbing Down " of “News” to new heights. Next time whenever you see any NEWS STORY or a very glorifying tribute to any Indian "Industrial or Corporate group understand this is a very carefully thought of PR, sponsored advertorial or ADVERTISING and MEDIA spin that is out to FOOL YOU and CHEAT and a make a " MOCKERY " of our DEMOCRACY. I can only pray to God to inject some SENSE into the people who run our electronic MEDIA groups.

    Government to give aid worth Rs50 crore to five food parks

    Out of six food parks approved last year, five parks will receive Rs10 crore each in the next financial year for setting up their infrastructure

    The Indian government has said that it will provide financial aid to five out of six food parks already approved across the country over the next financial year. The government is providing financial assistance of Rs50 crore to catalyse investment in these mega food parks. This amount will be released by the government in various tranches, depending on the status of development of each food park.

    “We will give Rs10 crore each to the remaining five food parks in the next financial year as they have reached various stages of implementation,” said Ashok Sinha, secretary, ministry of food processing industries.

    Last year, the government had approved six food parks in Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Out of these units, only two food parks—one in Uttarakhand and the other in Andhra Pradesh—are in an advanced stage of infrastructure construction.

    Apart from the six mega food park projects, the government is also in the process of approving four more food parks out of the ten parks which applied for permission last year. The government had earlier decided to come up with 30 food parks till 2012 but now the authority has slashed down the number to 10. Currently, the government is in the process of giving permission to four food parks, which would receive the go-ahead in six weeks (approximately by mid-April 2010).

    “We have received 37 proposals for mega food parks, out of which we are currently processing four proposals. A few of them are from private players also,” said Mr Sinha. 

    The government is providing Rs50 crore in financial aid to these food parks to encourage the setting up of more parks. Last year, the government allocated Rs45 crore (Rs5 crore advance to five food parks and Rs15 crore to one food park) to six food parks. The project at Uttarakhand had received Rs15 crore last year and the remaining five projects will receive Rs50 crore (Rs10 crore each) in the next financial year.

    The government’s contribution will be used to create infrastructure facilities like cold storage, incubation centres, warehouses, roads, core-processing centres, quality control labs, drinking water facilities and collection centres.

    The ministry has received 37 proposals for mega food parks of which 16 are for Maharashtra, 10 for Karnataka, six for Punjab and five for Uttar Pradesh (UP). In Punjab, Mrs Bector’s Food Specialties (a part of the Cremica Group), Brattle Foods Ltd, International Fresh Farm Products Ltd, Maninder Rice Mills, Kolkata-based LMJ Ltd, and an entrepreneur from the US have shown their interest.  

    In Karnataka, Capital Foods Ltd has shown interest in these food parks. In Maharashtra, Pantaloons Retail (India) Ltd, Paithan Mega Food Park, Temptation Foods Ltd, Dhoot Developers Pvt Ltd and Skil Infrastructure Ltd have shown their interest in these units. Temptation Foods Ltd is one of the applicants among the five with interest in these facilities in UP.

    The government is encouraging the public-private partnership model for setting up the food parks. “The government gives Rs50 crore assistance for each food park, but that is not enough. You also need about Rs50 crore or more of private investment (in each food park) in infrastructure,” said Mr Sinha.

    “We are encouraging three-four private players to come together to set up a food park so that the investments are shared,” he added.

    The joint investment of three–four players lowers the cost of the land and infrastructure. Every food park would have a special purpose vehicle comprising around three entrepreneurs, representatives of banks and financial institutions and also from the food processing ministry. The special purpose vehicle will require an investment of around Rs120 crore, which includes the government’s contribution of Rs50 crore, for each food park.  

    Every food park will have around 27 processing and ancillary units which will process about 1,80,000 tonnes per annum of raw materials—primarily comprising fruits and vegetables, rice and spices and will draw an investment of Rs250 crore. Each food park needs an investment of Rs370 crore and takes a minimum of two years for completion. Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS) is assisting the government in project management for all these food parks spread across the country.

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    Sushil Singh

    10 years ago

    Though I appreciate the encouragement from Indian Government however we need more assistance from them. If they want they could increase their share in the project.

    Investor Interest   Exclusive
    Mutual Fund prospectuses: Too much legalese, too little substance-II

    Bizarre fund ideas and what SEBI should do to control them. This is the second part of a two-part analysis

    A few months ago, Birla Sun Life launched a T-20 Fund. Taking advantage of the popularity of the shortest format of international cricket and its glamorous affair with Bollywood, the Fund is nothing but a fancy idea in the garb of innovation.

    The T-20 Fund would have in its portfolio a selection of the top 20 growth companies. Have concentrated portfolios worked in the past? Will they work now, and why? Has the fund manager specialised in concentrated bets in the past? Does not a concentrated approach go against the main mantra fund management—diversification? The prospectus does not answer any of these questions.

    Birla Sun Life is not alone. The JM Agri & Infrastructure Fund was another bizarre concept. How can one combine agriculture and infrastructure? The Fund’s bet was that successive governments have been making huge outlays for social infrastructure and the development of the rural sector and every Union Budget emphasises the importance of the agriculture and infrastructure sectors. How would the Fund pick stocks? There were no clues in the prospectus. All that the JM Agri & Infrastructure Fund’s prospectus said is that it has a research set-up that would identify investment opportunities through continuous monitoring of sectors and companies.

    Is such meagre disclosure in prospectuses fair? Should the regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) not ask many more questions before allowing fund companies to raise money? Why should companies wanting to raise money from Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) put through such extensive disclosures including their track record and not mutual funds? Fund after fund has been trying to launch schemes that look more like marketing gimmicks than a product of well thought out portfolio strategy. Why should the fund management companies look like competing with soap marketers and why should the regulator, SEBI, be an ally in the process?

    Fund management is a business to gather more and more of assets. Fund companies make a regular income as a percentage of assets they hold. The higher the asset base, the higher their income. Quite clearly, fund companies are fully incentivised to raise more and more money. Maybe there is nothing wrong with this, as long as they can put the money to use efficiently.

    However, for some reason, fund companies think that they cannot acquire more assets by selling existing funds. Hence, the need to launch new funds. Now, an equity fund, like a product like shampoo, can offer a limited variation in terms of its core features. To sell more and more of shampoo, personal product companies come up with different fragrances, colours and celebrity endorsements. Funds cannot use celebrities but they do compete with shampoo companies in their bizarre ideas, without being accountable.

    New, strange ideas coming from funds can be bizarre like T-20 or it could simply be a portfolio approach that is illogical or not supported by empirical evidence. Take for instance, Tata Consumption Opportunities Fund launched late last year. The Fund, an open-ended scheme, had a mandate to invest in companies into production, distribution or trading of goods and services meant for mass consumption. The premise is that a period of rising gross domestic product (GDP) growth and consumption will lead to rising stock prices of consumer goods companies. Sounds logical. Except, it isn’t. {break}

    First, it is wrong to assume that there is a definite correlation between these GDP growth numbers and rising stock prices. Between 1994 and 2003, GDP grew every year. Prices of many stocks were stagnant or on the decline. Second, it is assumed that the expansion in organised retail across the country would benefit the consumer goods industry. This is not necessarily true. Whether consumers buy their shampoo from a small grocery or a hypermarket makes little difference to consumer goods companies.

    In early 2008, Benchmark, which pioneered the idea of exchange-traded funds in India, filed a prospectus to launch Citigroup’s method to offer Value and Momentum Quant Fund that will invest in stocks that offer the best combination of value and momentum. Does this idea make sense to the average retail investor who has been exhorted for years to go to mutual funds?

    One other fund house announced the launch of something called a 50-50. No, it is not some kind of self-deprecating humour by a fund house referring to the fact that the outcome of their stock-picking is often random (50-50 probability). The name comes from a portfolio design under which 50% of the money will be invested in stocks selected across the market and the other 50% in stocks of just one chosen sector! It surely came from the head of an excessively creative marketing hotshot, who was possibly selling biscuits in his previous job and will probably sell insurance in the next. It makes zero sense.

    Now, a fund can dare to launch such a scheme when it knows that SEBI will merely rubber-stamp ideas even if they are ill-researched, clever concoctions, which will only fatten the corpus of the fund houses at the cost of the investors. Such schemes usually mushroom during a solid bull run, when investors easily fall prey to fancy advertisements flashing unique investment opportunities. There is another issue and that is beyond prospectuses. Often fund companies deviate a long way from their prospectuses, labelling commercial vehicles as infrastructure stocks, power companies as banking stocks and media companies as technology stocks.

    But there is a price to pay for the liberties fund companies take and the laissez faire approach of SEBI. The low penetration of mutual funds and their poor risk-adjusted performance against benchmarks is directly linked to the ease with which they can bring in new fund offers (NFOs) and do performance chasing. If SEBI had demanded rigour in NFOs and asked funds to stick to their mandates, investors’ confidence and participation would have been at a different level.

    It is time SEBI introduced a proper, functioning screening model to identify those fund offers that seem dubious or far-fetched. The only time to do this is when the draft offer documents of these schemes land on SEBI’s doorstep for approval. This has to be followed by quarterly monitoring of whether the funds are actually following the mandates under which they had raised money.

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    mohan bhatia

    1 decade ago

    SEBI is old out to few vested intrests which are fooling the retail investor class by launching monthly NFO's but these are only meant to make feel the simple minded investor that he is investing in very spcialised tailor made fund-but this fact is also true with most of insurance plans-the most intelligent is LIC-the champion of insurance market-which makes every new "PLUS"plan during march ending and endowment plans every six months-so when govt itslef is biggest LOOTER-then there is no rescue for common man-

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