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Murdoch India Trip: FDI Limit; DJ Index, $100 Million In TV; AsiaNet, Balaji, Sakaal

A senior American journalist once said to me – “Mr. Murdoch owns everything, or tries to”. Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch, CMD of the all powerful News Corp was in India recently, and his meetings and possible investments have been the buzz about town.

Apart from the possible investments and the launches – we’ll get into that later – his most important meeting was with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Congress Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. It is believed that Murdoch asked for an increase in FDI in media to 49 percent, and the implications of that go far beyond the other announcements. It is because the FDI limit in News Nedia is limited to 26 percent that News Corp wont invest in the Print Media space in India, or bring the Wall Street Journal to this country – “We don’t see ourselves taking a stake in print – because it is not available and because we won’t want to take just a 26 per cent stake,” he said. Keep in mind that STAR has a minority stake in STAR News for this very reason. Also, do take a look at this exchange4media story on FDI.

The other interesting aspect of Murdoch’s visit was his interest in the regional media space – he announced that News Corp will be investing $100 million in the regional TV space, in setting up 6 TV channels. Following that, there was a report in the Economic Times that News Corp might pick up a majority stake in regional player Asianet Entertainment, controlled by Rajeev Chandrashekhars Jupiter Capital. Asianet is apparently valued at Rs. 300 crore, and do note that Asianet has been restructured into four companies – general entertainment, news, radio and media infrastructure; that will allow a company to invest differently in each segment, again, due to FDI constraints.

Now Murdoch may have said that he’s not interested in the Print Media space, but it has been confirmed that he met Abhijeet Pawar, nephew of politician Sharad Pawar, and the MD of the Sakaal group of newspapers. Sakaal has a Marathi daily newspaper, recently launched an English daily Sakaal Times, and is planning to launch a Marathi TV channel Saam TV. So don’t be surprised if there’s News Corp money coming Sakaal’s way.

Meanwhile, it appears there is a split in the offing too – Mint reports that Balaji Telefilms will be buying back its 25.99 percent stake from Asian Broadcasting FZ-Llc, a Dubai based STAR affiliate. STAR has paid Rs. 123 crore for this stake, and Balaji is in talks with investors for the same, thus taking on News Corp in the regional space.

The least interesting part of Murdoch’s India trip – the launch of the Dow Jones India Titans Index

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