Murdoch puts $100 mil in India TV

Star India expanding by six channels over 12 months

NEW DELHI -- Rupert Murdoch has taken the wraps off plans to boost News Corp.'s already substantial TV holdings in India.

"We will invest $100 million in the next 12 months to launch six regional channels under the Star brand in India," Murdoch said Monday in Mumbai.

News Corp.-owned Star India currently operates 17 channels, including a number of regional channels.

"Among the six new regional channels, the first three will be in the Bengali, Marathi and Gujarati languages," Star India vp communications Yash Khanna said.

In April 2007, Star India announced a joint venture with leading Mumbai-based TV production company Balaji Telefilms to launch a regional-language network for South India. Star holds 51% and Balaji 49%.

Asked how the proposed Star-Balaji joint venture for South Indian channels will be affected by Murdoch's announcement, Khanna declined comment.

Murdoch has been in India since July 30. Before traveling to Mumbai for meetings with Star executives, Murdoch met in New Delhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, leader of the ruling Congress Party.

On Monday, Murdoch also announced the launch of the Dow Jones India Titans 30 Index, topped by, among others, Infosys, top mobile operator Bharti Airtel and Reliance Industries. (Reliance is not the company in talks to fund DreamWorks' exit from Paramount. That company is Reliance Big Entertainment, owned by Reliance ADA Group.)

"Dow Jones has lots of investment plans in India. It is looking at growing digitally such as in the mobile space," Murdoch added. "To grow in the digital space, the company is looking for partnership. It also plans to increase its number of journalists to 70 from the present 25 in India."

But don't expect to see an investment in newspapers here.

"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% stake," Murdoch said, referring to the cap placed on foreign investment in news media in India.

Murdoch added that he was hopeful restrictions on foreign investment in media in India eventually will ease: "A lot of countries have restrictions in the media, but with the expansion of the Internet, the rules are getting ridiculous. I think in time these rules will be done away with."

In July, News Corp. announced its foray into Indian film via newly established unit Fox Star Studios, which recently acquired the comedy feature "Quick Gun Murugan."