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Indian TV Experiencing News Boom

Indian television is experiencing a news boom with several media channels being launched in recent months.

Headlines Today, NDTV 24/7, Star News Hindi - these are a few of the recent entrants jostling for space in what is fast becoming a crowded TV news market.

English language broadcasters have launched news channels in Hindi, some groups have begun broadcasting in both languages, others plan to target regional audiences, all are vying for a slice of the country's billion plus population.

And there is more to come. By the year's end, India is likely to have four more news channels, giving the country nearly a dozen 24-hour news programs.

It is a dramatic change in a country where the state broadcaster dominated TV and radio news for decades.

Six years ago, the electronic media was thrown open to private broadcasters, ending the monopoly of state-run Doordarshan. Then a handful of media began beaming news via satellite and cable into Indian homes - now they are mushrooming at a breathtaking pace. Bhaskar Rao heads the independent Center for Media Studies.

"Television until a year ago in this country was primarily an entertainment media," he said. "Today it is remolding itself to become a news media. That is a major structural change that is coming in the television in India."

In recent years, television has beamed live images of several dramatic stories into people's living rooms. TV cameras caught the aftermath of a militant attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, and scenes from deadly communal riots in Gujarat last year. Some TV channels sent their own media teams to cover the Iraq war.

Satish Singh is chief editor at Zee News - India's first private news channel. He says instant TV news is a big change in a country where until recently people waited to read the headlines in the morning papers.

"Newspapers are basically now following what is appearing in television news channels, which is followed by newspapers the second day," said Satish Singh.

As viewership grows, TV channels are grabbing a larger and larger chunk of advertising to sustain their expansion. Advertising revenue for the electronic media is up an estimated 50 percent in recent years - and is expected to double in the next two years.

As they race to catch attention, slick and quick are the new buzzwords. TV news producers are transforming their technology and their look. New Delhi television has hired helicopters for news coverage in an effort "to be first and fastest." Top hairstylists and personality grooming experts have trained journalists at Star News. Headlines Today is hiring young anchors to catch the attention of India's youth. The state-run broadcaster has appointed an advertising agency to give it a makeover. The head of New Delhi's prestigious Institute of Mass Communication that trains journalists, Yadava Reddy, says in the long run the Indian electronic media will need to put more emphasis on analysis, investigation and quality.

"At this time it is young faces, and the whole emphasis is on fast and quick," he said. "What will differentiate attention one channel from another I would say is quality, and whosoever pays attention now to the quality will survive."

But analysts tend to agree that in a huge and fast developing country, the steady growth of independent electronic media is a welcome trend.