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India's Expanding Media, Entertainment Industry Moves Into Regional Languages 

In India, the fast-growing media and entertainment industry is expanding into the heart of the country by making new investments in regional languages. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi.

In the coming week, Star India will launch a new TV entertainment channel in Bengali - a language spoken in the east of the country. Star also plans to start TV channels in five other regional languages in the coming months.

Star India is owned by media giant, News Corp, and was the first foreign broadcaster to enter India. So far, its main focus in India has been on English and Hindi speaking audiences.

But like other media groups, Star wants to expand into a largely untapped market for entertainment and news in local languages. It plans to invest $100 million in the regional language TV channels.

India has as many as 20 official regional languages. And in recent years, an expanding economy has raised both incomes and literacy in small towns and rural areas. Millions of people, who mainly speak the local language, now have access to television. Others are turning to regional newspapers for the latest headlines.

As a result, regional audiences have been steadily growing in size.

Atul Phadnis, chief executive of consultancy group mediaE2E, says the boom is being sustained by a massive increase in advertising revenues generated by regional markets. He says television channels in particular are grabbing a larger slice of advertising money.

"Earlier what would typically happen that the regional market would typically garner close to 30 percent of the viewership share, but would only get 15 percent of the revenue share," said Phadnis. "So there was clearly an imbalance. Today that situation has improved considerably. Regional language channels get upwards of 25 percent of overall market share of ad [advertising] revenues."

Television channels beaming in local languages initially offered greater entertainment content. But of late, several media groups have launched news channels in regional languages.

However, it may not be an easy run for all media groups. Star television, for example, faces tough competition from local companies like Zee Entertainment and Sun, which have made huge inroads into regional markets.

A recent report by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers says India's media and entertainment industry is the fastest growing in Asia, and is attracting many global collaborations. It estimates the industry will grow to $32 billion by 2012.