Thursday, November 24, 2005

DD demands money to telecast women's cricket

New Indian Express reports DD telecasts women's cricket - for a price

The public broadcaster is desperate to show men's cricket, it has arm twisted the Government to change the rules. The rules have been changed.

But... Prasar Bharati feels there is no public interest in women's cricket. (They may be right there!) So they will not show women's cricket. But... if the WCAI pays them money, then they will show the matches on TV.

Will the new I&B minister look in to this?

Yet another BCCI telecast mess

Business Standard reports: BCCI case advanced to facilitate bidding

The greedy BCCI is in perpetual trouble. It had just worked out a deal with Prasar Bharati for telecasting the Sri Lanka 7 South Africa ODIs. This was because it had asked for telecast bid for the next four years, and rigged the bid terms so that Zee will be made ineligible.

Though one can say that the rights owner has the right to set any terms for inviting telecast tender, the rights will have to be reasonable and non-discriminatory to allow fair competition. For example, BCCI cannot demand that any company name starting with initial 'Z' should not bid.

Zee has questioned the bid terms on which it has been disallowed in Delhi High Court. The case is dragging. The ODIs are almost over. The Tests with Sri Lanka will start next month, starting December 2nd.

Since there is no resolution in the case, and the next hearing is only on December 1st, chances are that Prasar Bharati will get it as usual.

And the case will drag on.

However, in the meantime, there has been a change in the government policy on sports broadcasts. So Prasar Bharati may actually not be interested in buying the BCCI rights. Why bother promising a certain amount of money to BCCI, then take the headache of organizing the production, marketing etc.? You could also allow a private operator to acuiqre it, but then by law he is forced to share the feed with Prasar Bharati anyway on a revenue share basis?

Let us see...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Prasar Bharati asked to settle footage dispute

PTI news item via Outlook:
Settle footage dispute with TV channels: HC to Prasar Bharti

I had written earlier about the dispute between Prasar Bharati and private news channels regarding using cricket footage from Prasar Bharati. Prasar Bharati went to Delhi High Court to restrain private TV channels from taking the dirty feed from Prasar Bharati live broadcasts and building a program around it. The court gave a temporary restraining order, but seems to have told Prasar Bharati today to attempt an out of court settlement with the private channels.

Private channels contend (rather unjustifiably) that they should be allowed to use as many minutes as they want from the Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati's footage. Some have pulled as much 15 minutes of footage in a day. India TV's counsel Pratibha M Singh seems to have argued that "the use of excerpts of cricket matches by India TV in its news bulletins did not amount to copyright infringement as it was a bonafide act of fair dealing." This seems to me to be a very strange argument. How this is a bonafide act of fair dealing is unclear to me. It is straightforward stealing of the feed.

She also seems to have questioned Prasar Bharati's claim of exclusive ownership by saying "there was no material on record to establish that Prasar Bharti had exclusive rights of the cricketing event." This is quite a bit of nonsense, since BCCI owns the event and has signed an agreement of exclusivity with Prasar Bharati.

I think she should read up her law book again before arguing cases like this in a High Court. She seems to have argued further:
Terming the conditions imposed by Prasar Bharti on the quantity of footage that could be used by private TV channels in their news bulletins as illegal, Singh had said "it does not have any sanction of law".
A feed owner can very well determine how others can use the feed. Why the lawyer thinks such conditions are illegal is unclear to me.

However, the situation in India is slightly different. The Government has just notified that all cricket events in India must be shared with the public broadcaster. Since the Government has cared very little for private enterprises, investment by third parties etc., it is now left to the private channels (non-sports) to lobby to allow for any amount of feed stealing by private channels as well.

After all, in the socialistic system we are trying to build, the overall public good (even if it comes at the cost of massive losses to private individuals and organizations) is paramount. Why allow only the public broadcaster to make all the money? Let all websites carry snippets of video - for free. Let all TV channels show programs built around the dirty feed. Let us have a 'free for all' new deal.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Downlink policy harsh on sports and international news channels

A day after the government announced its downlinking policy, talks to a few television channel people: Downlink policy harsh on sports and international news channels

Crushed by the Murdoch juggernaut

Mike Marqusee writes in The Hindu Sunday Magazine: Crushed by the Murdoch juggernaut

Marqusee is a traditional left winger. However I do agree with his main point about a Murdoch monopoly on world cricket.

In Australia - the birthland of Murdoch - however, it is his bitter enemy and close partner in business Kerry Packer who controls the mainstream cricket. But Packer and Murdoch jointly own Foxtel network which shows all the other cricket not shown in Packer's Channel 9.

In India, the battle for cricket telecast is waged by several including Subash Chandra and Murdoch. However, the Indian Government has stumped them all with its Channel Downlinking Notification Guidelines.

The Brits however are the people most affected by Murdoch. They can't anymore watch home Test series on free-to-air TV. Overseas Tests and all One-day Internationals have been only on pay TV since BBC lost interest in cricket. Now, even the last vestige will be gone.

The only saving grace is BBC Radio's live audio commentary.


As for India, the impact of sharing the feed with Prasar Bharati, if it cannot be legally challenged successfully, would mean that Sports Channels like ESPN, Star Sports and Ten Sports will lose money big time over the next three years. Ten Sports may simply pack up and leave - the first casuality. ESPN and Star Sports will linger on for a while. SET Max will not bid again for ICC World Cup events at the sort of numbers it did.

Zee seems to have evinced more of an interest at the government notification. It had the least to lose - it had no rights. The other channels allow Zee Sports to pick up India rights, just to see what actually happens in that case. Zee, with absolutely no experience (its only earlier experience with marketing Indian cricket was in the name of Buddha Telefilms - it continues to fight with Prasar Bharati in courts) is sure to make a mess of it.

We, fans, will patiently follow everything. We have just seen our team pull itself up from the absolute depths it had landed in. In due course, we fervently hope, BCCI will improve, and we will continue to hope that our Government will also behave properly sometime in the future.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

New Policy Guidelines for Television Channels Issued

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has issued a press release about the New guidelines for downlinking television channels. The detailed policy guidelines are available from the ministry's site.

The crux of the guideline is the sports broadcasting issue, about which I have written here quite a bit. Certain notified sports events will have to be shared with Prasar Bharati - in particular all future cricket matches, whether such matches are played outside the country or within India.

A channel violating this guideline cannot be shown in India.

Basically every television channel that wants to be seen in India must register with the MIB by agreeing to adhere to the guidelines mentioned above. Any channel failing to register as per the guidelines should not be shown in India. The liability will be on the cable operator. The note at the end of the guideline document says as follows:
No cable operator or DTH service provider shall, after the expiry of 180 days from the date of this notification, carry or include in his cable/DTH network any television channel that has not been registered under these guidelines. Amendments to this effect in the Cable Television Network Rules 1994 and DTH guidelines are being notified separately.
Thus the onus on which channel to show or not is placed on the local cable operator (or the DTH operator).

Thus, if an individual who doesn't wish to re-broadcast the channel can still tune to any channel (even the ones not registered with the Government of India) available to him over the satellite (if he has the right decoder). It is only the distributor who is prevented from distributing the channels not registered with the Government - at least as of now.

As I have remarked before, no time has been given to channels to react. Like the CBSE bylaw change, this government is steamrolling its way into controversial orders. It doesn't even take the legislature into confidence. None of this is debated in the Loksabha. And, despite this, our President bemoans that the executive in this country has no independence and is being subjected to legislative and judicial examination on each one of its actions.

Our executive is getting out of control and deserves to be immediately unseated in the next elections. It has no respect for the democratic process at all!

CBSE amends bylaws to waive fees for girl child

The Times of India reports: CBSE amends bylaws to waive fees for girl child

So it is finally official now. Bylaws have been amended. No debate. No scope for debate. It now has to be followed.

Why are our rulers so insensitive? The silence of CBSE schools is worrying.

There are some aspects of this move quite amusing!

* If the schools so wish, they can waive the transportation and meal charges as well. [Right! And if they want they can pay the students an extra stipend as well, buy them all a bicyle, pay for the weekend movies and free crackers for Diwali!]

* Schools affiliated to CBSE have the option of implementing this decision with immediate effect or from the next academic session beginning April 2006. [And, if the schools want, they can retrospectively reimburse the fees paid by such single girl children over the last 5 years?]

CBSE distributes free lunch, by robbing private schools

Friday, November 11, 2005

Sify and Rediff increase their war chest

Two of India's top Internet companies have looked at different ways of increasing their capital.

Recently Times of India's Internet venture brought in capital by diluting a small part of its equity.

Sify and Rediff are publically listed companies, listing their ADRs in Nasdaq, USA. In case of Sify, Satyam Computers is exiting completely by selling its remaining shares to US-based Infinity Capital Venture, LP of Raju Vegesna. In addition, Raju Vegesna will also invest a further $37 million by way of new shares from Sify. This will make him the main investor in Sify, and he will be the Chairman of Sify.

Satyam Computers, for its part, has realised a total of $117 million for its initial investment of $5 million when it seeded and started Satyam Infoway (which was later renamed as Sify) in 1995.

In the height of Internet meltdown, the Indian stock markets regularly penalised Satyam Computers for its stake in Sify, primarily because of the poor understanding of the investors as well as the accounting policies in vogue. Satyam Computers owned more than 50% of Sify and hence had to accumulate the losses Sify incurred in its books. This is not a cash loss anyway. If any, this would help offset Satyam Computers profits and thereby only reduce the tax liability. Sify was an independent company, listed on its own and had enough cash reserves and did not require any further cash infusion from Satyam Computers.

Anyway, Satyam Computers desperately tried to de-subsidiarise Sify by offloading some equity. This happened in 2002 when Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund (SAIF) and Venture Tech Solutions invested $20 million into Sify.

Now, Satyam Computers has left completely.

As for Rediff, it is going for a public offer of a little over 3 million ADS at $15.86 per ADS, expecting to raise $ 48 million from the offering. The offering has been underwritten by Deutsche Bank Securities. You have to note that the offering is priced a bit lower than its current market price of $ 16.51.


However, it appears to me that Sify has pretty much given up on its Internet content side of things. Retail Internet is being squeezed on a steady basis with the near death of dial-up. Broadand growth is still chaotic for anyone who is not a telco. Sify Iways will also find doing business difficult when the margins are falling and grey market cyber cafes can provide connectivity at extremely low rates. Corporate services is the only growth market (including hosting services). The business will be quite challenging.

Rediff's content revenues have grown substantially. There will be a huge potential here.

Neither Rediff nor Sify have a measure of the mobile side of things with Times Internet's mobile revenue at the very top.

The market is still open and far from mature. So anything could happen over the next two years.

Sun TV settlement

The Sun TV group is a privately held group. It runs close to 15 cable television channels across Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, has a presence in several countries in the world where Tamils are present and garners almost 70% of the television ad revenue in the Tamil Nadu market. It also owns and runs a Tamil weekly magazine Kungumam which has, in the last one year, increased its circulation phenomenally through giving away freebies. This group has recently bought Dinakaran newspaper group, running two Tamil daily newspapers - Dinakaran, the morning broadsheet and Tamil Murasu, the evening tabloid. The group also controls SCV, a cable TV distribution company in Tamil Nadu. In the nascent radio market Sun TV group owns Suryan FM in 4 towns in Tamil Nadu.

The channel is predominantly owned by Kalanidhi Maran, son of Murasoli Maran, who has been a Union Cabinet Minister last in the Vajpayee Government. The current Union Minister for Telecommunication and IT Dayanidhi Maran, who is the younger brother of Kalanidhi Maran also owns stakes in this group. The exact percentage is not known. The DMK leader Karunanidhi was thought to have stakes in this group, but the details were unknown. But a recent settlement announced two days back indicates that Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal has relinquished her 20% stake in the group. The valuation at which she relinquished her shares was not indicated.

Dayalu Ammal has donated Rs. 10 crores from the proceeds to her husband Karunanidhi and of this he is setting up a trust called 'Kalaignar Karunanidhi Charitable Trust' with an amount of Rs. 5 crores. The interest from this amount will be "spent for the development of Tamil language and [to render] financial assistance for medical treatment, marriages and educational pursuits to the poor and weaker sections", and that "the aid would not be confined to Tamils. Anyone who deserves would be given help."

I am more intersted in the valuations of the Sun TV group. Since the group derives the bulk of its income from television, the only comparable listed entity in India is Zee Telefilms. Zee has a larger footprint across India, but its revenues are seriously affected by competition as Zee is not number 1 in the Hindi market. Murdoch's Star and Sony make life difficult for Zee. Though Sun's footprint is currently restricted to South India, it is a reigning number 1 is all the southern markets. Zee dabbles in film production. Sun doesn't. In the end, I do think both companies are comparable at least in terms of P/E ratio. If any, Sun's P/E should be marginally higher.

Zee's current market capitalisation is Rs. 6,200 crores. (41,25,05,012 outstanding shares, share price as of today Rs. 150.55).

Taking its 2004-05 figures, Zee's annual revenue was Rs. 1,360 crores. Profit Rs. 310 crores. Market cap on 31st March 2005 was lower at Rs. 5,730 crores. EPS Rs. 7.6, P/E = 18.3.

Zee's profits have dropped this year compared to the previous year whereas the stock price has gone up a bit. So a P/E of 20 can be taken as of now. We can safely assume the same ratio for Sun TV group.

Now, what is Sun TV group's turnover and profit? The available data is for FY '03 when Sun TV group reported a turnover of Rs. 224.43 crores. The industry estimates for Sun TV group's television revenue from 7 of its top channels is Rs. 546 crores, with Sun TV (Tamil) revenue alone at Rs. 211 crores.

Taking into account the recently acquired newspaper business, magazine business and the Cable MSO business, Sun Group's total revenues could easily be of the order of Rs. 700 crores. While the radio business may be a money sink for now, the profit margins could easily be more than that of Zee, so let us take a 28% (as opposed to Zee's 22%) profit margin.

So hazarding a guess there, Sun Group's profits would be Rs. 150 crores. Hence its valuation should be at the least Rs. 3,000 crores. A listing of Sun TV group will probably command a far better valuation than this. It has a steadily increasing profits (as opposed to Zee), and is a number 1 in the southern markets and has massive growth opportunities. There is no competition in sight.

Even at Rs. 3,000 crores, the 20% stake of Dayalu Ammal must be worth Rs. 600 crores. What was the actual settlement at, if all she had gifted to her husband was Rs. 10 crores?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

An unhindered executive?

President Abdul Kalam, addressing the National Conference on Legal Empowerment has raised a very interesting question. This is an event attended by the Chief Justice of India Sabharwal and other Judges of the Supreme Court and among others, the Speaker of Loksabha.

While talking about the executive, Abdul Kalam says as follows:
The third pillar namely, the Executive is also expected to be as independent as possible and free of intrusions from the other two. All along it has been said that Executive is the third pillar of democracy, which is independent of the other two. I however, have a different view. Please do bear with me if I say that the independence that is expected of this pillar is only in theory and mostly eroded in actual practice. How can we expect to have an Executive to function independently when each of its actions is questioned and its functioning is made regularly actionable by and accountable to the independent powers enjoyed by the Legislature and the Judiciary?
In India, the executive turns out to be the Cabinet of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. In the Indian model, the executive, by design of the constitution, is not entirely independent. It must get most of its policy decisions passed as law through the legislature.

Why must we bemoan the lack of independence for the executive? The executive arm is the only one which can make policies for governing the country. The legislature can only accept or reject them. In most cases - in 99% of the cases - the legislature acts as a rubber stamp. The office of the president also acts in the same vein. How many private member bills have been passed recently in India? I would venture to say none. With the legislature fast becoming a rubber stamp and the opposition parties very rarely generating a lively debate, the executive has actually become more powerful than the constitution intended it to be.

Take the recent examples of fringe benefit tax and cash withdrawal tax proposed as part of the last budget - poor attempts which were accepted by the legislature after some token protest. Even Congress (I)'s Jairam Ramesh finds them unacceptable, but once the executive has decided on this, it just goes through the legislature. The ordinance on Patents is another. No debate that we have seen.

It is because of this that the common man has no recourse except going to the courts. In the past very few people challenged the decisions of the executive in the courts. Now this has increased. The judiciary has become bolder and unfortunately has started meddling in the affairs of the executive. But with a sensitive, people friendly executive, there will be less and less interference from the judiciary. The judiciary cannot interfere suo motu. It is only because of the aggrieved citizens complaining to the judiciary that the judiciary is forced to interfere and examine the legality of each and every ordinance or act or policy measures with the constitution as a reference point. I place the blame squarely on the executive and the legislature for the current mess.

The executive wing has not framed sensible rules for education, rehabilitation for affected people because of mass developement (dams etc.), mass disaster (Bhopal tragedy), reservation, centre-state relation etc. This is why in these fields there is endless litigation. There is no consensus on law making, there is no national debate before ordinances and acts are pushed through.

It is now upto the legislature and executive to fix their problem, rather than blaming the judiciary for their activistic role.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Unbundling the Local Loop

In April 2004, TRAI, The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, announced the broadband policy recommendations. The complete document is available in TRAI's website as a PDF file.

However, at that time, the government was in transition. Elections were held, Congress (I) and its coalition partners formed the government at the centre and Dayanidhi Maran of DMK became the Telecommunications minister. The new government announced its telecom policy in October 2004 (roughly an year back).

Maran's policy was very disappointing. I wrote about this in a column I was writing in (Tamil). (copy in Unicode also available in my blog) Maran has since consistently talked against local loop unbundling in every platform possible. TRAI had recommended that in order to increase the broadband penetration, local loop owned by BSNL, MTNL be unbundled and any private operator be allowed to offer DSL connectivity through this infrastructure. BSNL's unions opposed this recommendations. Maran and DoT opposed this recommendation. TRAI was quite happy in conceding that the local loop contructed in the last 5 years need not be shared with others. However Maran's ministry was not in favour of this either.

The DoT policy announced in October 2004 had set targets for broadband connectivity: 3 million broadband connections by December 2005, of which 50% (1.5 million) to be provided by BSNL/MTNL and the rest by the private operators. The result as of September 2005? 0.61 million total connections provided (that is 20% achievement on targets!), with BSNL/MTNL providing 0.26 million (2.6 lakhs) and the private operators 0.35 million. Projecting these numbers and considering vigorous sales in the last quarter of 2005, the numbers will probably reach 1 million at best. That is, probably close to 33% of the original target set.

TRAI, visibly worried by this fact has written a letter (PDF) to DoT. (The extracts available in the form of a press release from TRAI, dated 3rd November 2005.)

TRAI has recommended once again to seriously look at unbundling the local loop. I do not believe Maran will listen to these recommendations. The reason is that there is no pressure group to lobby for this. Business Standard had a debate on this topic (19th October 2005): Deepak Maheshwari, Secretary of ISP Association of India (ISPAI) - also GM, Corporate Affairs of Sify Vs RL Dube of BSNL.

Dube's article has enough in it to be fisked. Dube claims that BSNL will cross 0.5 million by December 2005 and 1 million by March 2006. In any case, this target is well below the projected target of 1.5 million by December 2005 by DoT. Dube goes on to state that broadband works only on "a computer with Pentium 4 and above and also a sound operating system." By sound operating system, I think he means Microsoft! This is utter nonsense. Broadband will work on a 10 year old computer with Intel 486 chip running a Linux OS. The real problem is, there are more people asking for broadband and BSNL is unable to supply them with connections fast enough. That is because BSNL has not invested enough in the DSLAM infrastructure. BSNL doesn't have the marketing and after service infrastructure. There are district headquarters where DSLAM is available but marketing is very weak. (ex: Vellore in Tamil Nadu. People can get broadband but they don't know why they should!)

BSNL believes that unbundling will result in private operators making a lot of money. But in reality, BSNL will get a rental for renting out the infrastructure to private operators. By way of open competition BSNL can extract the most from the private operators. This will not prevent BSNL from offering their own service to public at their own pace. BSNL can concentrate on using this money and investing in upgrading the copper elsewhere. The biggest beneficiaries will be the people and BSNL, while the private operators will also make some money, but not the most.

Why is Dayanidhi Maran reluctant?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

CBSE distributes free lunch, by robbing private schools

The Hindu reports: Free education for girls who are `single child' worries schools. Abinandanan has also blogged about this.

Effectively, the schools affiliated with CBSE must not charge any fees from a single girl child. In case of two girl children belonging to a family, each must be given a 50% fee waiver. The schools will lose affiliation if they do not conform to this norm. The schools are not going to be compensated for this loss by the Govt.

Most of the CBSE schools across India are run by private educational trusts. My daughter studies in one such school. (Heck, she is a single girl child as of now!) They depend on the fee income from the students. I know of most of my daughter's classmates. I would reckon that at least about 50% of the girls have no siblings. So in effect, assuming a 50-50 male-female split in new admissions, her school would lose 25% of the school fees! Or, they would have to increase the fees for others by 25%.

I can't understand which idiot in the CBSE thought of this scheme.

If the government wants to encourage education for girls, let them pay the money for this - from our tax earnings. Do not arm twist school managements into providing this free education. I doubt if this kind of random ruling can withstand challenge in a court of law.

This is farcical. This could also be a nightmare for the schools in terms of implementation. To quote The Hindu article:
The `single girl' status can be accepted based on a simple affidavit from the parent and inform the parents that in case the affidavit is found false, the school can take action and the Board will consider withholding certificates.
Suppose the certificates were issued and then the affidavid was found to be false? Ok, consider this issue. A girl child is allowed to write the final examination and before the certificate is issued, the parents have been found to have given a false certificate. The board withholds the certificate. The girl contests this in the court saying that the certificate is given for her ability in the examinations, not her parents' honesty. The correct procedure should be that if the affidavit is found to be false, the parents would be liable to pay the fees with interest and penalty. Now who do they owe this money to? The school or CBSE? Who will go and collect the money? What if the parents refuse to pay up claiming they are broke?

Good intentions and crap implementation. I hope this move is put to rest very quickly and the person who thought of this fired for incompetence.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tata Indicom non-stop mobile

Middle of October, Tata Indicom announced a pre-paid mobile deal, which results in getting free incoming calls for two years. The deal is supposed to be a promotional offer, applicable only till the end of November 2005.

In the general pre-paid mobile market in India, a recharge coupon has a fixed time validity. If the money is not used up within that time, unless you get hold of another recharging coupon, your phone can't be used even to receive a call. This is one of the biggest problems I foresee in the growth of the pre-paid segment, particularly amongst the low income families.

Normally, the time validity of the recharge coupons is lower and lower for a smaller denomination. Take Airtel for example. Upto Rs. 120 recharge voucher, the validity is 90 days. For Rs. 200, validity is 120 days, and for Rs. 3,300, the validity is 1 year and 3 months. Most people will probably be buying recharge coupons in the range of Rs. 200-400, which will give them validity of 4 to 5 months. With several other operators, this time period may be lower.

However, in Tata Indicom deal, for any recharge voucher ranging from Rs. 50 to Rs. 3,000, the validity of the "free incoming call" is 2 years. Thus, someone could pick up a handset (lowest on offer Rs. 2,499) and then buy a Rs. 50 prepaid coupon. He has a phone working for the next two years, which can at least receive calls. It is a great deal for several low income families, poor students living away from homes etc. They can always be contacted by others.

I saw in a TV commercial yesterday that this offer has been extended also to Tata Indicom's Walky, a fixed wireless terminal. This is an even better deal, since the cost of the handset would be lower (I have to verify this), prompting more lower income households to go for this phone.

I also read somewhere, but can't now locate the URL, that GSM phone companies have complained to TRAI that this offer is predatory on the part of Tata Indicom. Tata Indicom is number six in the game - after Airtel, Hutch, Reliance, BSNL, Idea. They have to be predatory or else they will be destroyed. This is the only way, they can grow their market share. It would also show the way for established market players to increase the mobile phone penetration.

IISc asks for more money

Abinandanan points to an article in The Hindu, Bangalore edition about IISc asking the Central Government for Rs. 700 crores for modernisation.

IISc was given Rs. 100 crores in the last budget to help it upgrade to world class. However, IISc director P.Balaram points out, quite rightly, that
Rs. 100 crores may look like a big sum, but it is not much. Every new laboratory that comes up costs us at least Rs. 40 lakhs. The new institutes that the Ministry of Human Resource Development is building in Kolkata and Pune have a budget of Rs. 500 crores... Let us be clear. IISc. cannot become a Stanford or a Harvard just because it got a Rs. 100-crore grant. That expectation is unrealistic. It can begin modernising its facilities with the grant.
Basically IISc will spend this money to
  • Modernise physics and biology labs
  • Digitise books in IISc library
  • Start earth sciences department
  • Focus on emerging areas of nanotechnology and nanosciences
Balaram doesn't think he may get all the money he asked for. I think however that the Government should look at allocating even more money. If we want world class institutions, we can't hope to achieve that with 100 crores. We need 10,000 crores or more to be spent on basic sciences. We need more institutes set up on the likes of IISc, at least 5 more such across India, similar to IITs and IIMs. I hope the ministers concerned take a look at this seriously.

However there is something else that I saw in Abinandanan's post which is worrying me. Regarding a proposal to start undergraduate program, he quotes a news item on The Hindu, 29th October 2005:
The proposed undergraduate programme is contingent upon acquiring the land as the present campus does not have the infrastructure to meed the demands of an additional undergraduate programme.


However, the idea has evoked a mixed response among the IISc faculty. Several of them feel the establishment of an undergraduate programme will take away from the institute's avowed focus on research. "The workload of teaching undergraduates is far too much. Many of them have to be spoon-fed," says a senior faculty member.


Acknowledging the ambivalent response, the senior faculty member involved with the initiative says that even if an undergraduate programme is established, there would be no need for current faculty members to be concerned because new faculty members will be hired for hte undergraduate programme. "We will probably go on a faculty recruitment drive by which a whole new group will be added."

I am surprised about this. If IISc doesn't show commitment to undergraduate education, how do they expect to create good enough students at the graduate level? Creating a new set of faculty members will not be a solution. I would even go so far as to say that any funding to IISc must be contingent upon them starting the undergraduate school and agree to create a certain number of undergraduates every year.

I have looked at the Madras University syllabus for BSc Physics. A nephew of mine is studing in a local Chennai college. The syllabus is horrible, the teaching is atrocious. Three years of junk. I recommended a few basic physics books to get him inetersted in physics (as opposed to writing and cracking the useless exams). His college library doesn't have Feynman Lectures. They have couple of copies of Asimov's "Understanding Physics", but there is too much demand. You can't have it for more than 15 days. I am sure there are several other recent books (which I have not heard off), but none of that will be there in the local college library.

While it is going to be difficult to improve the standard of undergraduate science education across the country, effort should be made at least in a few locations. IISc cannot shirk its responsibility in this regard.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On stealing highlights and the very feed itself

The ongoing India-Sri Lanka one-day cricket series rights have been sold to Prasar Bharati by BCCI. This is a stop gap measure. Since the full 5-year rights have not been sold by BCCI, it has been selling series by series rights ad-hoc to Prasar Bharati. The 5-year rights is highly embroiled in controversy involving ESPN-Star Sports and Zee.

Cricket in India is a major seller. Everyone knows it. The news channels in particular. The news channels have been picking up the dirty feed (the TV feed with all its logos, bugs, advertisements in toto) in an unauthorised manner and build a packaged program around it. Sometimes it is extended highlights, showing almost every wicket and fours and sixes. The program is anchored by some ex-cricketer, a few viewers call in, some statistical analysis done and voila, there is content for 30 minutes to one hour.

However this is in violation of all normal rules. News channels are normally given a maximum of two minutes of footage. In most cases, the host broadcaster puts this package together from the clean feed and makes this available to the news channels. However, in India, picking the dirty feed off the satellite is par for the course. No money to be paid to anyone. Just "Courtesy: Doordarshan or ESPN or Ten Sports or whatever."

Finally Doordarshan has woken up to the fact that this unauthorised stealing has been going on and have approached the Delhi High Court to restrain the channels from stealing the feed. reports that Sahara has picked as much as 77 minutes of the first one-day International, Asianet 45 min, Eenadu TV 21 min, India TV 16 min and TV 9 16 min.

Prasar Bharati is also planning to bill these channels for unauthorised usage.

I support Prasar Bharati.

However as the Government has decided that it will force the private channels to share their feed with Prasar Bharati on a revenue sharing basis, why not let every channel pull the dirty feed from Doordarshan and build innovative programs on top and merely ask Prasar Bharati to work out revenue shares with these channels?

That will be even better? Especially as non-Hindi, non-English audience will get to watch the dirty DD feed with local presenters having fun in their local languages?