When the suggestion of sharing my thoughts for the next two decades first came to me, I paused for a moment wondering how fast two decades had passed for Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. The pace of the developments sank in as I looked around. Before I share my views on the next two decades, I would like to look into the rear view mirror and assess our eventful journey.
In 1990, a casual visit to the office of Doordarshan in Mumbai inspired me to launch a satellite TV channel, even though at one point, I had toyed with the idea of entering the cellular phone business. A school friend in Doordarshan arranged a meeting with the Chief Engineer. This was the focal point in my entry into TV broadcasting, then reserved for the public sector.
When the world including India watched CNN broadcast the Gulf war, I wondered, "Why can't India have its own private satellite channel?" I kept questioning the authorities: "How was CNN allowed?" The answer that I got from the government authorities was: "They were being beamed from a foreign country." I explored the possibility of setting up a terrestrial channel based in Nepal. But we learnt that the signals would not reach the major Indian cities. Finally, after a lot of struggle, assistance came from unfamiliar sources and in the form of a fund from Hong Kong, three non-resident Indian friends and some other venture funds.
The existing media companies in India felt satellite TV would not succeed here. Since I did not know anything about the media business, I had no such fears.
Launching a private satellite TV channel meant roadblocks at every stage. When I broached the subject with the then secretary for information and broadcasting, he was livid. "You will introduce consumerism and destroy the country. Your proposal will be cleared only over my dead body," he thundered. I approached several legal luminaries. All of them shot down my proposal. But I was not going to take a 'no' for an answer and I worked out a strategy. My question was simple, "If foreign channels like CNN and BBC could be viewed in the country, why not a private Indian channel?"