Four out of five people in Tamil Nadu watch this group's TV channel. No TV channel, Indian or foreign, can reach any audience in the state without its sayso. It has just produced the costliest movie ever made in Asia and most of the successful movies made in the state this year came from its production houses. It recently acquired a national low-cost airline and is said to be eyeing a regional one. No, we are not talking of any big business group. This is about the first family of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, better known as the DMK, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, which grabbed eyeballs because of the alleged involvement of one of its ministers in the Union government in the 2G spectrum scam.
Muthuvel Karunanidhi, 86, the DMK patriarch and Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister, does not need to necessarily seek funding from big business: his family members are great at starting businesses and making them thrive. No other political family in India that dabbled in business has managed to grow so big and dominate the businesses they are in as the Karunanidhis.
Their businesses span TV and print media, FM radio, TV distribution, movie production and distribution, real estate and even airlines. The market capitalisation of its listed firms alone exceeds Rs 22,600 crore.
(From left) Dayanidhi Maran, M. Karunanidhi, superstar Rajinikanth and Kalanithi Maran, at a special screening of Enthiran.
Sun TV Network, owned by Karunanidhi's grand-nephew Kalanithi Maran, the elder son of former Union minister Murasoli Maran, runs 20 TV channels in four south Indian languages. Sun TV Network reaches over 95 million households across India and is available in 27 countries. Sun TV has an enviable channel share of 69 per cent in Tamil Nadu, according to TAM Media Research. Vijay TV, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's STAR TV, has 7.6 per cent. Jaya TV of rival All India Anna DMK has even less: 4.1 per cent.
Elsewhere in the TV crazy south, Sun Network's Gemini TV controls 43.7 per cent of the Andhra Pradesh market, and Udaya TV has 39.5 per cent of the Karnataka market. The dominance shows in Sun TV Network's performance. In the quarter to September 30, 2010, Sun reported an operating margin of 80.41 per cent. Even national players do not compare: Zee Entertainment's operating margin for the same quarter was 48.38 per cent.
Kalanithi Maran holds a 77 per cent stake in Sun TV Network. Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal sold out her 5.75 per cent stake in October 2005 before the group made its maiden public offering of shares. However, the Karunanidhi family owns Kalaignar TV, which broadcasts four Tamil channels. The TV channel was floated during the brief feud between the Karunanidhis and the Marans in 2007. According to government records, Dayalu Ammal has a 60 per cent stake in Kalaignar TV, while Karunanidhi's nephew Amirtham Periyanayagam has 20 per cent. Combined, Kalaignar TV and Sun TV have 82 per cent of the Tamil TV market.