Say you have an exceptional idea for a local television channel in India.
This TV station of yours will transmit signals to the satellite from India. (In telecom language, you will uplink from India, which most broadcasters do.) To do so, you need to check these boxes first. Your company should have a net worth Rs 5 crore ($769,500) for a non-news channel and Rs 20 crore ($3.07 million) for a news channel. You need permission from the government. So, you approach the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry with your application and a processing fee of Rs 10,000 ($153.9). The I&B ministry sends your application to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for security clearance. Then, it goes to the Department of Space (DoS) for satellite usage clearance. Also, to the Department of Revenue. And finally, the application comes back to the empanelled auditors and internal officials of I&B ministry for clearance.
You’d think you should be able to run the channel at this point? You’d be wrong.
You still need clearances from Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) and Networks Operation Control Centre (NOCC). Once done, you may launch by paying the government Rs 2 lakh ($3,078) annually. If you are lucky and your content has to be uplinked from abroad, you may skip certain permissions, but you pay an entry fee of Rs 10 lakh ($15,390) and an annual fee of Rs 15 lakh ($23,085).
This entire process can be delayed indefinitely by the ministries and the departments involved as there is no legal timeline to bind the process. To top it all, it’s all done manually.
For some, it takes a few months. For others, like Raghav Bahl, it could take years.
Bahl exited the television news business after Reliance Industries took control of his Network18 India Investments in 2014, and later that year, he launched Quintillion Media Pvt. Ltd that operates the news website thequint.com. In 2016, Bahl forged a partnership with New York-based Bloomberg LP to launch a co-branded television news channel and website in a bid to re-enter the TV news business. The television channel was supposed to launch in a few months after regulatory approvals, but the company never got the permission.
After a prolonged wait, Bahl, who declined to comment on the matter, reportedly went the acquisition route, bought a licence from a Kolkata-based media company called Horizon Satellite Services. He then applied for a name change of the licence to BloombergQuint in 2017. The application is still pending with the ministry, and the company continues to be focused on its digital venture.
But Bahl might have to wait a bit longer.