Jan 2, 2009

Entertainment - STAR Plus presents `Lux Arre Deewano Mujhe Pehchano

Grab your microscopes, exercise your cheeks and get ready to be entertained by our disguised celebrity contestants who say: Arre Deewano Mujhe Pehchano!Every Fri-Sat at 10 pm, only on Star Plus

Lux Arre Deewano Mujhe Pehchano is STAR Plus’ first offering in the New Year to keep the viewers entertained with a BIG dose of laughter, disguises and fun! Eight celebrity contestants - Gulshan Grover, Divya Dutta, Mona Singh, Yash Tonk Mahesh Manjrekar, Mandira Bedi, Rakhi Sawant and Sweta Keswani - are ready to con the unsuspecting in this world with their pranks to ring in the New Year. The Friday premier on January 2 will feature the first four out of eight celebrities (Gulshan Grover, Divya Dutta, Mona Singh, Yash Tonk), who bring out the joker in them to pull the wool over many unwary targets. Not only that, they will also do a stand-up act on their experiences making matters worse for their victims and filling the viewers’ life with loads of masti. The celebrity among celebrities as will be the director/actor with terrific comic timing, Sajid Khan, who appears as the guest on the show.

For the first time ever in the history of Indian television, STAR Plus brings to fore a new technology animated interactive character - ‘Gadhashri’ who will provide the ‘vishesh tippani’ or special comments on the performances. There will be internal voting among the celebrities in which each one chooses the best act and crowns the celebrity who has performed the act as ‘Sabse bada Behrupiya’.

Watch out for…

·Gulshan Griovers’s prank as a casting director’s

Gulshan Grover played a casting director who is conducting an audition for an Indo-Hollywood venture and is looking for a lead. Neetu who walks in to the audition completely oblivious of the prank, is taken aback when her not-so-important role turns into a lead. She dances, emotes and performs action stunts for the director and falls prey to Gulshan’s fabulous disguise.

·Mona Singh as a fat lady who wants her husband to look like John Abraham

Mona plays a fat lady who wants her thin husband to lose weight and look like John Abraham. She gets a personal trainer at home and psyches him out with her antics

·Yash Tonk as a police officer

Yash Tonk plays a policeman who is harassing people on the street, he catches hold of a young boy (TV artist by profession) and hassles him suspecting him of being drunk.

·Divya Dutta cheats to get engaged

Divya Dutta plays a prospective bride and cons a man desperately wanting to get married. Divya cheats him to get engaged to her in their very first meet and catches him off guard.

Stringing all these pranks, embarrassment and the victim’s reactions together will be the very vivacious and versatile host Kavita Kaushik. She will help create the balance in the moods between the gags, stand-up acts and Gadhashri’s flirtatious and mischievous comments.STAR Plus brings you a dream come true reality show - free from clichés, emotional outbursts at eliminations and unnecessary melodrama!

Mktg - Of brands & advertising 2008

Madhukar Sabnavis

In the five-episode Ponds ‘White Beauty’ campaign, two stars Neha Dhupia and Priyanka Chopra fight out a love triangle for the attention and love of another star, Saif Ali Khan.

In a series of ads promoting ‘value-added’ services for Airtel, Vidya Balan and Madhavan, two Bollywood stars, switch on their screen ‘couple’ chemistry to entice consumers to prefer Airtel.

In the’ voice sms’ commercial for Airtel, King Khan coaches Chote Nawab to say sorry with emotion to win back the heart of his girlfriend, Kareena Kapoor. There is a starlet as Kareena’s companion.

To launch Airtel DTH, seven stars come together to invite a busy executive home to enjoy the benefits of high-quality television viewing. Madhavan and Vidya Balan receive him at the airport, he bumps into Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir in his apartment block lift, he is welcomed home by Kareena Kapoor, he is surprised to see AR Rahman ready to perform for him, and finally, Saif Ali Khan offers him and his nuclear family the grand red sofa to sit on and enjoy the show.
Welcome to the world of multi-starrer advertising. Celebrity craze has been a part of advertising-dom for years, but 2008 saw brands upping the ante on stars to go bigger and larger in numbers. As every category bites the celebrity bug, using more than one celebrity emerges as a new phenomenon. It is interesting to see two mass brands do the same in one year, setting a new benchmark — or is it too early to say?

Talking of stars, Bollywood and cricket stars were part of creating India’s first global brand. They were integral to the biggest marketing initiative of the year—IPL. To take on a format which is nascent in cricket — T20 — and create a tournament based on domestic cities with mixed players from across the globe and pack over 50 matches in 44 days was daring. Full credit needs to be given to the brand creator, Lalit Modi, who backed it with all his might, and his instinct and faith got rewarded. The stadia were full, soaps and game shows on televisions were upstaged and the brand got extensive unpaid-for media coverage and lots of paid-for sponsors. The final proof of its success is that a national team refused a foreign tour to participate in next year’s edition, two cricketing nations are planning their own versions and England may co-host the second edition. The second tournament will throw its own challenges but it cannot be denied that India has created a global brand for the cricketing world to consume and emulate!

It’s the same boldness in thought and action that created a media brand in the general entertainment space — Colors. Being the nth channel to be launched, it’s always tough to be a follower. However, Rajesh Kamat and his team dared to break rules and do things differently to garner eyeballs. Khatron Ke Khiladi, a reality show with Akshay Kumar and his team of starlets, was aired on day one. And it was followed with Bigg Boss and Balika Vadhu, a new theme in soaps. Colors ends the year as the No 2 Channel just behind Star — a commendable achievement, given that INX Entertainment and NDTV Imagine couldn’t make a breakthrough despite the promoters’ great experience in television.

2008 saw a surfeit of interesting advertising in the ‘banking’ space. Union Bank of India’s ‘Your dreams are not only your own’ touches a real chord in a highly affiliative Indian society. Indian Overseas Bank’s ‘Partner in Growth’ campaign, using the click of a child’s fingers, is quite endearing. The IDBI campaign ‘Not only for the big boys’ is clutter-breaking and innovative. ING’s corporate communication has a wonderful jingle and highlights the cultural meaning of money, much as Tata Capital’s advertisement eulogises the value of money. It’s nice to see a ‘mind’ category like money handled with so much ‘heart’. At one level, each brand makes a different point. However, dig deeper beyond messaging and maybe bank ads are getting into a similar emotional space and consumers could start mistaking one for another. There is a strain of Bank of India’s ‘Rishton ki Jamapunji’ campaign in many of these works. At the product level, banks tend be the most commoditised category; there is a lurking danger that the advertising too could be getting commoditised.

If banks got attention through emotions, youth brands took ‘irreverence’ to a new level. Motoyuva opened the year with an ad that had a son impertinently plugging his ears while his father harangued him. It followed up with another where the student hoodwinks his teacher pretending to be studying while he is making on his Motoyuva a sketch of the gullible professor. Virgin Mobile had a girl implying she is swinging the ‘wrong’ way to get her parents to allow her to go to Goa with her friends. And in a second execution, a guy eases a mother off with his phone to ‘flirt’ with her daughter. Sprite, this summer, made ‘double dating’ look cool. These ads stirred controversy on whether they were promoting bad ‘social’ behaviour; however they definitely brought ‘the darker yet real side’ of youth out of closets and reflect a less prudish society. Interestingly, three hit Bollywood movies — Fashion, Dostana and Bachna Ae Haseeno — all had protagonists going off the ‘conventional good paths’ and had audiences accepting them for what they were.

Let me end with a Bollywood brand that did things differently this year— Ghajini. If viewed closely Ghajini is a ‘B-grade action revenge love story’ which audiences have seen many times over. However, it was brilliantly packaged and promoted by Aamir Khan, and that made it the biggest blockbuster of the year. What’s interesting about its promotion is that it used limited above-the-line promotion; and focused more on media relations and ground activation. Each channel got a unique angle of the brand story as programming — each driven by the brand ambassador. And on ground, it used innovative methods to create buzz — from Aamir Khan giving people a Ghajini cut to ushers in the ‘weird’ haircut to a mannequin in multiplex foyers for fans to photograph themselves with. As we move into 2009 which looks to be a tough and challenging year, there is a message in the Ghajini story — BTL could work harder than ATL.

Something worth thinking about.

The author is Country Head, Discovery and Planning, Ogilvy, India. Views expressed are personal

Lifestyle - Consumer confidence takes a dive

NEW YORK The way things are going, The Conference Board might want to consider changing the name of its Consumer Confidence Index. There's not much confidence left to measure.

In a report released today, The Conference Board said the level of confidence sank "to a new all-time low in December." For those of you keeping score at home, the latest Consumer Confidence Index figure is 38 (on a scale pegged to a 1985 benchmark of 100), down from 44.7 in November.

The index's Present Situation component dropped sharply (to 29.4, from 42.3 in November), while the Expectations component declined modestly (to 43.8, from 46.2 in November). A more negative assessment of the job market contributed to consumers' gloomy outlook on current conditions.

The Conference Board report is anything but an outlier, as other measures of consumer confidence have been similarly glum. One example: Rasmussen Reports' release today of its ongoing Consumer Index polling found a grand total of 9 percent of respondents rating the economy as good or excellent, while 61 percent rated its condition as downright poor. Likewise, a Gallup report last week found 78 percent of its respondents voicing negative views of the economy. After a brief uptick around Thanksgiving, Gallup's measure of consumer confidence "remains near the low point for the year." Little wonder that a separate Gallup report earlier in the month found about 40 percent of respondents saying they'd worried about money on the day before being queried.

Such economic gloom is by no means confined to the U.S. That's clear in reading an Ipsos Public Affairs study, issued last week under the cheery title "Global Economic Meltdown: Systemic Shock." Reporting on its latest wave of polling (fielded in November) in 22 countries, the study noted sharp drops in consumer confidence in nearly all of them. In the poll's European Union countries, for example, the percentage of respondents with anything good to say about their national economy sank to 30 percent, from 39 percent in April and 53 percent last October. The Asia/Pacific respondents displayed a similar pattern, with the percentage expressing a positive view of their national economy declining to 32 percent, from 48 percent in April and 62 percent last October. Among the BRIC countries, Brazil was the conspicuous exception to an otherwise steeply downward trend.

Even in Brazil, though, a majority of respondents (76 percent) said they've recently cut back on their spending due to "the current state of the global economy." Indeed, the Netherlands was the study's only country in which fewer than half the respondents said they're cutting their spending (45 percent said so there). The proportions of people saying they are cutting their spending was especially high in South Korea (87 percent), Turkey and Argentina (both 84 percent), Mexico (83 percent), France (81 percent) and China and the U.S. (both 80 percent). It was comparatively low in Sweden (52 percent) and Germany and the Czech Republic (both 59 percent).

Across all countries in the Ipsos report, entertainment was the category in which the highest number of respondents said they've reduced their spending (76 percent said so), followed closely by vacations (73 percent) and luxury items (72 percent)

Business - PepsiCo goes hi-tech to ensure potato supply

Suvi Dogra

Having faced sourcing issues for potato in 2008, food and beverage major PepsiCo is planning to ensure supply by introducing farming equipment and technology and new potato seed varieties to decrease chances of crop loss. It also aims to increase the acreage under contract farming by entering new states across the country.

“We will introduce new hand-held and semi-automatic equipment from Taiwan and Thailand with the vision to increase yields and reduce losses,” PepsiCo International Regional Agronomy Director (South Asia) Ray Nalder told Business Standard.

The company is introducing direct seeding and harvesting equipment given the low mechanisation involved in cultivating food-grade potatoes in the country, which leads to loss of yield. It will also bring in new instruments to achieve sustainable irrigation and water efficiency in the fields specially for paddy farming. This is in line with PepsiCo’s aim to achieve positive water balance this year.

Nalder, however, did not share the investment figures involved for the initiative. “Farmers need to be profitable, and not just sustainable. We will invest enough to ensure the model is adopted by more farmers,” he said.

Frito-Lay, the food arm of the company, uses around 150,000 tonnes of potatoes per annum for its products, 50 per cent of which comes from contract farming. PepsiCo has partnered with more than 10,000 farmers working in over 12,000 acres across Punjab, UP, Karnataka, Jharkand, West Bengal, Kashmir and Maharashtra for the supply of potatoes.

In 2008, PepsiCo faced shortage of process grade potato due to crop failure in Maharashtra on account of drought, in Karnataka due to late blight and in Punjab due to frost. This led to a short supply of some of the faster moving stock-keeping units (SKUs) for PepsiCo’s potato chip brand Lay’s.

PepsiCo, which has introduced six high-quality, high-yield potato varieties in the past, will also introduce new potato varieties in the country this year.

“We have already developed new varieties of food grade potatoes and we are now working on two more varieties-bred in India for India,” Nalder said. The new varieties are said to be better suited for Indian weather.

Further, with an aim to make India a sourcing hub for its juice brand Tropicana, PepsiCo plans to make its citrus farming initiative in Punjab commercial. “India has the potential to be the sourcing hub for PepsiCo worldwide,” Nalder said. “The citrus plants that we have developed in Punjab took 6 years to grow and experiment has been successful. We plan to make our operations commercial by next year,” he added.

Business - Why Bajaj Auto got left behind

Shobhana Subramanian

There was a time when it seemed the Chetak would never go out of style; it was probably the largest-selling scooter in the world and by the time it was phased out in late 2005, around ten million Chetaks had been produced. Today, Bajaj Auto barely sells 700 scooters a month — it’s Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India (HMSI) that has taken charge of the market clocking volumes of close to 60,000 in November, 2008. For that month, HMSI was the country’s second largest two-wheeler maker, leaving Bajaj Auto at number three.

Why did Bajaj Auto get left behind in the scooter race? How could a company let go of such a great franchise? It’s true that some time around the mid-eighties, when Indo-Japanese motorcycles made their debut, it was fashionable to own one — even something of a status symbol. The bikes were trendy, offered tremendous economy, and weren’t too expensive either. Men didn’t want to be seen driving scooters and slowly switched to bikes and not too many women were driving scooters at the time.

But the scooter too could have evolved from the archaic, two-stroke geared contraption with a side-engine that it was, to the gearless, easy-to-drive, reliable and fuel-efficient models that even women are driving today. In fact, Kinetic Honda did come up with a couple of models, but Bajaj Auto couldn’t make the grade—industry watchers say the company didn’t spend enough time and money on R&D and possibly tried to cut corners, while sourcing components, in order to keep the price affordable. To be fair, Bajaj probably wanted to focus on the motorcycles market which then looked to be a big opportunity. To its credit, it managed to transform itself from a scooter company to a motorcycle company with some help of Kawasaki. In the premium segment, for instance, it has been the market leader with models like Pulsar and some of its executive segment models, such as the Discover, too have done well. Perhaps the management felt it didn’t have the wherewithal to focus on both scooters and motorcycles.

But it was also true that Bajaj didn’t try hard enough; possibly because it felt that the opportunity in scooters, whether for men or women, was over. In some ways it probably didn’t read the market correctly and that’s why it didn’t focus hard enough. Even LML managed to survive for a while and there was a time in 1998 -99 when Bajaj was faring worse than LML. The Legend, which Bajaj launched in 1998 and which was priced very competitively, didn’t exactly set the market on fire, neither did the Bravo, which came soon after. The products simply weren’t compelling enough. Even after Kinetic made the mistake of buying out Honda in 1999 (imagine where it could have been today had the collaboration continued!), Bajaj didn’t make too much of an effort to get back into the market. Without Honda behind it, it was only a matter of time before Kinetic lost its way. But instead of Bajaj which should have stepped in, it was HMSI that made the most of the opportunity.

Ten years later the scooter market is humming along. But it’s HMSI, which rode into the market in 2001, which is now the leader. HMSI re-invented the market with the four-stroke un-geared Activa, which was a runaway success and later the trendier Dio, which was an average hit. The Eterno, a modern version of the Vespa, didn’t find takers possibly because it was a geared, full size, four-stroke model.

Nevertheless, HMSI’s volumes are picking up. Its partner in India for motorcycles, Hero Honda, too has found itself a niche and some market share—the Pleasure, launched in early 2006, now does a run rate of 12,000-14,000 a month whereas in 2007, it was doing 7,000-8,000.The sharp positioning, targetted at women, has worked wonders, backed as it was by some wonderful advertising (‘Why should boys have all the fun?’) and all-women sales outlets. Interestingly, although Hero Honda is catering to women, 30 per cent of buyers are men and Hero Honda believes the ratio isn’t going to change in a hurry. There is clearly a market for scooters—in 2007-08 scooter sales were up 12 per cent, of course on a very small base. Sales of motorcycles, on the other hand, fell by 12 per cent. But in the current year too, sales of scooters could grow 10-12 per cent, going by the numbers so far. The size of the market now, at about a hundred thousand scooters and scooterettes a month, isn’t a bad number. It’s only a matter of time before Suzuki scales up—Japanese manufacturers are usually careful about putting in place a good sales and service network before they ramp up production. Meanwhile, Bajaj did come up with the Crystal but that hasn’t gone anywhere; since then there hasn’t been much talk about scooters. It seems to have given up altogether.

India - Airfares cut

Full service carrier Kingfisher Airlines has decided to cut its basic fares up to 60 per cent. This announcement, which will mean around a 20 per cent cut in overall fares, follows competitor Jet Airways' and national carrier Air India's announcements to cut its basic fares at an average rate of 50 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively.

Low cost carriers SpiceJet and IndiGo have also announced special advance booking Rs 99 basic fares across all sectors today, while JetLite announced a cut of around 40 per cent across all sectors and special advance booking basic fares starting from as low as Rs 9.

Last week, Kingfisher had announced a range of fare cuts without exactly specifying the quantum of cuts across sectors.

While the fares have been marketed well and have led to a major response from the consumers, the airlines have smartly kept the artificial floor of fuel surcharges intact at Rs 2,500-3,000. The major onrush of the passengers actually led to one of the major Indian travel portal crashing day before yesterday.

“We have had to offer some lower fares since we saw February and March going really slow in terms of bookings. But after the lower fares were launched our overall bookings have gone up by around 70 per cent today compared to yesterday,” Sanjay Aggarwal, CEO of SpiceJet had said a day after they made the fare cut announcement.

ATF prices, which accounts for the single largest chunk of an airline’s costs have come down by more than 50 per cent compared to August prices. ATF currently accounts for less than 40 per cent of an airline’s costs, compared to 50 per cent around three months earlier. The civil aviation ministry has been in turn making repeated appeals to airlines to pass on the benefits of these cost cuts to passengers to stimulate air travel, which has seen a decline this year compared to last.

Personality - Omar Abdullah

Aasha Khosa & Saubhadro Chatterji

When Omar Abdullah took his first plunge into Kashmir politics in 1998, the odds were stacked heavily against him. Separatists were at their peak and the National Conference, founded by his grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, almost 50 years ago, was seen as a stooge of New Delhi.

Born to Farooq Abdullah and a British mother, Omar Abdullah was far removed from the violence that was happening in Kashmir. He could barely speak Kashmiri. His mother, Mollie, who was shocked by the rise of militancy in Kashmir and had left India along with her three daughters for England, had declared to her husband: “He will join politics only over my dead body.’’

Ten years later, Omar Abdullah is all set to become the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir. At 38, he will be the youngest chief minister in the current crop. He has brought National Conference back into the reckoning in the state. More important, he has stepped out of the shadow of his father, Farooq Abdullah, who is widely seen as careless and flamboyant.

The mood in the valley was dead against the Abdullahs not so long ago. After all, Omar Abdullah had served in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), first as the minister of state for commerce and then as the junior foreign minister. The NDA liked to project him as its Muslim face. But, back home in Kashmir, it was seen as another deal by Farooq Abdullah to get his son a ministerial berth. This was also the period when the Gujarat riots were held and anger amongst Muslims ran high.

Naturally, the National Conference did badly in the 2002 Assembly elections. Omar Abdullah lost from the family’s traditional seat of Ganderbal. Nevertheless, he learnt his lesson and moved quickly to control the damage. At a press conference in Srinagar, he admitted his mistakes and sought forgiveness. Next year, he snapped all ties with the NDA. Omar Abdullah followed it with the disclosure that he had on several occasions, after the Gujarat riots, offered to resign.

Henceforth, he said and did what the people of Kashmir like. Unlike his father’s constant tirades against Pakistan, he took a more conciliatory route; he proposed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe custodial deaths and other human rights violations; and in the recent Amarnath row, he came out openly in favour of the Kashmiris.

He cleverly built bridges with the Congress in New Delhi during the recent trust vote in Parliament forced by the Left parties, though the Congress was in an alliance with the People’s Democratic Party in Srinagar.

Omar Abdullah, whose National Conference has just two Lok Sabha MPs, came to meet a senior minister to negotiate their support. For one and a half hours, he grilled the minister on different technical, legal and diplomatic aspects of the Indo-US nuclear deal. “My only requirement was that I should be satisfied about various questions. Now I am satisfied with your explanations. But I have to talk to my father and convince him,” Omar Abdullah told his host.

The senior minister was none other than External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. He took it upon himself to convince Omar. “I just told him, ‘Omar saab, you have to support us. This is in national interest’. And he readily agreed,” said Mukherjee. “I can see traits of Sheikh Abdullah in Omar Abdullah.”

His “I am a Muslim and an Indian too” speech in Parliament during the trust vote, repeated ad nauseam on national television, made him an instant hit with the country’s youth. Victory in the Jammu & Kashmir elections was the logical next step.

Omar Abdullah has friends at other places too. He is treated literally as a son by Sharad Pawar, the Union agriculture minister and the powerful chief of the Nationalist Congress Party. His links with Pawar became stronger when he attended Sydenham College in Mumbai for his commerce degree. It was in Mumbai, where he was working for a private firm, that Omar Abdullah met his future wife Payal, the daughter of a senior BJP leader from Haryana. Also, his sister, Sara, is married to the rising Congress star, Sachin Pilot.

India - TRAI starts review of intra-operator charges

NEW DELHI: Mobile tariffs may fall in the coming year, as the telecom regulator TRAI on Wednesday started review of various intra-operator charges
including for calls landing in each other's network.

Issuing a consultation paper on "Review of Interconnection Usage Charge", TRAI has sought information from all stakeholders on various charges payable by operators to one another for carriage and termination of domestic and international calls.

The new telecom operators, who are yet to start offering mobile services, had opposed the high rate of termination charge of 30 paise a minute and had demanded that it should be lowered to a maximum ceiling of 10 paise.

Termination charge is money paid by an operator to another on whose network the call ends.

TRAI has, however, maintained that termination charge cannot be reviewed in isolation. The whole of IUC, which comprises origination, termination, carriage and transit charges, needs to be looked at.

The new telecom players have said that since most of the calls originate from their networks would be terminated on the network of existing players, payment of 30 paise a minute would leave very little scope for them to offer innovative tariff schemes to their subscribers and would also put pressure on their margins.

Even Department of Telecom had indicated that termination charges need to be lowered, as the cost of building up networks has come down considerably over the last 4-5 years.

Business - Business Standard Motoring Car Of The Year 2009

The Business Standard Motoring Car Of The Year 2009 - the Honda City!

Oops, sorry if that lead picture made you gulp down your cup of steaming coffee. Yes, it is not a small car that has won our Car Of The Year award this time around.

Change, as they say, is here to stay. The game has moved a long way since Business Standard Motoring introduced the concept of Car Of The Year to India more than a decade ago. When we gave a formal structure to the COTY evaluation process, it was done in such a way that cars that are affordable to buy and run got the preference over everything else. That meant our enthusiast blood didn’t have much of a say in the matters, with the points structure leaning heavily towards cars that stretched a litre and cost less to own. That meant a series of small cars winning the honours. Maruti Suzuki Alto, Hyundai Santro, Maruti Suzuki Swift, Chevrolet Aveo U-VA, Hyundai i10… all are present in the winners’ rostrum. Sure, the occasional SUV (Mahindra Scorpio) and the sedan (Honda City) did win the honours, still.

Times have changed, buying preferences have changed, we do have a more educated customer base and we thought it was time we revised our COTY evaluation process too. So out goes the “weightage” system and in comes a crisp and clear voting format based on the European and Indian Car Of The Year awards. And as the coffee that burned the innards of your mouth would attest, we have a relatively big car taking the honours for 2009.

The system and the jury
As per the new system, a six member jury voted for seven finalists shortlisted from all the cars launched in the calendar year 2008. The elimination process ensured that imported cars and super luxury cars were sorted away to compete for other awards. Cars that are truly made in India and ones that take the game forward when it comes to design, performance, comfort and safety (not necessarily in that order) featured in the final contenders’ list.

Each member of the jury was allowed a total of 25 votes which he had to divide between a minimum of five cars after extensively driving the final contenders. But the maximum that each jury member could allot to a single car was restricted to 10 points.

The six member jury consisted of three road-testers, who keep thrashing new cars for a living, one travel writer, who subjects cars to real-life torture on varied terrain around the world, a former rally champion, who can terrorise cars by merely getting behind the wheel, and a seasoned enthusiast who owns, rides and drives everything from Kinetics to a Rolls-Royce (yes, his other car is a Rolls-Royce!). Time to get on with the evaluation then.

The contenders
Given a chance, it would have taken only a nano second to arrive at the winner — the Audi R8 is the stuff dreams of boys are made of. Alas, it happens to be a fully imported car, that too in rarefied numbers. Ditto the brilliant Audi TT and the eminently huggable Fiat 500. All three, sadly, got eliminated in the first round itself.

Amongst the luxury cars were the Honda Accord, which seems to do nothing wrong, the fresh-off-the-oven Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the Audi A4 that screams “sporty” standing still. These cars were important and would compete for the Business Standard Motoring Premium Car Of The Year 2009 award.
2008 Hyundai i10
2007 Chevrolet Aveo U-VA
2006 Suzuki Swift
2005 Hyundai Getz
2004 Honda City

A handful of SUVs, starting from the ever-so-tangible Sumo Grande (an improvement, but not a revolution over the previous model), the Chevrolet Captiva, that is a splendid diesel alternative to the Honda CR-V, and the refreshingly mould-breaking Mitsubishi Outlander were present too. None of them made it to the final shortlist however, though the Captiva did manage to take home some honours (See story: Need some fizz?). That left us with seven finalists.

Joint sixth
The Skoda Fabia is arguably the best built large hatchback money can buy in India today. Get into one blindfolded, and you will be certain that you are driving a sedan rather than a stubby hatch. Add to that brilliant ride quality over bad terrain and refinement akin to that of far more expensive machinery and you smell a winner. What ruined the equation for the Fabia, though, is the price. Sure, there is a basic version, but that is way too underpowered and not as refined. Even the premium image the Skoda brand enjoys in India did not find favour with the jury as it plummeted to the sixth and final slot that it shared with the Tata Indica Vista. Unfortunate, since the Fabia is a far better car than the new Indica.

The Indica Vista is a very important car for Tata Motors. The Fiat-derived multijet motor is leagues ahead of the engines that have powered the Indica in the past, and overall, the build quality has improved vastly. Tata never had an issue with ride quality, and the Vista handles well at the speeds it is capable of achieving. One has got to wait a while to know if the Vista is as reliable as its contemporaries, but we do know that it is economical to run. To quote the jury: “The future of the Tata hatchback looks promising if we can take the Vista as a starting point. The jury was suitably impressed (See story: Need some fizz?), but not enough to elevate it to the fifth slot.”

The Volkswagen Jetta was included in the shortlist since it impressed almost every road- tester who drove it. But a very high level of import content means a nasty price tag that spoils the Jetta story in India. As an automotive package, there are not many cars in India that can beat the Jetta — it has the right size, right engine (the diesel option) and right dynamics going for it. To quote the jury: “Fifth among seven finalists looks like a raw deal for such an excellent car, but then, one glance at the on-road price of the diesel model (Rs 17 lakh!) and you know why the Volkswagen scored poorly.”

A new Toyota Corolla is like another X’mas — full of cheer but you already know the ingredients. Its dictionary meaning should read “reliable” instead of “part of a flower” and there is little that you can fault with the car. The biggest issue with the Toyota is its competition from Japan — the Honda Civic, which looks like a concept car on the road when seen next to the sedate, Camry-inspired Corolla Altis. To quote the jury: “There are no negatives with the Corolla Altis, but there aren’t any significant strengths either. All said and done, this is not the kind of car that you will wake up on a lazy Sunday morning to drive.” Hence the fourth spot.

Hyundai sprang a surprise on us by announcing that they were launching the i20 in the last week of December, and then dropped our jaws by sending in a test car for the COTY evaluations. That meant almost all of the jury drove the i20 for the first time during our evaluations. A hurried road test revealed that the Kappa engine is not exactly energetic enough for the sorted-out dynamics of the new car. It certainly is economical and pretty stylish to look at too. To quote the jury: “This is one car that we will be recommending a lot in the near future. But an F1 inspired nose and a very ‘green’ motor does not make it as compelling a choice as, say, the Hyundai i10. Winning the third spot in a very competitive year is an achievement in itself though.”

First runner-up
The Maruti Suzuki A-Star is indeed the new Alto. And the entire Alto family (minus the original Zen) is selling well in India. The new small car is indeed a new benchmark when it comes to design, packaging and performance (the little 1000 cc motor revs to the moon to keep you entertained!). Add to that safety features available in top-end models and you know that the A-Star would have won handsomely had we retained the old rating system. To quote the jury: “This is as brilliant as small cars get. It’s affordable,economical and safe. Despite the small engine size, the A-Star is fun to pilot too. The first runner-up slot sadly does not communicate the ability of this car, but it has to be content with it.”

And the winner is...
That, ladies and gentlemen, gets us to this year’s winner. The new Honda City looks stunningly good, is brilliantly packaged and has one of the best engines meant for a car in its class powering it. Reliability and refinement can be taken for granted too. What is new is Honda’s nod to safety features for its best-selling sedan. Besides this, the new City can return 14 kpl even in traffic and deliver decent 150 kph plus performance when you demand it. To quote the jury: “The new City promises the sky with the i-VTEC engine and delivers it too. With one clean stroke, the new Honda sedan has raised the bar and the resulting car is worth every penny you spend on it. An exciting, quality car does not just deserve top honours, it demands it.” Congratulations, Honda Siel, for another spectacular win!

Business - Q&A: Robert Andersson;Nokia

Priyanka Joshi

Nokia’s high-end N-series is under price pressure from Apple. In addition, products based on Windows Mobile 6 and others like Google’s Android user interface have been beating Nokia in the touch-screen market. This, however, is not causing sleepless nights to Robert Andersson, executive vice-president (Devices Finance, Strategy and Sourcing), Nokia, responsible for finance and strategy in the devices unit since January 2008. Credited with devising Nokia’s strategy to use its brand and distribution channel to build its growth in the emerging markets, Andersson tells Priyanka Joshi the company’s survival strategy for the fickle market conditions, riding on markets like India. Excerpts:

Nokia has launched a slew of low-cost devices in the Indian market. Are these really going to help the company generate revenues or just volumes?
Growing the entry-level devices segment of the consumer segment is critical to our growth strategy. Growth will also come from internet-based services crafted for phone users in 2009. The internet-based service is a business that will feed off Nokia’s instaled base and hence it will grow even if there is a fall in handset sales.

We will continue to introduce a range of affordable mobile devices, specifically for people in emerging markets, that leverage the power of the internet. Estimated retail prices of the new devices will range between Rs 1,700 and Rs 6,000. Our suite of internet services for emerging markets will be made available by early 2009.

How will Nokia design the services?
The first services that Nokia will offer in emerging markets will focus on e-mail, agriculture and education, which based on consumer feedback, present the strongest demand in emerging markets like India. These services use an icon-based, graphically rich user interface that comes complete with tables. These can even display information simultaneously in two languages. Behind this rich interface, SMS is used to deliver the critical information to ensure that this service works wherever a mobile phone does, without the hassles of additional settings or the need for GPRS coverage. Nokia will launch the service in the first half of 2009 with the Nokia 2323 classic and the Nokia 2330 classic as the lead devices in India. Later in 2009, this will then be expanded to Asia and Africa. Further, we are looking to focus our internet services on music, maps, media, messaging and gaming, that are estimated to be approximately ¤40 billion in 2011 world over.

How does the ongoing economic situation affect Nokia’s growth story?
Our goal is to gain market share in 2009. Our highly variable, low fixed cost business model allows us to scale in a declining market. Nokia also expects operator and retail distribution channels to go through a period of destocking, resulting in lower sales volumes by manufacturers than purchase volumes by consumers in the first half of 2009. This will be an industry-wide trend. We are not exactly going to have cheaper devices, but will have more services to augment the existing devices. Several of Nokia’s new products will be more than just product upgrades.

Will there be a decline in demand for high-end handsets which are seen as too expensive?
It would be a phenomenon for all handset vendors and not just Nokia. Everyone will feel the pressure on margins but being the market leader with almost 40 per cent global share, we are much better placed to survive the present financial environment than other players.

Business - Telecom sector to create 1.5 lakh jobs in 2009

NEW DELHI: While others worry about the looming recession and job losses, the country’s telecom companies beg to differ. The sector will need up to
1,50,000 additional hands in 2009, according to the hiring consultants.

While new players are launching operations, existing ones are beginning to scale up. Now that the government has issued 120 new licences, telecom industry officials fear a talent crunch that could push salaries in core operations by up to 30% in the next few quarters.

“Conservative estimates put the demand from new players at one lakh people in the first phase. With rolling out of 3G and Wimax, existing players will need another 50,000 people,” said Kris Lakshmikanth, CEO of Bangalore-based Headhunters India.

Most of the new players would be looking for experienced hands, so getting people in such large numbers will be a great challenge, he added. Currently, the sector directly employs about 1,50,000 people, while providing jobs to another 1.5 million with retail outlets, prepaid card sellers and tower constructors.

And now with most telecom players expanding in the rural markets, the demand for manpower is expected to go up further. “The new players will have to attract talent by offering 15-20% higher salaries,” said Krish Shankar, HR (head), Airtel, the country’s largest telecom operator.

Some of the new players — such as Unitech, Swan, Loop Telecom and Shyam Telelink — have started hiring, and analysts feel this could drive poaching at top and middle management levels.

“Finding and retaining talent is a challenge today. Although we have an experienced workforce, at times they are short in supply. We generally look within the country itself, but are not closed to talent from anywhere, if need be,” said CN Nagakumar, chief human resource officer, Tata Teleservices.

The problem for the new players would be to get people in the core telecom space, which is primarily concerned with the technology of providing telecom services. While talent in sales and marketing can be found in abundance, sourcing professionals for setting up the infra-structure and networks would be difficult.

India - Free demat account: Courtesy brokerages

Shailesh Menon

MUMBAI: Brokerages have begun handing out free demat and broking accounts in their bid to encourage equity investments among retail investors.

Though such a generous marketing idea increases the burden on account books of brokers by about Rs 300 per fresh account opened, it will go a long way to strengthening the retail investor base of brokers, industry sources opine.

A whole lot of brokers - including large ones like Nirmal Bang and India Infoline - are offering free demat and broking account. Investors need to only pay margin money (which also has been reduced, 40 - 60% in some cases) and registration charges (around Rs 500) while opening free demat and trading accounts.

"It is but very natural for brokers to reduce fresh account opening charges; investors are not very keen to trade in equities now. Several brokerages have gone one step ahead and announced cut in margin money (used to be in the range of Rs 5,000 to 10,000) as well. By doling out such freebies, brokers are spending about Rs 300 (per account opened) from their pockets," said the retail equities head of Mumbai-based listed brokerage.

Though free demat and trading accounts are beneficial to investors, investment experts are already sounding the alert bugle. "Investors should look out for hidden charges or implied trade restrictions. In many cases, free accounts are offered for a specific period, say six months to one year. There are also brokerages that offer free demat and broking accounts, with exceptionally higher margin requirements. There could also be restrictions (in fineprint) with regards to how trades are done (online or call-based, cash market or F&O segment and number of trades done)," a Mumbai-based investment advisor said.

As per records with depositories, the number of fresh investor accounts has seen a near-60% drop when compared to accounts opened in January.

Precisely an year ago, when market was extremely bullish and there were a batch of hi-profile public issues waiting to hit the market, large-sized brokerages opened 6,000 to 10,000 fresh demat accounts on an average in a single day. Now, there are hardly 1,000 demat accounts opened in a single day, brokers said.

Entertainment - India;Colors may soon replace Star on top

Leena Mulchandani

MUMBAI: The pecking order in the Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) space is all set for a makeover as Colors has emerged as a strong
contender for the top slot.

For the last week of 2008 (week 52), only 40 GRP (gross rating points) separates Colors from the current leader Star Plus. This is according to data by TAM media research data covering C&S 4+, Hindi speaking markets.

Star Plus is at 295 GRP while Colors is at 255 GRP. Zee TV comes in third with 191 GRP after being placed in the second position last week. The channel’s GRP fell from 230 last week to 191 this week. Sony occupies the fourth position with 81 GRP. Star One is fifth while NDTV Imagine is at sixth spot with 80 and 65 GRP, respectively.

Colors’ reach is higher than that of Star Plus this week at 61.3%. The channel reached 54.8-mn viewers while Star Plus reached 53.5-mn viewers. Colors chief executive officer Rajesh Kamat said: “In less than six months, we have firmly established ourselves as the number two GEC. We believe our shows still have a lot of potential and we will continue to push them in 2009 too.”

Colors will concentrate on increasing the number of programming hours in 2009. “Currently, we have about 25 hours of original programming per week while the others have about 35 hours. To step up our programming, we will focus on afternoon and weekend programming,” he added.

The relative market share of Colors stood at 23%, which is 4% lower than that of Star Plus (27%). The channel share of Colors increased by 3% over last week. Star Plus, in turn, will launch new shows in the early months of 2009 to spice up its programming.

“When we add new shows or plan our way forward, we don’t do so in reaction to competition. In the New Year too, we will continue to bring in innovative and new programming,” a spokesperson for Star India said.

Entertainment - Hollywood will help moviegoers escape reality in 2009

Tom Long

The title of one film due in March pretty much sums up the overriding theme for movies in 2009: "Monsters vs. Aliens."

Of course, it's not all monsters and aliens. There are also wizards, superheroes, giant robots and ... well, you get the idea. The trend of escapist fantasy fare ruling the box office is sure to continue in the new year.

And why wouldn't it? The top films of 2008 were "The Dark Knight" and "Iron Man." The top films of 2007 were "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third" and "Transformers." Get the drift? Hollywood sure does.

Of course, there will be more thoughtful fare, as well, some even involving human interaction. "Duplicity," starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Tom Wilkinson, opening March 20, marks the return of writer-director Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"). "State of Play" (April 17) teams Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck in an American adaptation of the superb British conspiracy mini-series.


There will be other promising dramas as the year progresses, to be sure, but most eyes will be fixed on the blockbusters, and when it comes to blockbusters, fantasy rules.

The following 10 films seem like virtual slam dunks at this point. As always, the opening dates are dependent on studio whims, and the ultimate success of each is dependent on at least some modicum of quality (one hopes). But right now the ones to look for in 2009 are:

• "Watchmen" (March 6): This is the same weekend that director Zack Snyder debuted his huge hit "300." Now he's back with this comic-book adaptation starring Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson and Carla Gugino as former superhero colleagues who reunite after a suspicious death. Expect dazzling visuals and lots of cool costumes. (That's if it opens. Fox is seeking to delay the release of the film, claiming copyright infringement by Warner Bros.)

• "Monsters vs. Aliens" (March 27): A ragtag group of monsters that've been secretly held by the government have to join forces to protect Earth from an alien invasion in this animated 3D extravaganza. Voices by Reese Witherspoon, Rainn Wilson, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Keifer Sutherland and Stephen Colbert(!).

• "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (May 1): All eyes will be on this revival of the "X-Men" franchise, which would seem to have limitless possibilities. A host of new mutants are introduced as the story backs up to follow the roots of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine character from the first three films. The blockbusters of this summer seem front-loaded in May, and this should start things off with a bang.

• "Star Trek" (May 8): Speaking of origins, this recasting of the Trek series takes Spock, Kirk and all the rest back to their younger days. Directed by J.J. Abrams ("Lost") and featuring some inspired casting ("Shaun of the Dead" star Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho -- Harold from "Harold and Kumar" -- as Sulu), this looks like a major reinvention.

• "Terminator Salvation" (May 22): Christian Bale is already atop the biggest franchise in filmdom, so why not go for two? Here he plays John Connor, battling the evil computer Skynet and its army of terminators in the future. Directed by former Michigan boy McG. Will Schwarzenegger do a cameo? Stay tuned.

• "Up" (May 29): This year's Pixar entry is about a little old man who ties thousands of balloons to his house so he can fly down to South America. Except after taking off, he discovers a neighborhood kid has come along for the ride. Hey, it's Pixar -- when have they ever missed? Also arriving in 3D.

• "Year One" (June 19): Jack Black and Michael Cera are social outcasts on an epic journey through the primitive world in what's being billed as a sort of prehistoric "Superbad." What makes this special (and risky) is it marks the return of long-missing writer-director Harold ("Ghostbusters") Ramis.

• "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (July 17): The sixth installment in the ever-darkening "Potter" series sees director Peter Yates returning and Jim Broadbent joining the cast. It's Potter; it will be huge.

• "Julie and Julia" (Aug. 7): The power of chick flicks became apparent in 2008 with "Sex and the City" and "Twilight," and this should be a major contender for the lipstick crowd in 2009. Meryl Streep stars as famed cookbook writer Julia Child circa 1949, while Amy Adams plays a woman attempting to whip up more than 500 of Child's recipes in modern times. Nora Ephron adapted the book and directs.

• "Avatar" (Dec. 18): Could this be the biggest movie of the decade? Don't be surprised. "Titanic" auteur James Cameron finally returns with what promises to be a groundbreaking sci-fi, 3D, IMAX thriller about a battle between humans and another species on a far-off planet. Unknown Sam Worthington stars. Oddly enough, he happens also to be a key figure in "Terminator Salvation," and Cameron did the first two "Terminator" films. Small world -- and Cameron owns it. Write down this date.

Entertainment - Overseas b.o. breaks record with $9.9 bil

Frank Segers

Things may be tough economically around the globe, but the major Hollywood film distributors still managed to gross record high overseas boxoffice in 2008, garnering an estimated $9.9 billion, up 4% from 2007's $9.5 billion international total.

Overseas operations of the six major studios -- Paramount, Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox, Sony and Disney -- each bagged more than $1 billion in revenue for the second consecutive year, according to preliminary estimates from each distributor.

Paramount Pictures International generated the most foreign revenue with an estimated $2.037 billion, an increase of 28.2% from 2007 -- a new international record for the studio. It is the first time Paramount, which ranked fourth among the big six in 2007, crossed the $2 billion overseas boxoffice threshold.

The biggest single title on the international circuit last year was Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which bowed May 21, and went on to gross $469.5 million foreign (versus $317 million domestic), according to Paramount figures. Second was Warner Bros. International's Batman pic "The Dark Knight," which tallied an estimated $465 million overseas.

Thanks to its 2008 product stream from DreamWorks Animation, PPI also capitalized overseas with "Kung Fu Panda," which garnered $416.5 million abroad (versus $215.4 million domestic) and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," which opened Oct. 30 and is still playing internationally. The "Madagascar" sequel grossed an estimated $305 million in 2008, and appears on track to double its domestic gross of $175.7 million. Marvel's "Iron Man, which PPI handled in most overseas markets, tallied $214.2 million.

In addition to "Dark Knight," Warners parlayed a roster including "I Am Legend" with Will Smith -- perhaps the biggest Hollywood name overseas in 2008 -- and "10,000 B.C." to a second-place finish with an estimated $1.8 million overall. "Legend" grossed $210.7 million foreign last year, while "10,000" finished with $173.4 million.

In third place is Universal, which scored $1.7 billion in boxoffice overseas last year, a record for the distributor. Uni's previous international record was $1.164 billion in 1999. The big driver for the company was the musical "Mamma Mia!," which had extraordinary success abroad -- grossing $428.5 million, nearly three times its domestic tally ($144.1 million).

Universal also showed overseas returns of more than $100 million with "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" ($294.3 million vs. $102.5 million domestic); "Wanted" ($209.5 million vs. $134.5 million domestic) and "Incredible Hulk" ($100.6 million in territories serviced by the company).

Fourth was 20th Century Fox, which grossed an estimated $1.6 million in 2008 -- about even with the previous year -- on the strength of "Horton Hears a Who" ($142.5 million), "What Happens in Vegas" ($139 million), "Jumper" ($133.9 million) and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" ($110.7 million).

Fifth was Sony, which generated an estimated $1.383 billion, the distributor's second-biggest year after 2006's $1.634 billion. "Hancock" with Will Smith lead the Sony roster with an overseas gross of $396.4 million (versus $227.9 million domestic), followed by the latest James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace," which grossed $377.3 million in 2008 (an opening in Japan scheduled for this month). "Quantum's" domestic tally is $164.3 million.

Disney, which ranked third among the big six last year, finished sixth in 2008, grossing $1.37 billion, down 19% from 2007. The company had an unusually strong 2007 on the strength of third title in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series (which grossed $653 million, the third largest international gross in history) and the animation title, "Ratatouille" ($406 million).

This year, Disney capitalized overseas on "WALL-E" ($289.4 million); "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" ($278.3 million); "National Tresure: Book of Secrets," $173.9 million in 2008, $237.1 million total); "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" ($151 million versus $89.4 million domestic); and "Enchanted" ($100.7 million in 2008, $213.4 total).

The biggest of the indie distribs is New Line Cinema, which collected $607 million in 2008 largely on the back of "Sex and the City" ($257.4 million foreign versus $153 million domestic). Mandate International grossed an estimated $219 million in 2008, while Summit International came in with an estimated $517 million.

Business - Cadbury launches campaign ‘Lesson’

MUMBAI: Popular chocolate brand Cadbury is set to launch a new television commercial, ‘Lesson’, in an attempt to further establish the brand identity of its variant- Cadbury Crème Egg chocolate.

The television commercial is slated to go on air on 1 January.

Cadbury marketing director Phil Rumbol said, “Creme Egg is one of our most iconic and accepted brands. Our consumers get really eager about Creme Egg season and we think this campaign will build on that excitement."

Created by Saatchi & Saatchi, the TVC shows a classroom bustling with Cadbury Creme Eggs eager to learn about Goo-ology. The campaign is aimed at reminding consumers that Creme Egg is only available for a limited time till Easter.

The company will be further promoting the campaign through outdoor media via billboards, posters and escalator panels.

Mktg - Ministry of Tourism launches new Incredible India campaign

MUMBAI: The Ministry of Tourism will launch its new Incredible India television campaign for the international market in the first week of January.

The television commercial will be aired on international channels like CNN, BBC, Discovery and National Geographic.

Ministry of Tourism joint secretary Leena Nandan said, “The idea behind launching the new campaign is that tourists should find a connection with India, so that they desire to visit the country. The campaign, which is divided between television and print, will be launched in international arena like Latin America, USA, Canada, western Europe, UK, Scandinavian countries, Australia, New Zealand and South – East Asia Pacific.”

Created by Quantum Communications, the TVC has been directed by Prakash Verma of Nirvana films. The TVC shows the protagonists exploring different regions of India.

Also, the print campaigns have a quote of Mahatma Gandhi saying, “I want all cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But, I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

The Ministry of Tourism has further tied up with Korean government for out of home (OOH) advertising in the subways in Seoul.

Entertainment - Star, Bedi in legal row over Mahabharata

MUMBAI: Even as we ring in the New Year, a Mahabharata Yudh has broken out between Star and Bobby Bedi’s Kaleidoscope Entertainment. The bone of contention: advances which were paid to the latter to produce a television version of the classic Indian epic. Star India has taken producer Bedi to court preventing him from disposing off land the latter had allegedly acquired in Noida and Agra for producing the series.

Star sources indicate that they had paid out Rs 60 million to Bedi for preproduction and production and he has not delivered any episodes of the same. Sources close to Bedi say that a part of that money has been paid to Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi (director) and Faroukh Dhondy (as writer) for research and script development while the remaining was used to turn out 14 episodes of the show. Both Dwivedi and Fraoukh subsequently moved out of the project and Dr Vijay Pandey then took over as director.

Star sources say that Bedi has misappropriated the funds to build assets for himself and hence, should be restrained from selling them.

Sources indicate that they had been giving Bedi a lot of leeway. First, the network bought into the project because of Dwivedi – who earlier played and directed Chanakya – involvement in it. “Dwivedi dropped out, and yet we funded Bedi,” says a Star source close to the deal. “They brought in new people, then they started asking more money. It did not make sense to us.”

Independent sources indicated that Star lost faith in the concept because of the time that Bedi has taken to produce it and the fact that a version of the Mahabharata on 9X failed to grip audiences. “Both the versions had similarities,” says a source.

Bedi and Star were not available for comment.

But clearly this is a battle scene which will take its time playing out. So watch this space.

Mktg - Advertisers target cybercafé users

Kapil Ohri

When 36-40 per cent of online traffic in India is generated by users who browse the Internet through 300,000 computers installed at cybercafés, it is obvious that advertisers will be on the lookout for ways to reach this population.

The Mumbai based Internet media firm, Ideacts Innovations, now offers just that, through a desktop application called Clinck. The company already counts 75 advertisers as its clients, including big names such as Nokia, ICICI, Colgate, Dell, Big TV, Yamaha, Fastrack, STAR Cricket, Ibibo.com, Zapak.com, eBay.in, Lenovo and Idea Cellular.

Clinck is an interactive desktop application, which, when installed on a computer, hides the normal desktop of the computer and becomes its default desktop screen.

Similar to the normal desktop, the Clinck desktop displays various shortcut icons, such as My Computer, My Network Places, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger. A search engine bar, powered by either MSN or Google, is also made available. While these shortcut icons occupy only 10-15 per cent of the Clinck desktop, the remaining screen space is occupied by advertorial or banner ads, which can be static or interactive.

Speaking to afaqs!, Rudrajeet Desai, cofounder and chief executive officer, Ideacts Innovations, says, "We have already executed 150 campaigns for 75 advertisers from diverse categories, such as automobile, education, finance, travel, FMCG, IT and Internet companies. Already, 3,000 cybercafés in 32 cities have installed Clinck. Around 200,000 users access the Internet on 18,000 Clinck enabled computers on a daily basis."

He adds that apart from banner ads, the application is also capable of executing interactive campaigns or video ads. However, the company is not running video ads as of now.

On why a cybercafé owner would install Clinck, Desai says, "Ideacts shares 40 per cent of the revenue earned through a cybercafé with its owner. Revenue sharing with the cybercafé owner depends on various variables, such as the number of computers in the café and the number of users who visit it."

Currently, the company is only targeting non-branded cybercafés with at least seven computers. It has not targeted cybercafés owned by Sify and Reliance Communications. In 2009, it is planning to expand its base to Tier II towns, such as Nagpur, Nashik, Jaipur and Indore.

The campaigns carried out through Clinck are measured on the same parameters as other online campaigns. Ideacts Innovations claims that the campaigns carried out through Clinck receive a click-through rate (CTR) of 3 per cent, which is much higher than the average CTR of online campaigns – 0.5 per cent.

The company sells its ad inventory on cost per thousand (CPM) impressions and a cost per click (CPC) basis. It charges Rs 170 for 1,000 impressions.

India - The Divine Comedy of Mumbai (G.Read)

Ishaan Tharoor

Kept in the basement of the Asiatic Society library, a colonnaded marble building in Mumbai's colonial heart, is perhaps the Indian financial capital's least heralded relic. The library holds one of the two oldest surviving manuscripts of Italian poet Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Its some 450 richly-illustrated pages dating from the 1350s are bound and wrapped in red silk. Though the book rarely goes on display, Society staff insist the medieval text is in excellent condition. It came to Mumbai in the possession of a 19th century British antiquarian grandee, the imperially-named Mountstuart Elphinstone, and has stayed in the city ever since despite numerous attempts by the Italian government to repatriate it. In the 1930s, rumor has it, dictator Benito Mussolini was keen to buff his fascist pedigree by retrieving the epic and offered the Society one million pounds for it, a staggering sum at the time. But the Society politely refused. By doing so, it seemed to say that Mumbai could also be a home for Dante's imagined voyage through the underworld and the rings of hell.(See a photo essay of the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks)

Echoes of Hell and its abyss of despair resounded from Mumbai at the end of November, when terrorists rampaged through some of the city's most storied sites. From the infernal glare of smoke and flame that wreathed the Taj Mahal Hotel and the nearby Oberoi came harrowing tales of the demonic cruelty carried out inside. Hotel guests were lined up against walls and sprayed with machine gun fire, then, according to some accounts, the terrorists placed grenades in the mouths of fallen hostages as traps for pursuing security forces. Hospitals are still filled with the wounded as social workers grapple with the trauma of those left alive.

The lone surviving gunman, according to police sources, spoke of how, in the remote jihadi training camps where he was indoctrinated, instructors would rail against the sinful city of Mumbai, decry its excess and materialism and corrosive foreign influences. The worldly aspirations of Mumbai's diverse millions would be cowed by a spectacle of fire and brimstone. In the immediate aftermath, the attackers appeared to have gotten their way. All hope did seem abandoned amid the din of public grief and fury with a government many felt incapable of protecting its people.

Mumbaikars, though, did not wallow in their woe. In the past, bouts of bloody Hindu-Muslim violence followed acts of terrorism. But a sense of unity, not vindictiveness, permeated the city. Mumbai's influential Hindu right-wing went missing, knowing that its brand of extremism wasn't welcome. Soon after the last shots were fired, the city's leading Muslim clerics showed their contempt for the act, declaring that the bodies of the terrorists would not be allowed a proper burial within Mumbai.

"All of India looks to us" read a banner waved outside the Taj Mahal Hotel a week after the attacks. Tens of thousands of the city's residents from across its wide spectrum of class and ethnicity massed at the scenes of the crimes, calling for an end to the incompetence, inefficiency and corruption many in the public see as India's status quo. In Mumbai, dozens of citizens groups have sprung up, aimed at everything from neighborhood safety to overhauling domestic governance - to borrow from another epic, to try to make a heaven out of this hell.

Of course, it'll take much more than a few weeks of middle-class outrage to challenge the purgatorial murk that defines India's politics as usual, as well as the grim injustices that shape its stratified society. But it is this Mumbai, which shelters Dante's manuscript: a metropolis home to all sorts of stories, still glittering with epic possibility for the thousands who flock here every year from all corners of this vast country, including the beggars and garbage collectors and tiffin carriers who continued with the many Sisyphean struggles of their lot in the days after the attacks. More than half of the city's populace lives in slums and most could never dream of dining at the posh enclaves that came under attack. Yet they all continue to dream the Mumbai dream.

It was this mythic Mumbai too that the terrorists hoped to bring crashing down, but they failed. By mid-December, wings of the two targeted hotels reopened to grand receptions and an outpouring of city pride. Despite the drums of war being sounded in New Delhi and Islamabad, life goes on. A few days after two terrorists killed ten patrons at the Cafe Leopold, a popular drinking spot, I sat there and watched an elderly carpenter take measurements with a ruler and tape of the large glass pane that fronted the bar, damaged by bullet holes. Onlookers snapped pictures of the poignant moment of recovery, camera flashes twinkling in the crystalline cracks. In at end of the Inferno, Dante plunges into the icy depths of hell and beholds the terror of Satan's face, but he finally emerges, and looks to the heavens, "to see again the stars."

Lifestyle - Facebook's War on Nipples

Ada Calhoun

The breast-feeding wars have long followed a familiar pattern. A woman gets thrown off a plane for nursing her toddler; she sues Delta. Barbara Walters says sitting next to a breast-feeding woman made her "uncomfortable"; ABC's headquarters get surrounded by 200 women staging a "nurse-in." Maggie Gyllenhaal is photographed nursing her daughter in public; tabloids rush to either praise her as a role model or tell her to throw a blanket over her shoulder.

The sides have been distinct: breast-feeding advocates insist that women should be able to nurse anytime, anyplace, while opponents use words like discretion and discomfort. But the latest battle apparently has nothing to do with the best way to nourish a baby or the boundaries between private and public. It's about the nipples, stupid.

Facebook has drawn a line in the sand by removing any photos it deems obscene, including those containing a fully exposed breast, which the site defines as "showing the nipple or areola." In other words, plunging necklines or string bikinis are fine - just no nips. The purging of bare-boob pics began last summer and has swept up, alongside any girls gone wild, a growing number of proud - and very ticked-off - breast feeders. (Read about giving birth at home.)

On Dec. 27, some 11,000 protesters held a virtual nurse-in by uploading breast-feeding photos onto their Facebook profiles, and 20 or so women showed up at the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., to breast-feed there. By Dec. 30, more than 85,000 members had joined a Facebook group called "Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!"

The group, founded by San Diego mom Kelli Roman, urges Facebook to change its obscenity policy. "We expect you to realize that nursing moms everywhere have a right to show pictures of their babies eating, just like bottle-fed babies have a right to be seen," their petition reads. "In an effort to appease the closed-minded, you are only serving to be detrimental to babies, women, and society."

Assisting their cause is the Topfree Equal Rights Association (TERA), a Canadian group that has started posting on its website photos that breast feeders claim were removed from Facebook. One or two are vaguely pornographic shots of naked women holding babies, but most are straightforward and innocent.

"There are two problems," says Paul Rapoport, coordinator for TERA, which has been advocating that women should not be penalized for going topless since 1997. "First, Facebook removes photos arbitrarily. Second, its policy clearly implies that visible nipples or areolas always make photos of women obscene. Facebook stigmatizes breast-feeding and demeans women."

Facebook counters that it is far from the only organization steering clear of Areola City. "Could I place an ad related to breast-feeding that showed a woman breast-feeding a child but exposed her full breast in TIME or on your website?" asks spokesman Barry Schnitt. "During the course of this protest, I've called many media organizations and asked them this question. Not a single one has said yes."

The Facebook furor has brought up a bizarre cultural issue. We're all for breasts - the more cleavage the better. But the second a nipple is visible or we are reminded of nipples by the sight of a baby attached to one, all hell breaks loose.

When a tabloid website catches a star like Britney Spears, Keira Knightley or Tara Reid in a red-carpet "nip slip," traffic goes through the roof, as Web surfers click to catch a glimpse of the forbidden bit of skin. (See the 50 best websites of 2008.)

It is perhaps understandable that we'd be so enflamed by the sight of women's nipples because we see them so rarely. Barbie dolls don't have nipples. Magazines routinely airbrush out nipples on fully clothed (but presumably chilly) models.

In the past decade, some 40 states have passed pro-breast-feeding legislation. Rapoport, however, says he considers such laws a "two-edged deal because it exempts nursing women from prosecution but reaffirms the sense that a topless woman is obscene without a baby."

Meanwhile, men's nipples aren't a problem. Recent photos of President-elect Barack Obama walking shirtless on a beach were greeted with puns about how he is "fit to be President," "buff-bodied" and "chiseled." (See pictures of Presidents at the beach.)

And perhaps the surest sign that "pregnant man" Thomas Beatie has been accepted as a man - even though he still has female sex organs and the ability to deliver a baby - is the fact that his nipples, the same ones he had when he was a woman, are suddenly O.K. to look at. They are acceptable features for the cover of a book, the pages of a magazine - and the profile photos for the Facebook groups supporting him.

Lifestyle - Wrestling:a fight for an honest living in corrupt times

Michael J. Jordan

SOFIA, Bulgaria – While practicing takedown flips with a dummy, Hristo Stoilov's phone rang. The wrestler, covered in sweat and wearing tights, listened for a minute, shook his head, then returned to grappling.

Later, Mr. Stoilov explained the call was from a friend offering him "easy" money to rough up a debtor.

Although Stoilov's thick muscles and steely presence might allow him to quickly earn the $200 fee for intimidating a debtor into paying, he says this is no way to live, not even if a single "visit" yields as much as he earns in two weeks as a personal trainer.

"I want to live a quiet life," Stoilov says.

Wrestling, the national sport, once generated jobs, entertainment, and considerable national pride here during international tournaments. During communist times, with state-controlled dreck on television, most towns held Saturday night matches. And the state paid wages to some 50,000 wrestlers and coaches – in a country of only 8 million.

The postcommunist economic crisis left thousands of wrestlers unemployed, says Emil Budinov, a former national wrestling champion and now a coach.

"Imagine: you start winning medals, but then the system collapses and you're left with nothing," Mr. Budinov says. "But you're a strong man, a brave man. So what do you do? You go out on the street."

Many former wrestlers provided the muscle for criminal enterprises, including smuggling. Before long, the thick-necked, shaved-headed, gold chain-wearing thugs personified the society's burgeoning mafia underworld.

As the wrestlers elbowed into more of the action, dozens were killed in grisly slayings. The violence dented the romanticism for Stoilov, who clings to his goals of winning a wrestling championship and of someday owning a private fitness studio.

"I know I can always do the 'other job' if I ever needed fast money," he says. "For now, though, I've still got my dreams," he says.

Business - Viacom and Time Warner reach deal to avoid blackout

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Viacom and Time Warner Cable reached an agreement in principle on Thursday that avoided a blackout that would have prevented more than 13 million U.S. subscribers from seeing popular TV shows like "Dora the Explorer" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

The two sides said in a statement they expected to finalize details of the agreement over the next several days. Viacom wanted Time Warner Cable to pay an extra $35 million to $40 million a year for carrying its cable channels, including MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

Time Warner had refused, saying the economic climate made it impossible to pass along such costs to its customers. Viacom had originally denied Time Warner's request for an extension of the previous terms to allow talks to continue and had threatened to pull its TV networks from Time Warner unless a deal was reached.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said in a statement: We are pleased that our customers will continue to be able to watch the programing they enjoy on MTV Networks. We are sorry they had to endure a day of public disagreement as we worked through this negotiation."

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said, "It's gratifying that we could reach an agreement that benefits not only our audiences but that is also in the best interest of both of our companies."

Both companies spent most of Wednesday exchanging angry words via the media, including a high-profile advertising campaign by Viacom in papers like The New York Times.

Affiliate fees have become even more important as the recession has cut back advertising revenue.

Neither side was well-positioned for a long standoff. Time Warner Cable is about to lose the protection of parent company Time Warner Inc with a planned split off in early 2009. It is extremely reluctant to risk losing subscribers by raising its prices or due to the absence of popular cable shows.

Viacom, which makes about 30 percent of its revenue from advertising, has come under scrutiny as its controlling shareholder, mogul Sumner Redstone, faces his own debt crunch and has been forced to sell Viacom stock to cope with the problem.

(Reporting by Paul Thomasch and Yinka Adegoke; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Tech - A Larger Screen for Apple's iPod Touch Seems Unlikely

Patricia Resende

Bloggers are taking another bite of the Apple, but analysts say they may have bit off more than they can chew. The rumors on Wednesday speculated about a bigger, better iPod touch with a larger screen.

TechCrunch said three independent sources pointed to a new iPod touch with a seven-to-nine-inch screen planned for the new year. It said prototypes have been seen and held by one of its sources and Apple has given the nod to manufacturers in Asia.

Apple said in April it had sold 10.6 million iPods. And Amazon.com has reported that the second-generation iPod touch was one of its biggest sellers this holiday season.

Some bloggers think the device will be mentioned at Macworld but not be available until late 2009.

'Tweener' Device Unlikely

A larger iPod touch has been in the works for some time at Apple headquarters, one source said. The holdup has been whether consumers would like the bigger touchscreen.

But analysts say this rumor should be filed under "not true" and Apple's reluctance to roll out such a device is more accurate.

"When it comes to these types of rumors, if you wait long enough anything can happen. Like the iPhone people predicted for years and years, this one seems to be a little unlikely in the idea of a larger-format tablet with a seven-inch screen," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy at Jupitermedia.

A larger screen might be great for applications such as games, but the form would fail, according to Gartenberg. "What you tend to lose is an aspect of pocketability," he said. "You will not be able to go to the gym with it or go running with it."

Historically, say analysts, devices that fall in the "tweener" category -- between something that fits in your pocket, like a phone, to something that needs to go into a bag, like a laptop -- don't do well in the market.

"It is hard to imagine what kind of benefit it would give to users," Gartenberg said. "It is suitable for gaming, but once you start increasing the dimension and start losing those features, it becomes unyielding to hold in your hand. I'm still quite skeptical that we will see this device, and am doubtful we will see it next week."

Not Good for Developers

While gamers might enjoy a larger screen, developers would have to rewrite code to make their apps usable with a bigger device and Apple would have to ask if the larger screen gets in the way.

As for sources saying they have seen and held the device, Gartenberg said those who get to see those things are those who don't speak and those who don't know are those who speak

Health - Antibiotics before infections save lives: study

LONDON (Reuters) – Giving antibiotics to patients in intensive care units as a precaution saves lives, according to a major Dutch study published Wednesday.

The findings in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest the benefits of administering antibiotics right away, even before an infection develops, outweigh the risks people will develop resistance to them, the researchers said.

"We have seen that using antibiotics clearly results in a reduction in the number of deaths and intensive care units should make use of this knowledge," Anne Marie de Smet, a researcher at University Medical Center Utrecht, said in a statement.

Drug-resistant bacteria are a growing problem in hospitals worldwide, marked by the rise of superbugs such as methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus, or MRSA. Such infections kill about 19,000 people a year in the United States, while more than 4,000 a year in Britain are infected.

The World Health Organization cites hospital-acquired infections as a major cause of death and disability worldwide and experts have been saying for year that poor hospital practices spread dangerous bacteria. At the same time, doctors are told to cut back on using antibiotics to prevent the rise of resistant "superbugs."

The infections can cause life-threatening and disfiguring infections that can kill within days and can often only be treated with expensive, intravenous antibiotics. The risk of infection increases the longer people remain in the hospital.

De Smet and colleagues looked at 6,000 men and women who stayed in intensive care units for at least two days at 13 hospitals in the Netherlands to compare the effects of different antibiotic treatments.

Volunteers who received oral antibiotics right away were 11 percent less likely to die, and those given oral and intravenous combinations right away were 13 percent less likely to die than people who did not get the drugs, the researchers found.

At the same time the number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections did not increase among the people on the drugs.

Because the researchers tracked deaths 28 days after treatment began, the next step is looking to see how resistance may develop in the long term.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Maggie Fox and Giles Elgood)

Science - What Science Says about Enlightened Sex

Sally Law

Another year, another batch of resolutions: eat right, exercise more, pay bills on time etc. All good in theory, but potentially dull in practice.

In 2009, then, resolve to have better sex. According to a recent review article in the Dec. 3 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, sexually unsatisfied women who practiced the Eastern techniques of mindfulness and yoga reported improvements in levels of arousal and desire, as well as better orgasms. In addition, yoga has been found to effectively treat premature ejaculation in men.

Eastern practices have been touted as sexually beneficial for years - as the article states, the techniques have "their origin in the Kama Sutra of the fourth to sixth centuries."

But authors Lori A. Brotto of the University of British Columbia, Michael Krychman of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine, and Pamela Jacobson of The Healing Sanctuary in Tustin, Calif., think that recent research findings warrant increased attention, and respect, from Western medicine.

Mindfulness - an awareness of the present moment, also a key component in yoga - proved especially beneficial in a study, cited in the article, that asked women to study pennies in detail. The coins were then collected, and each woman was asked to find her original penny. Every woman was successful. "In our experience, (nearly) all women feel that they have a problem with remaining focused; they are highly distractible," the article states. "However, after this penny exercise, they accept the notion that they can focus their mind if they so choose." The study then went on to encourage body-awareness exercises, which eventually had a sexual goal.

Not all Eastern-based benefits manifest in the mind. The article cites another study from The Journal of Sexual Medicine, published in September 2007, in which 68 Indian men who suffered from premature ejaculation were given a choice of yoga-based, non-pharmacological treatment or Prozac. The men who practiced yoga for one hour each day "had both subjective and statistically significant improvements in their intra-ejaculatory latencies, similar to participants in the pharmacologic treatment group."

The article acknowledges that mindfulness and yoga are challenging, but they also can be fun - and whose sex life couldn't benefit from a little mental and physical flexibility?

Tech - Chinese software pirates get prison sentences

SAN FRANCISCO - The alleged ringleaders of a Chinese counterfeiting gang that sold at least $2 billion worth of bogus Microsoft Corp. software were sentenced Wednesday to prison terms of up to 6 1/2 years, in what is believed to be the harshest penalties yet under China's tightened piracy laws.

The punishments meted out against the 11 defendants, and announced by Microsoft Corp., could help China improve its image as a country that doesn't crack down hard enough on copyright violators, though the technology and entertainment industries still say China has a long way to go. The sentences ranged from 1 1/2 to 6 1/2 years, according to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

The fact that Microsoft, and not the Chinese courts, disclosed the sentences is not unusual. Lawyers are the only source of information in many cases in China because rulings often are not publicly announced. Court officials usually refuse to disclose details to reporters.

Microsoft calls the counterfeit software operation — which was headquartered in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong and busted by Chinese authorities with FBI help in 2007 — the world's biggest phony-software syndicate.

The counterfeit software was found in 36 countries and 11 different languages. It was so sophisticated that it contained legitimate computer code written by Microsoft for programs such as Windows XP and Vista and Microsoft Office, but also had touches of the criminals' own coding as well. That was allegedly added to mimic security programs and fool users into believing the product was authentic.

Microsoft contends that much of the bogus software was detected by its Windows Genuine Advantage program, which is automatically installed on users' machines. It scans computers for pirated software and alerts people if it believes their products aren't properly licensed. The counterfeits were also discovered through customs seizures, test purchases by Microsoft, and resellers who alerted authorities to suspicious competitors.

"There were a number of things that made this case unique and striking, and among them are the fact that customers provided information, the reach of the syndicate was so international, and that Chinese law enforcement partnered so well with American law enforcement," David Finn, Microsoft's associate general counsel for worldwide anti-piracy and anti-counterfeiting, said in an interview.

Software piracy is still rampant despite individual countries' attempts at cracking down. Research commissioned by the Business Software Alliance, an industry trade group, found that 82 percent of the software used in China in 2007 was not legitimately purchased, more than double the worldwide piracy rate of 38 percent.


AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed to this story from Beijing.

Tech - Report: Apple's Internet presence grows

The Mac operating system in December made a stronger showing among users accessing the Web, according to preliminary figures from Net Applications.Fortune's report on Net Applications' findings, which are based on browser data. The iPhone's toehold also is a record, more than tripling its December 2007 figure of 0.12 percent.

Windows continues to be the elephant in the room. It accounted for 88.68 percent of Web hits, according to the Operating System Market Share chart on the Net Applications site.

Third place went to the Linux operating system, with 0.85 percent. Other free or open-source operating systems, including FreeBSD and AIX, each accounted for 0.01 percent or less.

One caveat from Net Applications:

The December holiday season strongly favored residential over business usage. This in turn increases the relative usage share of Mac, Firefox, Safari and other products that have relatively high residential usage.

As the Fortune account points out, "Hidden in these monthly figures are the sharp spikes recorded by Apple's mobile devices around the holidays."

Net Applications accumulates its data from 160 million monthly visitors to its network of hosted Web site statistics

World - China dairy firms plead for forgiveness in New Year

BEIJING (Reuters) – Please forgive us, a group of Chinese dairy firms said in a New Year text message sent to millions of mobile phone subscribers.

The 22 dairy firms, led by the now-bankrupt Sanlu, apologized and asked forgiveness for the contamination of their products by melamine, which killed at least six babies and made 290,000 ill.

Melamine, an industrial compound used in plastic and fertilizer, was added to milk to cheat protein tests.

The chairwoman of Sanlu, Tian Wenhua, and three other company executives are on trial at a court in northern China for the contamination. Tian, who pleaded guilty, is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment although the verdict may not be reached for several weeks, the Beijing News said Friday.

"We are deeply sorry for the harm caused to the children and the society," the text message read.

"We sincerely apologize for that and we beg your forgiveness."

Another 17 people involved in producing, selling, buying and adding melamine in raw milk have gone on trial in the last week.

Sanlu said it discovered the problem and reported it to local authorities in Hebei Province on August 2, just days before the Olympic Games began in Beijing.

But nothing became public until early September, when the New Zealand government said it brought complaints by Sanlu's partner, Fonterra, to the attention of the Chinese government. Meanwhile, clusters of babies ill with kidney stones had cropped up in Chinese hospitals.

"If we were in Europe or another country, it wouldn't be a question of apologies, it would be a question of legal responsibility," said Beijinger Shi Zhiqing.

(Reporting by Zhou Xin and Lucy Hornby, Editing by Dean Yates)

Business - Time Warner Could Lose MTV, Nickelodeon

Have you vowed to watch less television in 2009? Time Warner Cable might be able to help you with that.

The cable provider is currently locked in a dispute with Viacom over licensing fees for access to channels like MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. If it goes unresolved, Time Warner customers could see their Viacom channels go dark at midnight.

"The renewal we are seeking is reasonable and modest relative to the profits TWC enjoys from our networks," according to a statement from Viacom. "We have asked for an increase of less than 25 cents per month, per subscriber, which adds up to less than a penny per day for all 19 of MTV Networks' channels."

Viacom wants the rate hike because Time Warner "has so greatly undervalued our channels for so long," the company said. "Our fees amount to less than 2.5 percent of what Time Warner generates from their average customer."

Time Warner accused Viacom of extortion, and said the move was an attempt to make up for declining ad dollars.

"Viacom claims their demands equate to 'pennies,' but that is misleading and insulting to our customers, from whom Viacom is trying to extort another $39 million annually – on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars our customers already pay to Viacom each year," Time Warner said in a statement.

"We sympathize with the fact that Viacom's advertising business is suffering and that their networks' ratings have largely been declining" but not when it affects TWC customers, the company continued. "If every channel demanded huge, double-digit increases like what Viacom is trying to force our customers to pay, it would be impossible to keep the price of cable reasonable for our customers." Time Warner already announced a separate rate hike between $3 and $5 in 2009.

Viacom claims that it has secured 2009 licensing renewals "with virtually every cable and satellite carrier" except Time Warner. "As a result, we are sorry to say that for Time Warner Cable customers our networks will go dark as of 12:01 on January 1, denying Time Warner customers shows like Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and The Hills," Viacom said.

Time Warner has a presence in 33 states, and had 13.4 million basic video subscribers and 7.7 million digital video subscribers as of June 30, 2007.

Time Warner asked Viacom to extend its current deal while negotiations continue, but Viacom declined, according to TWC.

Viacom's holdings include UPN, The Paramount Channel, more than a dozen MTV channels, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Showtime, and the Sundance Channel.

Science - Fathering sons or daughters may be in men's genes

Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A UK researcher has a new explanation for how the human race manages to keep a fairly even balance of males and females, despite massive deaths of young males in war and selective abortion of female fetuses in certain parts of the world.

Corry Gellatly, a research scientist at Newcastle University, proposes that there's a gene that determines whether a man will father more sons, more daughters, or equal numbers of each. When females are in short supply, they have a better chance of snagging a mate, and are thus more likely to pass the gene for fathering daughters on to their offspring. And when men are scarce, they have a better chance of mating and passing along the gene for having sons.

"It's kind of a counterbalancing mechanism," Gellatly explained in an interview. "You can't get a population that becomes too skewed toward males or too skewed toward females."

The ratio of male to female births jumped significantly at the end of each of the world wars in countries involved in the fighting. A number of hypotheses have been floated to explain why. One idea is that returning soldiers have extra-frequent sex with their partners, which could lead to fertilization earlier in the menstrual cycle, possibly making male births more likely. Another hypothesis holds that larger males are more likely to survive wars and more likely to father boys.

After sorting through 927 family trees from North America and Europe, including 556,387 people in all, Gellatly proposes another explanation.

In an article published online in the journal Evolutionary Biology, the researcher suggests that men carry a gene that controls their ratio of X to Y sperm, and thus the likelihood of their fathering sons or daughters. Women carry the gene as well and pass it along, but do not express it.

Gellatly made a computer model simulating how the gene would act over 500 generations, and also examined whether offspring sex ratios in the real-life family trees supported his hypothesis. Both experiments bore out his idea of a gene for gender.

The gender gene appears to be very ancient, Gellatly said, and is possibly carried by any species -- plant or animal -- that reproduces sexually rather than asexually.

Almost all of our genes come in pairs, with one being inherited from each parent. Gellatly hypothesizes that the gender-controlling gene comes in a "male" and "female" version, with three possible combinations of the two. A man could have a "male-male" gene, which would promote the formation of Y sperm; a "male-female" gene, which would cause him to produce about the same number of X and Y sperm; and a "female-female" gene, which would cause him to make more X sperm. "The structure of the proposed gene is essentially very basic, and its function is simply to say 'produce more boys' or 'produce more girls,'" Gellatly explains.

The gene makes fathering offspring of a particular gender more likely but not a certainty, he adds, and inheritance from father to son is diluted by the part of the gene that the mother contributes. "It's a fairly small effect. If it was a larger effect, it would have been noticed before."

Gellatly's theory can also explain why an increase in boy births may be seen after a war. Families with more sons will be more likely to have surviving male children, who can pass along their genes, while families with fewer male offspring are less likely to have surviving sons.

SOURCE: Evolutionary Biology, published online December 11, 2008.

Business - U.S. steel industry urges "buy America" recovery plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The ailing U.S. steel industry is pressing President-elect Barack Obama for a public works plan that could be worth $1 trillion over two years to boost flagging demand for U.S.-made steel, the New York Times reported in Friday's editions.

Daniel DiMicco, chairman and chief executive of Nucor Corp, a giant steel maker, told the paper the industry was asking the incoming administration to "deal with the worst economic slowdown in our lifetime through a recovery program that has in every provision a 'buy America' clause."

The industry supports building mass transit systems, bridges, electric power grids, schools, hospitals and water treatment plants -- all of which would require large amounts of steel.

"We are sharing with the president-elect's transition team our thoughts in terms of the industry's policy priorities," Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the American Iron and Steel Institute, was quoted as saying.

Obama, who is to be sworn in as president on January 20, has not revealed details of his soon-to-be-announced plan for spurring the weakest economy since the Great Depression more than 70 years ago. Aides have indicated most of the package will probably go into infrastructure spending rather than tax breaks.

"If the president-elect really follows through, he'll fund a lot of mass transit projects," said Wilbur Ross, a Wall Street dealmaker who put together a steel conglomerate known as Arcelor Mittal USA.

"All the big cities have these projects ready to go."

Since September, U.S. steel output has plunged about 50 percent to its lowest point since the 1980s, largely because construction and auto production have fallen sharply.

The fall-off in production of appliances, machinery and other electrical equipment has also reduced steel orders, sending the price of a ton of steel down by half since late summer.

Industry executives are "adding their voices to pleas for a huge public investment program of up to $1 trillion over two years," the Times reported.

Imports, which account for about 30 percent of all steel sales in the United States, are also hurting as customers disappear, the paper said.

(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Todd Eastham)