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Issue 18: Satellites and Indian Media

News on Indian Television

Dr. K Ampady


Television viewers in India experienced the “live effect” of news coverage with Peter Arnett’s January 1991 reports on CNN during the first Gulf War. The Kandahar-hijack of the Indian Airlines flight in December 1999, the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the attack on the Akshardham temple complex in Gujarat in September 2002 played up the “entertainment” aspect of live news. Such coverage has attracted investors to News Channels.

What began as a bold move by Zee News in 1992 became a business model with the Star–NDTV alliance in 1998. AajTak, the first Hindi news channel launched on the 31st of December 1999, became a big success in two years time and more broadcasters jumped onto the bandwagon. The national broadcaster Doordarshan (DD India) started its News Channel in November 2003, replacing its highly popular Metro entertainment channel. The language diversity of India also offered further growth in this market; entrepreneurs have started regional news channels.

As of 2010, around 65 News Channels (including business channels) have been registered and are functioning in India. Domestic as well as international satellite providers sensed the market and plunged into a competition that has revolutionized newsgathering and distribution. According to a 2010 Centre for Media Studies report, the size of the TV news advertisement market in India increased 16 times in the last 10 years from around US $23 million in 2000 to $377 million in 2009. The advertisement market for news channels in India is expected to grow by 13 per cent in 2010 and cross the $424.8 million mark. (8)

The challenges faced in India are manifold. The linguistically fragmented audience limits the canvas for “news events” and fragments the advertisement pie. To earn TRPs (television rating points) news stations tend to sensationalize and project trivia, resulting in such unethical practices as “paid news” and Sting operations. The Government is debating suitable mechanisms for content regulation. With the economic depression and pressures to adopt HDTV, 3D-TV, DVRs, VOD, Mobile TV and other digital innovations, Indian business partnerships, alliances, mergers, acquisitions and burials are on the anvil.

The News Explosion

From a wild idea of Arthur C. Clarke in his classic Extraterrestrial Relays, published in 1945, satellites have become an inevitable part of present day living. [1] The newspaper ads promising a “live” telecast of the Tyson V/s Bruno fights in the 1980s have become amusing memories. Today, satellite transmission and live telecast of events and news determine the course and character of everyday life.

India’s rendezvous with satellite transmission began in the early 1990s, with the launching of AsiaSat 1, the first broadcasting satellite to cover the Asia Pacific Region. It heralded an unprecedented information revolution with an unpredictable trajectory. India’s one billion population was an enticing market. When entrepreneurs formed a beeline to milk the untapped potential, an explosion went off. The country has now around 500 TV channels and at least 100 more are in the queue. Although it took nearly 10 years for businesses to realize the potential, the country now has more than 60 exclusive news and current affairs channels.

Live Television News

Viewers in India first experienced the first on-the-spot reporting of live television from CNN reporting the first Gulf War (January 1991). Together with two other CNN journalists, Bernard Shaw and John Holliman, Peter Gregg Arnett brought continuous coverage from Baghdad for the 16 initial intense hours of war. [2] Their dramatic reports, often given with air raid sirens blaring and the sound of Baghdad bomb explosions in the background, enticed the audience to tune in to the live coverage of war news aired on television sets.

Arnett’s uncensored interview with Saddam Hussein, his critical reports of the bombing of the baby-milk factory and his refusal to move out of the Al-Rashid Hotel to facilitate its bombing made him a household name in TV households and among television field reporters. Among news enthusiasts, Arnett emerged as a cult figure.

The television news coverage of the Kargil Conflict between India and Pakistan, following the incursion and occupation of Indian Territory by Pakistani soldiers during May–July 1999, gave local viewers an opportunity to experience live news in close proximity. Personal knowledge of the history of India/Pakistan conflicts added a patriotic flavor to the coverage and lured ordinary viewers to stay tuned-in to reports of war. Stand-up reporters such as Barkha Dutt of NDTV–Star News became Indian versions of Peter Arnett. Dutt’s reporting from the battlefield amidst the fire and fury of artilleries, her interview with Late Captain Vikram Batra (posthumously awarded Param Vir Chakra, the highest Indian Military honour) and her emotional and animated dispatches emphasized the entertainment news aspect of live coverage. Though accused of compromising national security for giving away details of army positions and targets, Barkha Dutt’s live reports during the Kargil conflict became a milestone in the history of television news in India.

On December 24, 1999, Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to Delhi was hijacked to the Taliban-controlled Kandahar airport in Afghanistan. The hijackers demanded the release of hardcore terrorists including Masood Azhar, who later founded the terrorist outfit Jaish-e–Mohammed. The incident provided an opportunity for the news channels to act as a force multiplier to public angst and outcry, and project themselves as crusaders for justice and commonhood.

Anxious relatives of the hijack victims became a regular feature on Star News, with reporters Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai joining the wailing crowd to commiserate with them. The theatrics, the drama, the breathless and hyperactive reporting reminded viewers of a Bollywood climax. It would not be an exageration to say that the pressure created by the media, especially the news channels through their continous coverage of the crisis, played a role in forcing the government to take the decision to release the terrorists. Dr. Vartika Nanda, Head of Department of Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi and one of the first TV journalists to report the Kandhahar Hijack says, “The journalists were in dilemma on whether national interest or personal interest or professional should prevail. I feel for most of us, the latter prevailed. It turned out to be a milestone in many of our careers!” The coverage provided an opportunity for ordinary people to relate to the news. The news channels tasted for the first time in India, the power of agenda setting.

The Satellite Revolution

India’s rendezvous with television was through the National Broadcaster, Doordarshan. With the help of Philips (India), UNESCO and the United States of America a terrestrial transmitter was set up and Delhi Television Center went on air for half an hour September 15, 1959. From that beginning, Doordarshan now operates 30 channels in 22 languages and is one of the largest Terrestrial Network in the World. [3]

For the initial two decades, television adoption was halting and the transmission was mainly in black & white. The first major boost to the industry came in 1982 with the Asian Games, which India hosted. Doordarshan introduced colour TV and installed transmitters nationwide for terrestrial broadcasting. In this period no private enterprise was allowed to either set up or transmit TV signals.

The second boost came in the early nineties with the launch of the first communication satellite to cover the Asia Pacific Region, AsiaSat–1. The spacecraft facilitated the re-broadcast of satellite TV signals by foreign programmers like CNN and Star TV and by domestic channels Zee TV and Sun TV. The live telecast of the Gulf War prompted many Indians to buy dishes for their homes. Entrepreneurs bought the big ugly (BUD) dishes to downlink satellite programming that could be retransmitted through cables to city homes, suburbs and finally to small towns and villages. Their success had a bandwagon effect with more foreign programmers and Indian entrepreneurs setting up their own channels. From two channels prior to 1991, Indian viewers were exposed to more than 50 channels by 1996.

Zee television was the first “native” initiative to tap the potential of satellite. In 1992, Subhash Chandra, paid $5 million to Star for Hindi language entertainment channel Zee TV. Zee Telefilms Limited, created in October of that year, was the chief content provider for Zee TV. This was the first Hindi Satellite channel. In 1995, Zee launched Zee News and Zee Cinema and the first cable channel in India, The Siti Channel, was launched in 1996. [4]

The role of New Delhi Television (NDTV) needs special mention in the television news history of India. NDTV started as a private news producer for Doordarshan in 1998 producing the popular news and current affairs show The World this Week hosted by Prannoy Roy. Later, NDTV become the news provider and producer for Star News, the first 24 hour News channel in India. [5]

With the Kargil Conflict and the Kandahar hijacking, 1999 was a watershed year for Indian news channels. The launch of Aaj Tak, a 24-hour Hindi news channel by the TV Today Network in December 1999 and its success established a succesfull business model for other news providers. The Parliament attack in December 2001and the Akshardam attack in September 2002 established the entertainment aspect, the revenue generation potential, the agenda setting power and the political benefits of owning news channels. This realization had a snowball effect on investors joining the chorus of news channels being launched. The national broadcaster (DD India) started its own news channel DD News in 2003, replacing its highly popular Metro Entertainment channel. The language diversity of India offered growth opportunities for regional news channels. As of 2010, some 65 news channels (including business channels) were registered and functioning in India. [6]

S.No Name of the Channel Language/Type of Telecast
1 CNN - IBN English
2 NDTV 24 X 7 English
3 Times Now English
4 Headlines Today English
5 News X English
6 Azad News Hindi
7 Zee News Hindi
8 Aaj tak Hindi
9 NDTV India Hindi
10 Sahara Samay Hindi
11 India TV Hindi
12 India News Hindi
13 P 7 News Hindi
14 Star News Hindi
15 LIVE India Hindi
16 CNEB Hindi
17 News 24 Hindi
18 A-Z News Hindi
19 Focus TV Hindi
20 IBN-7 Hindi
21 Total TV Hindi
22 A indian News Hindi
23 TV 100 Hindi
24 DD News English – Hindi
25 TV 9 Kannada
26 RK News 24 Telugu
27 Tara Newz Bangla
28 Mh1 news Punjabi
29 PTC News Punjabi
30 India Vision Malayalam
31 Manorama News Malayalam
32 Asianet News Malayalam
33 Channel 10 (India) Bangla
34 Kairali People Malayalam
35 Jaihind TV Malayalam
36 News Live Telugu
37 24 Ghanta Bangla
38 NE TV Bangla
39 Time News Kannada
40 IBN Lokmat Marathi
41 Sun News Tamil
42 Amritha Malayalam
43 STAR Ananda Bangla
44 STAR Mahja Marathi
45 Punjab Today Punjabi
46 Kolkata TV Bangla
47 Zee 24 Taas Marathi
48 Ne Bangla Bangla
49 ETV News Telugu
50 NTV Telugu
51 TV 5 News Telugu
52 Kalaingar Seithikal Tamil
53 Raj News 24X7 Tamil
54 ETV News Bangla
55 ETV News Gujarati
56 ETV News Oriya
57 TV100 Utrakhand Uttaranchali
58 CNBC TV 18 Business channel
59 ET Now Business channel
60 NDTV Profit Business channel
61 Zee Business Business channel
62 CNBC Awaaz Business channel
63 Bloomberg Business channel
64 UTV Business channel
65 Etv UP Business channel
Table 1.

The Satellite Providers

Domestic Satellite Providers: Direct to home (DTH) service was launched in India in 2004 with the appearance of Dish TV by Essel Group's Zee Entertainment Enterprises. Later on, public broadcaster Doordarshan launched its free to air DTH named DD Direct+. [7]

Tata teleservices in collaboration with British Sky Broadcasting, a subsidiary of News Corporation, started a service named Tata Sky in 2006. Shortly thereafter, the DTH wars heated up when the telecom giants Airtel and Reliance Communications, along with the south Indian media group Sun TV and Electronics company Videocon, declared their intention to launch DTH services. By 2009, Videocon D2H+ had soft launches in Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Chandigarh.

Tata Sky uses MPEG-2 digital compression technology, transmitting via INSAT 4A at 83.0° E. It offers more than 200 channels, some of which are in high definition (as Tata Sky-HD) and interactive. In October 2008, Tata Sky announced its DVR service Tata Sky+ that allows users 90 hours of home recording in a MPEG-4 (digital compression technology ) set top box. One programme can be recorded while watching another. Users can pause, fast-forward and rewind a live telecast for review. Also Tata Sky+ provides service using MPEG-4. Tata Sky HD, launched in 2010, has channels in their native resolution of 1080i or 720p. The high definition DVR was launched in July 2010. Tata Sky serves the entire Indian subcontinent.

DD Direct+ is a free satellite direct to home service that also provides television and audio programming to households and businesses in every part of India. Doordarshan’s service was launched in 2004 offering 68 television channels and 21 radio channels.

Sun Direct was the country's first DTH service provider of high definition TV using the MPEG-4 digital compression technology, transmitting on INSAT 4B at 93.5°E and MEASAT-3 at 91.5°E. It now offers some 173 channels to a customer base of 5.8 million. Reliance BIG TV is a DTH satellite television provider based in Navi Mumbai, transmitting on MEASAT-3 91.5°East. It was the 5th DTH service launched in India.

Airtel Digital TV is the brand name for Bharti Airtel's direct to home service in India. Its interactive services include an add-on to the ITV box that allows users to shop and book movie tickets. A universal remote is included in the package that can control both the TV and the set top box. Like some other DTH service providers, this company also provides a VOD (video on demand) interactive service that includes a catalogue of movies in Hindi, English and other regional languages that can be ordered at times that are convenient for the viewer. The Videocon d2h provider offers a player in its satellite receiver whereby customers can use the set top box as a DVD/CD player. Dish TV provides mobile satellite TV viewing for vehicles, trains and aircraft.

The superior digital compression technology of MPEG-4 has given Indian satellite providers the advantage of broadcasting at least 50 percent more channels, and sometimes more.

International Satellite Providers

Major International satellite providers with licenses to operate in India include the Eurovision Broadcasting Union (EBU), with headquarters in Geneva and its local booking office in Singapore, and Globe Cast, a subsidiary of France Telecom with its headquarters in Paris and local booking office also in Singapore. Both of them have regional representatives in India. Reuters and APTN are the major newsgathering agencies operating in India, and are also in the business of distributing their news footage on payment basis. M/s Reuters has a mutual agreement with M/s ANI (Associated News of India).

The satellite with the widest reach across the northern hemisphere is Asiasat 5 (Location 100.5 East). All major content providers have leased transponders on this satellite at one time or another.

Restrictive Market [8]

Even though there was explosive growth in the direct-broadcast television markets of India, the country did not move to adopt an “open-sky” policy. India still remains as a restrictive market for non-Indian satellite operators. All Indian domestic service providers have to use the Indian national satellite system INSAT. The INSAT series of geostationary satellites were manufactured and launched by India’s domestic satellite operator, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The Indian satellite market was dominated by INSAT and Intelsat (an international treaty organization to which India was a signatory) until the early-1990s.

DTH, the delivery of direct to home television, and VSAT, the delivery of business data services, are the main utilities of INSAT. To deliver these services, INSAT now requires additional satellite capacity in Ku-band. Presently, any company wishing to provide subscription-based television services to customers in India must uplink from Indian territory using either an Indian satellite or a satellite system approved by the Indian Department of Space (DoS). As the usage of Ku-band can lower the equipment costs through the deployment of smaller dishes, VSAT operators are keen to get off the currently-used C-band frequencies and switch to the higher frequencies and greater capacity of Ku-band.

The approval process for using a non-Indian satellite (or the services of a foreign DTH provider) involves consultation with DoS, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Wireless Planning & Coordination Wing of the Department of Telecommunications. Preference is always given to INSAT satellites, operated by ISRO. In instances where INSAT does not have sufficient in-orbit capacity available for any particular service, the lease of foreign satellite capacity is negotiated through ISRO. Approval, when granted, is usually on a short-term basis until INSAT is able to launch future additional capacity. ISRO has entered into several such agreements with foreign satellite operators like Thaicom of Thailand for C- band capacity and with New Skies and SES Americom for Ku-band capacity.

Though the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has been consistently recommending an “Open Sky” policy for all satellite users, the government is unlikely to accept the same in the near future. According to domestic reports, INSAT C-band capacity is virtually fully leased. The total supply of Ku-band capacity is limited to 36 transponders and is fully committed. With the DTH market expected grow at almost100% in 2011, the gap between the available bandwidth and required capacity will be increasing rapidly. Consequently, unless additional Indian satellite systems are established in India (or an Open Sky policy is introduced in India), potential DTH companies will have little choice but to curtail their operations or postpone them until such time as sufficient capacity is available.

The Media Market

Indian media and entertainment is one of the county’s fastest growing industries. Its various segments, which include film, television, advertising, print and digital media, have witnessed tremendous growth. According to a 2007 Center for Media Studies report, the number of TV channels has increased 48 times in nine years. The dramatic growth in news channels has resulted in an expanded viewership and advertisement market. The size of the TV news advertisement market increased from around $23 million in 2000 to $377 million in 2009. This market is expected to grow by 13 per cent in 2010 and cross the $424.8 million mark. The CMS report points to the emergence of regional and local markets still "untapped." [9]

From industry estimates, Zee Group's channels will be registering 40-50 per cent annual growth in advertising revenue from regional language news bulletins. Local advertisers will spend $11–17.5 million on Telugu news channels in Andhra Pradesh. News in Marathi and Bengali will generate advertising revenue worth $17 million annually. At present, regional channels command 45 percent of revenue share in comparison with 55 percent for national stations in total revenue generated by news. [10,11]

Future growth projections: According to a 2009 report jointly published by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and KPMG, one of the leading providers of risk, financial and business advisory, the media and entertainment industry in India is likely to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12.5 percent per annum and touch US$20.09 billion by 2013. The television industry, currently valued at about US$4.63 billion, will expand by 14.5 percent in that period. The 2009 edition of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PWC) Indian Entertainment and Media (E&M) Outlook, states that the television advertising industry is expected to account for a share of 41 percent of the advertising industry in 2013, up from a 39 percent share. [12,13]

Digital distribution platforms such as direct-to-home satellite are also booming. The DTH industry is estimated to grow by almost 100 per cent in 2011. The television distribution industry is expected to reach US$5.2 billion in 2013 from an estimated US$3.12 billion in 2008, which translates as growth of 12.2 percent. [14,15,16]

With a majority of the India population below the age of 35, and increasing disposable incomes in households, the average expenditure on media and entertainment has room to grow.

Challenges in the News Business

The biggest challenge for any news channel in India is reaching its diverse population where they are. With an area of 3.28 million sq kilometers, India is the seventh largest country in the world. The mainland of India extends between latitudes 8° 4'N and 37° 6' N and Longitudes 68° 7'E and 97° 25'East. India has a single time zone (Local Time = GMT + 5:30 (Standard Time). With 28 states, seven Union territories and an estimated population of 1.1 billion, India has around 22 schedule languages (mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution) and a total of 122 languages and 234 mother tongues. [17,18]

The linguistically fragmented audience not only limits the canvas for news events but also divides the advertisement pie. When the BBC operates across 24 time zones and sustains itself on a license fee, Indian channels are left with one time zone, thereby limiting the scope of news, and has to sustain itself on advertising revenues. In case of regional news channels, providers have to “hunt for news.” This can result in over-attention to TRPs (television rating points) that has led to sensational and trivialized news and such practices as “paid news” and sting operations. [19]

News channels have diversified their content to sustain audience interest. News programming is now commonly segmented into business, sports, crime, local and capital news, to keep the bouquet diverse and attractive. A typical Indian news channel operates on a 19-hour cycle, normally from 06.00-24.00 Hrs. A sample channel mix is given in Table 2.

Normal News telecast 12 Hours
Sports News 2 Hours
Business News 1-2 Hours
Regional Windows 1-2 Hours
Current Affairs Shows 1–2 Hours
Crime/Entertainment 1-2 Hours
Table 2.

Some national channels have developed different approaches to scheduling news stories. On days when there are few major stories, the channel will have a pre-fixed agenda for running a story through out the day, with the potential to attract greater attention. The story will be dramatically introduced, with claims of exclusivity, and reactions from various quarters will be aired. Audiences will be also encouraged to send their comments.

Regulation – or lack of it - is also a factor. With rapidly changing technologies, and increasing business investments, the broadcast sector has become the site of contention between various interests. A slew of sting operations, allegations of paid news, intrusion into privacy of individuals and instances of interfering with the stages of jurisprudence are increasing. The Government of India through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting circulated a Draft Broadcast Regulatory Bill. The bill has provisions to monitor the content and regulate the same if necessary. The news channels have opposed the bill alleging that it will affect their freedom of expression and have vouched for a different approach based on the concept of “enlightened self regulation.” [20,21]

Innovations in News Delivery

The success of news channels will be determined mainly by the audience response, the changing business models, the economic environment and adaptation to newer technologies.

The fact that the former broadcast, telecommunications and computer industries are now converging, has led to some dramatic changes in the ownership of the media, the regulation and control of the media and the way(s) media is distributed. Today, news consumers can look to the future and smile at the choices available: OTA (over the air) broadcasting, DTH satellite, Cable, Mobile wireless, Internet and IPTV. The DTH industry is estimated to grow by almost 100 per cent in 2011. The leading DTH firms have already increased their marketing budget by 20-25 percent.

India’s 3G spectrum auction has been completed and Mobile TV, whereby content will stream in via mobile phones, is poised for a big market test. Capitalizing on the success of the 3D film Avatar, television manufacturers are gearing up to introduce new 3D-TV sets. The future of many media houses and channels will depend heavily on how they adapt changes in receiver and distribution systems.

“The onset of increased digitization will expose the industry to new business models and dynamics. In order for each of the industry’s diverse segments to participate fully in this growth, they will first need to embrace the digital future. . .Today’s broadcasters are uncertain as to where their next competitor might emerge from, and content service providers have to grapple with competition and not just from traditional quarters but also from the many new internet media.” These are the words of Ian Fletcher, Chief Technology Officer, Omnibus Systems Ltd, addressing the International Workshop on New Media Platforms for IPTV, Mobile TV and HDTV in New Delhi in October 2010. [22]

In broadcast production and transmission, the industry is looking forward to next-generation software that uses standard IT hardware to provide all the functionality of a traditional broadcast playout chain integrated into a file based environment capable of linear broadcasting, IPTV streaming and video on demand (VOD) content generation. With digital migration and convergence making further inroads into Indian markets and since the adaptation to such technologies require heavy investments, many partnerships, alliances, mergers, acquisitions and burials can be also expected in Indian television industry. The same holds true for news channels.

The national broadcaster Doordarshan just started up-linking HD footage generated during IXX Commonwealth Games, Delhi. The total chain of HD programming will take place only when all three of the necessary elements of acquisition, processing and up-linking are HD compatible. Doordarshan has now created one channel of HD bandwidth being uplinked from Doordarshan Kendra Delhi. Similarly, one channel has been created for the DD Direct+ DTH free to air service.


India’s current satellite revolution emerged quite quickly, almost as if it were accidental. The momentum of this powerful technology was so fast and irresistible, that it overtook all normal legislative mechanisms, impact studies and educative processes. The technological changes and their impending impacts were often beyond the comprehension of decision makers. Common people were swept up into the excitement of digital, mobile, on-demand connectivity that made India one-country in one-world, for which satellite communication took a bow. Decision makers and consumers participated in the process with surprise.

The “technological tsunami’” can be rightly accused of creating a democratic deficit, as there was lack of information on many aspects of this revolution. India’s rendezvous with satellite television and News channels were no exception. The practitioners as well as the audience were enthralled by the magic of it all. Flashy technology seduced the journalists. As Dr. Vartika Nanda said, “It was like kids, jumping at every thing, a lot of TRPs and personal gain.”

The experiment had its positives and negatives, of course. The lack of training institutions of quality and adequately trained manpower were evident in the way the news business floundered in its success. It has been only twenty years since the country has been exposed to pervasive satellite. But the news industry has already left the old world behind. True, news in India has not yet reached its maturity, but it has entered a phase of consolidation of learning that is still on the anvil.


  1. Arthur C. Clark, “Extra Terrestrial Relays”, Wireless World, 1948.
  2. Wikipedia, “Peter Arnett”,, (last updated on Sept. 28, 2010).
  3. Doordarshan, “History”,
  4. Zee Television,
  5. NDTV,
  6. Wikipedia, “24-hour television news channels in India”,, (last updated on July 9, 2010).
  7. Wikipedia, “List of direct broadcast satellite providers”,, (last updated on July, 29 2010).
  8. Seema Jhingan, (Jan, 03, 2009),
  9. Indian Express, (February 02, 2010),
  10. Ashish Sinha, (March 28, 2007),
  11. Anurag Prasad, Outlook Business, (October 20, 2006), Advertising & media/Television Channels,
  12. FICCI-KPMG Indian Media & Entertainment Report, “Back in Spotlight”, 2010, p.9-11,
  13. FICCI-KPMG Indian Media & Entertainment Report, 2010, Joint Press Release, %20to%20grow%20at%2013percent%20over%20next %20five%20years%20to%20INR%201091 %20bn%20FICCI-KPMG%20report.pdf.


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Issue No. 18:
Satellites and Indian Media

Spring/Summer 2010

General Editor Introduction

From the Guest Editor

News on Indian Television


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