Big Shots

Sun TV: The Untold Tale of a Political Family Turned Media Moguls

Created on 06 Jun 2024

Wraps up in 8 Min

Read by 9.6k people

Sun Group Success Story

IPL Season 2024 just came to an end, and like every year, emotions were pretty high. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), not making it to the finals and a somewhat easy win for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) brought my attention to a very much highlighted entity in this sports tournament.

Kavya Maran, D/O Kalanithi Maran
Kavya Maran, D/O Kalanithi Maran

Kavya Maran, SRH's co-owner & CEO, made headlines with her enthusiasm and emotional expressionism during IPL matches. But did you know that Kavya Maran is part of India's Sun Group, a media giant?

Kavya Maran is the daughter of Kalanithi Maran, the Chairman and Founder of Sun Group, who will be the protagonist of our story. Sun TV Network is crowned “the largest media conglomerate in India” in terms of market capitalisation (around ₹24,500 crore).

Let’s see how the Sun Group came to be, including its financials, industry overview, and more. 

How Was Sun TV Network Formed?

Belonging to a family with political roots, Kalanithi Maran wished to be the black sheep. Unlike his father, Murasoli Maran (Former Union Minister of Commerce), his brother Dayanidhi Maran (Former Textile Minister) and his uncle M. Karunanithi (Former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu), Kalanithi wished to reign in the business world, more precisely, the media and entertainment sector.

Kalanithi Maran

After schooling at Don Bosco, Chennai (earlier known as Madras), Kalanithi graduated from Loyola College. He flew to Pennsylvania to pursue a Master's in Business Administration from the University of Scranton. There, he was inspired to run channels in different genres and languages.

After returning to the motherland, Kalanithi joined Sumangali Publication as a circulation clerk. He also briefly worked for a family-owned weekly Tamil magazine called "Kungumam".

Then Kalanithi Maran finally began his business career with a monthly video magazine called “Poomaalai” in 1990. This was a glimpse into the potential of visual media for Tamil audiences. Unfortunately, after 2 years, Poomaalai was cancelled due to piracy issues.

The silver lining in this situation was that Kalanithi had received ample experience needed to run a big media company like he had always wanted. Hence, he finally took the big step and formed Sun Network in 1993 with the launch of the flagship channel, Sun TV.

Formation of the Sun TV

With a team of 25 people, mostly friends and acquaintances, Kalanithi took out a loan of $86,000 (now ₹71.38 lakh). Then, it was a matter of securing a transponder to broadcast on the newly launched channel. For this, Sun TV reached out to another new firm in the media sector, Zee TV.

Kalanithi's initial idea was to approach Subhash Chandra, the owner of the recently established Zee TV, seeking an afternoon slot on the company's transponder. Fortunately, he didn't even get to meet Subhash, and a Junior Editor at the company rejected his proposal, citing an insufficient audience for Tamil programs.

This supposed partnership could have been an excellent asset for Zee TV as the South Indian states accounted for one-fourth of India’s population and one-third of all homes owned TVs. Clearly, the junior wasn’t aware of this fact, which led to losing a golden opportunity.

Anyway, Kalanithi knew what he was doing and didn’t let a petty setback demotivate him. After a little effort, Kalanithi managed to get a transponder space from ATN and launched his channel.

Like Sun TV, Zee TV also lost a major opportunity to partner with Sony. Check out why the merger between the two media giants fails from here.

Sun Network’s Difficulties & Rise to the Top

Sun TV focused on entertainment content that resonated with Tamil viewers. This included serials, movies, and music programs. The channel understood the importance of acquiring big-ticket movies, securing premieres, and featuring popular stars like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.

Back in those days, even though private players like Zee TV had begun to emerge, the television industry in India was primarily dominated by the state broadcaster Doordarshan.

Kalanithi Maran started cautiously to navigate this landscape. He launched Sun TV with 3 hours of Tamil programming on the existing channel ATN.

However, Kalanithi understood a crucial truth for a regional channel like Sun TV. Unlike national channels relying solely on content, distribution was king for regionals. He focused on gaining control over cable distribution in Tamil Nadu, a strategy that would prove to be a masterstroke.

This focus on distribution and the initial positive audience response fueled Sun TV's meteoric rise. The network soon expanded beyond the initial 3 hours, launching 24-hour channels in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, and eventually Bengali. The content diversified to include news, movies, music, and more, as we discussed above.

The true turning point came in 1998 when India liberalised the satellite broadcast industry. Sun Network, positioned perfectly with its established brand and distribution network, was among the first to secure a licence. Since then, Sun TV's growth has been unstoppable, solidifying its dominant position in the South Indian market.

Strategic Expansion of the Sun Network:

What led to such immediate success and vast expansion of the Sun Network was its unique strategy.

  • Sun TV Network grew beyond a single channel. It launched channels in other South Indian languages – Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam – catering to a wider audience. More recently, It has expanded into Marathi and Bengali languages, marking its foray into North India.
  • Recognising the shift towards digital consumption, Sun launched its OTT platform, Sun NXT, offering original content and a library of movies.

This led to the Sun Network becoming the leading player in the media sector. Now that the story of Sun Group’s formation has concluded, let's shift our focus to future trends. We will start with the…

Media & Entertainment Industry Overview

India's media and entertainment industry (M&E) is expected to reach $73.6 billion by 2027, which is around ₹6.10 lakh crore in the nation's currency. This will happen with a 9.7% annual revenue growth and advancements in other sectors like digital, advertising, and more.

M&E Industry Size
Source: IBEF

The M&E industry has been significantly aided by the increasing availability of fast and cheap internet, rising incomes, and increasing purchases of consumer durables. It is unique from other markets and well known for its extremely high volumes and rising Average Revenue Per User (ARPU).

With over 30 prominent languages, India's M&E caters to a vast audience. Content spans movies, television shows, music, animation, gaming, and more. If you look at the infographics below, you will notice that the division of the M&E industry segment is still majorly dominated by television viewers.

Media industry Segment Distribution
Source: IBEF

With other sectors gaining traction, such as digital, VFX, animation, gaming, advertising, etc., the M&E sector is on the verge of a massive renovation. Amidst this transformation, regional content is also stealing the show.

Viewers are increasingly consuming content in their native languages. Hindi and other regional languages account for a whopping 93% of YouTube viewership in India. The share of regional content in TV and OTT platforms has reached 50%.

This leads us to one of the significant regional media firms in India, Sun Network.

About Sun TV Network

Being a leading television broadcaster in India, Sun TV Network:

  • Operates satellite television channels in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, and Bangla.
  • Currently airs on FM radio stations across India.
  • Sustained & increased the viewership of its channels, with Sun TV being the most-watched channel in India.
  • Has 37 channels in four languages: Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.

The group's expansion into the TV channel segment in North India includes the launch of a Bengali language channel. Simultaneously, in October 2021, the introduction of a Marathi language channel marked the company's second move in this market.

After this, Sun Group also ventured into DTH service, radio, newspapers & magazines, film and TV production. The group also inserted into the OTT production with “Sun NXT". The group is a media conglomerate in India and definitely the largest.

The group also has ties with sports and aviation sectors with the Founder Kalanithi Maran owning the IPL team that made it to the Finals of 2024 “Sunrisers Hyderabad”.  

In June 2010, the SUN Group acquired a 37.7% stake in Indian low-cost carrier SpiceJet. Despite the losses, Kalanithi Maran increased his stake in Spicejet by investing ₹1 billion in the airline in 2012. Then, in January 2015, the Sun Group sold its entire shareholding back to the airline's founder, Ajay Singh and transferred control.

Sun TV Network Financials & Peer Comparison

During the financial year ended 31 March 2023, the Board of Directors declared total Interim Dividends of 300%, i.e., ₹15.00 per equity share of face value of ₹5.00 each. The payout ratio for the year was 35.30%.

As for the fundamentals, revenue, total income, and Profit After Tax (PAT) have steadily risen in the past few years.

Sun TV Financials
Source: Sun TV's Annual Report

We have established that the Sun TV Network is the largest in India in terms of market capitalisation. However, its peers like ZEEL, Network 18, etc., are also giving the firm good competition.

With the ongoing planning of forming a new merger in the M&E industry, Sun TV Network finally being dragged to 2nd position looks like a possibility. Wondering which merger it’s going to be?

Read the article “India’s Largest Media Entity: A Good Buy Time?" to #KnowItAll.

The Bottom Line

From humble beginnings, Sun TV, under Kalanithi Maran's leadership, has become a media behemoth. It revolutionised Tamil television and established itself as a dominant force in the South Indian market.

Its focus on regional content, strategic distribution networks, and adaptation to the changing media landscape have been key to its success.

Sun TV's story inspires entrepreneurs by highlighting the power of understanding the audience, strategic planning and adapting to a dynamic industry. Kalanithi Maran’s story is also a lesson for people who wish to break free from their family’s shadow and make a name for themselves.

It will be interesting to see how Sun TV continues to evolve and shape the future of Indian media in the years to come, especially given the oncoming changes in the M&E industry.

*Disclaimer: The stocks and companies discussed above aren't a recommendation from Finology Insider and shall not be construed as a replacement for professional advice. Consult a professional or conduct the necessary research before making investment decisions.

comment on this article
share this article
Photo of Preeti Gupta

An Article By -

Preeti Gupta

133 Posts


637 Post Likes


A book-lover who adores everything fictional, Preeti has undertaken the life mission of tasting every flavour available in the pantry. A science student with a Master's in Mass Communication, she now wishes to conquer the Finance world as a writer. With the power invested by the randomly chosen music, she is here to make Finance fun for you.

Share your thoughts

We showed you ours, now you show us yours (opinions 😉)

no comments on this article yet

Why not start a conversation?

Looks like nobody has said anything yet. Would you take this as an opportunity to start a discussion or a chat fight may be.

Under Big Shots

"A few" articles ain't enough! Explore more under this category.

Share this post
share on facebook


share on twitter


share on whatsapp


share on linkedin


Or copy the link to this post -

copy url to this post