Tdsat directs MSO to pay more to Zee Turner

NEW DELHI: Zee Turner has about Rs 18 million coming its way from the small town of Jabalpur, with the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (Tdsat) ordering Bhaskar Cable Network to pay the broadcasting distribution company seven times more on the declared subscriber base.

Bhaskar, a multi-system operator (MSO) has been asked to pay the amount on the hiked subscription base from September 2006, as Tdsat found credence in Zee‘s argument that the former was having a subscription base of 42,189 with Star and that should be the basis on which Zee ought to be paid as well.

Bhaskar had an initial agreement with Zee to pay the latter for a subscription base of just 4,221.

Zee senior counsel during the course of the arguments had admitted that its subscription base is usually 70 to 80 per cent that of Star channels.

The single bench court observed that though there is no realistic basis of it deciding on a subscription base on the principle of parity, Zee ought to get what Star was being paid for.

However, the court said that since Zee itself argued that its subscription is 70 to 80 per cent that of Star, it would be befitting to settle for the lesser figure of 70 per cent, and Bhaskar should pay Zee for a subscription base of about 28,000 from September 2006.

The court had originally held that parity ought to be the basis on which subscription base is decided between broadcasters and MSOs in the case between Asianet and Star.

Meet Malhotra, senior counsel for the petitioner- Bhaskar Cable Network had argued that its subscription base for Star was much higher, because Star was immensely more popular than Zee, and that at the time of signing of agreement with Zee, the subscribers for the channel were only 4,221.

However, Zee senior counsel Maninder Singh argued that not only was his client tremendously popular, the fact remained that the MSO was supplying the feed to the same cable to the homes of subscribers. So Zee and Star had the same subscription base, but the former was being paid for one-seventh the number of subscribers.

Zee demonstrated that the basic agreement between it and Bhaskar stipulated that the latter would inform the former of exact number of cable homes where services are provided by the subscriber and/or commercial customers / sub-subscribers operating under it.

Zee said that as per agreement, this data would have to be updated every quarter, but that had not been undertaken by Bhaskar.

Singh told the court that Zee came to realise that it was being fleeced when it accessed the invoice raised by Star in Bhaskar, which showed that it had 41,869 subscribers.

The judge observed: "I agree with the contention of the respondent that when there are no separate head-ends and an MSO is carrying the signals through cable feed, signals of all broadcasters are carried together to all the subscribers.

"He, therefore, states that all the consumers have access to Star as well as Zee signals. Therefore, the subscriber base for both Star and the respondent has to be same.

"The contention of the petitioner that all operators were merged under the petitioner as MSO does not prove anything but for the fact that 41,869 is the subscriber base for all the signals being carried by the petitioner."

The judge concluded: "Prima facie, this subscriber base for the respondent also should be 41869 but since the respondent itself has stated that generally the negotiated base of Zee channels is 70 to 80 per cent that of Star channels, I have to depend on this figure to arrive at the subscriber base of the petitioner with respondent. I have no means to arrive at the exact figure. It would be fair to grant the lower slab of the bracket of 70 to 80 per cent of Star figure as admitted by the respondent."

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