Cable TV

Mumbai Cable ops continue to do battle with ESPN-Star

The battle between ESPN-Star Sports has entered another phase. On 24 January cable TV operators in cable TV capital Mumbai extended their agitation against basic subscription channels ESPN and Star Sports. That too at a time when India is expected to play a crucial match against Pakistan as part of the one-day series in Australia on 25 January. Cable operators have been protesting the RS 1.51 hike per subscriber to RS 6.50 that ESPN Software management imposed on them to continue to redistribute sports channels Star Sports to subscribers from last week. They had decided to black out the two channels for three days last week. When the three day period expired last week they took a decision to extend the ban indefinitely.

"They are treating us shoddily and at gun point," says Atul Saraf one of the agitating cable operators. "The contract they have made us sign to renew telecasting the service is pretty tough and one-sided. Hence we have decided to fight."

This time they have got the support of a BJP politician Kirit Somaiya who has a vested interest in the agitation as people close to him have been switched off by ESPN Software on account of non-payment for the basic subscription channel. Somaiya is taking the fractious cable TV operators as part of a delegation to the information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley in Delhi to air their grievances.

The cable ops are also giving the entire issue a foreign invasion slant by saying that the price hikes are being resorted to mainly by multinational channels who are out to make pots of unwarranted money out of lay Indian consumers just because they have rights to cricket which Indian viewers simply cannot do without.

Star Sports says that the price hike was part of the contract that the cable TV ops had signed with the channel. It says it will not bow down to the arm twisting methods of the cable operators. And they will wait it out.

Cable operators say that it sure is going to be a long wait. "We have taken away the ESPN and Star Sports decoders from cable operators who we believe will give in to the bad tactics of ESPN-Star early," says Saraf. "We are going to fight till the end." Cable operators involved in the battle in Mumbai include Shri Bhawani, InCablenet, Siticable, Seven Star, Channel III, Five Star, Hathway, accounting for almost all of the city's cable and satellite homes.

Who will blink first? Cable ops or the two channels? Whoever does will end up benefiting the TV viewer.

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