Star, Siti trade charges over channel blackout in Delhi

Officials in Star Television and the Zee group affiliated MSO Siti Cable made conflicting statements on Thursday a day after a row over Star's channels being blacked out in New Delhi threatened to snowball.

Siti accused Star of trying to cash in on the unprecedented success of its hit game show Kaun Banega Crorepati to increase subscription rates and force operators to pay for "unpopular" pay channels like Star Gold and Star World.

"They (Siti) switched us off but we are back on again in most of New Delhi as of yesterday," countered Yash Khanna, head of corporate communications in Star. "Obviously they are feeling some insecurity as Zee TV is expected to go pay soon," he said.

Siti claimed its actions were dictated by customer feedback which said no one was willing to pay for channels they do not view. They also asserted that Star's actions were illegal. A Siti Cable group company providing cable services in Noida (a New Delhi suburb) has instituted legal proceedings with the MRTP (Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices) Commission, a press release said.

"We are not forcing people to take all channels," explained Khanna. ``StarGold is priced at Rs 5.50 per home per month. But cable operators have a choice to take it or not to take it. Without StarGold, the Star bouquet is priced at Rs 19.25 per home per month, he said. "So where is the question of bringing the MRTPC commission into it."

The major bone of contention is however the issue of paid connectivity. A problem which is bound to keep resurfacing unless a satisfactory conditional access system is introduced.

It was only on Monday that the Star affiliated Hathway Cables had reached a compromise with Sony over the declared paid connectivity of its pay channels SetMax, AXN and CNBC. Sony had switched off the channels in the Mumbai region from 2 January over a similar dispute as the one being witnessed between Siti and Star.

Siti charges that Star has demanded subscription charges on an assumed increase in the subscriber base without any verification or justification.

"We are being paid for just five million subs when the cable TV population in India is over 35 million. The figures speak for themselves," says Khanna.

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