Television

AIADMK's Jayalalitha:Eclipse time for Sun TV's Kalanithi Maran?

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Tamil Nadu politics has this tendency to rotate the party that occupies the seat in the state legislature. So when the DMK received a whipping from the AIADMK at the state's hustings, the results were not really unexpected. This despite the smear campaign carried out by the DMK against AIADMK chief Jayalalitha just before the state went to the polls to elect a new assembly.

What will the loss of the DMK and Jayalalitha's victory mean for the cable and satellite television industry? Well for one, the industry is expecting the resurgence of the AIADMK backed Jaya TV, which has been drifting around with a very pronounced limp. Jaya TV (once christened JJ TV) was never a player of significance with the two leaders - Sun TV and Raj TV - in the market place solidly entrenched in the viewership stakes, thanks to the Tamil movie libraries which they have signed on for perpetuity.

However, Jaya TV will surely try to change this and make a push to grab the best movies once again, apart from starting investigations into Sun TV's and the DMK's "misdeeds".

Look out for a war on the cable TV ground networking front. Jayalalitha knows that he who controls the ground, can decide what is beamed into television homes from the skies.

Around five years ago, she had initiated the setting up of a master control room which would provide a centralised feed to all of Chennai and it would spread to the other districts of Tamil Nadu over time. In those days, Siticable was battling to corner a share of Chennai's cable TV market. Ditto with Incable. The only player that had a sizeable presence was BiTV's Cable TV Networks (now the Star India owned Hathway Cable TV & Datacom). Just as the AIADMK was getting its act together in cable TV, in May 1996, Jayalalitha lost the assembly elections and resigned. This resulted in her plans evaporating. The master control room remained a stillborn idea.

With the DMK rising to power, Sun TV promoter and DMK scion Kalanithi Maran's star was on the ascendant. Along with his brother Dayanidhi Maran, he quickly set up a Master Control Room - under the aegis of Sun/Sumangali Cable Vision - which today offers a feed to more than 70 per cent of Chennai's two million C&S universe. The SCV onslaught was so fierce, that Hathway retreated from the market place. It did a deal with SCV, winded up its headends and agreed to share advertising revenues for programming that it would air on the SCV network.

Will Star continue with its old arrangement with SCV is something that will have to be watched out for. Of course, some of the cable affiliates of Sun Cable Vision would continue with the old arrangement, but there's no doubt there will defections to the Jaya cable TV camp.

The coming of Jayalalitha to power could also hamper the plans of Sun TV to go digital, encrypt its bouquet of channels and go pay at some stage in the future. For around a month now the network has been beaming out test digital signals of its channels. If Jayalalitha grabs hold of the ground, then Maran's plans to pursue pay TV may well have to be dropped or curtailed for a while at least.

Yes Sun TV is popular and there would be a major furore amongst Tamilians if it were shut off from C&S homes. But in a consumer unfriendly country, will that matter to anyone? This is a call that Sun TV's Kala will have to take very cautiously. .

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