ATN Canada takes Zee TV battle to Canadian regulator

MUMBAI: There's some sparring happening in the land of the maple leaf. Ethnic TV platform - The Asian Television Network (ATN) - which delivers some 40 language channels to South Asian communities in Canada and run by Shan Chandrasekar has filed a formal complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) against Zee TV's Canada service, operated by the Ethnic Channel Group (ECG).

In a letter dated 3 June to the CRTC, ATN has complained that Zee TV Canada has shifted away from its licensed brief to provide a television service targeted at women in the Hindi-speaking community there and has started targeting general viewers. According to ATN, Zee TV Canada was licensed initially as a niche third-language ethnic specialty Category B service targeted at Hindi speaking women. It has since expanded to providing general entertainment programming, which means it has gone beyond its classification.

ATN, in the complaint, has said it had a licensing agreement for airing Zee TV programming on its specialty Category A service South Asian Television (SATV) for a number of years until January 2013 when it could not renew its content purchase agreement. SATV, is among the six authorised third-language general entertainment television services afforded protection under Canadian law. As part of that if the CRTC does license a specialty service in the same language as one of the existing third-language Category A services, the new third-language service would be packaged as a buy-through with the existing third-language Category A service of the same language, says the ATN complaint. To get around this restriction several foreign broadcasters are applying for the specialty category B service only to launch them later as a general interest service. ATN says that this is hurting its interests.

In the specific case of Zee TV Canada, it says that, as of March 2013 it is offering programming which is between 70 per cent and 90 per cent in Hindi, offering competition to SATV. It further goes on to clarify that in the number of press releases that the Ethnic Channel Group Ltd (EGCL) has made in launching Zee TV Canada there has not been one mention of launching a niche programming service for women. It has rather emphasised on the fact that Zee TV is an international programming service and a leading South Asian media brand available globally to 650 million viewers in 169 countries.

As almost 100% of programming from Zee TV (global) is shown on Zee TV Canada, these statements serve to show that this service is an all encompassing general interest programming service rather than a niche programming service as ECGL had proposed in its service approved in Decision 2013-53 with the CRTC.

Apart from the complaint, ATN has also sent across a package of 128 DVD recordings of two different one-week periods of Zee TV programming emphasising that it is offering mass appeal programming that is directed at the Hindi-speaking community at large.

The two options which ATN feels can help resolve the situation are: first, if Zee TV Canada is not a niche programming service, ECGL should file an application for the purpose of receiving proper authorisation from the CRTC to continue operating there. Secondly, if ECGL is indeed operating a general interest Hindi-language Category B service, then the service should be a buy-through with the Category A SATV Hindi-language service, as penciled in the law.

So when contacted Zee TV?s US office, head of sale Zee TV USA Sameer Targe said, "The complaint is absolutely false, ATN is not able to digest the fact that Zee has moved its business from it to EGCL. This ending ATN's so called monopoly in the Canada market."

He further clarified that Zee TV Canada is a women oriented Hindi language channel and it has been granted the same license by CRTC.

All we can do is play the waiting game as a response for ECGL is due on 3 September.

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