Zee-Turner hikes subscription rate to Rs 50

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: Having had time to consider the moves on subscription rates by both Star India and Sony Entertainment, and two days after the CAS Bill was passed, Zee-Turner today announced a change in its pricing structure and tariffing. Zee has instituted what it calls a "three layer dual pricing strategy".

Zee has taken the plunge and announced what is clearly a significant hike in its package price from Rs 42 to Rs 50 for the complete bouquet of 16 channels, effective 1 January, 2003. In percentage terms, the hike is even higher than the 33 per cent increase that ESPN Star Sports (from Rs 24 to Rs 32) has announced for its two channels. This becomes apparent when you consider that the new rate has been fixed at a time when premium movie channel HBO has defected to the Sony-Discovery One Alliance platform.

Without HBO (which is valued at around Rs 8 currently within the Zee-Turner bouquet), the total package price would actually work out to Rs 34. Therefore at Rs 50, what has been instituted is roughly a 47 per cent rate increase. It needs noting of course that there has been a new addition to the bouquet in Realty TV. But since the UK-based reality genre channel is an unknown quantity, its value at the moment can only be notional.

Zee-Turner CEO Sunil Khanna confirmed to that the present pricing structure was only applicable to the bouquet as it exists now. "There will be an upward pay revision in the rates as and when new channels come into the fold. This includes CNBC India and the new English movie channel we propose to bring in place of HBO," Khanna said. Once both channels are on board, a full bouquet price of Rs 60 looks likely, is's reading.

Queried as to which English movie channel was joining the platform, Khanna would only say that it would be sourced from the Turner Group. Most speculation has centred around Cinemax being the replacement for HBO.

Clearly indicating that Zee believed it could manage this price hike, Khanna said, "The present price structure has been arrived at after doing extensive market surveys."

Khanna also sought to end the debate over whether in a post-CAS regime, some pay channels may have to turn free-to-air. Once the CAS regime rolls out, no Zee pay channel would become FTA, Khanna quoted Zee Group chairman Subhash Chandra as having said. Within the network there are currently three FTA channels - Zee Music, predominantly music channel etc and regional language channel ETC Punjabi (the latter two channels became part of Zee after the media conglomerate took a controlling stake in ETC Networks Ltd.).

Elaborating on the three layer dual pricing strategy, Zee has stated that that the hike will be applicable only to the urban centres. In the rural markets, Zee says it is holding the price line at current rates. What constitutes "rural markets" has not been clearly specified though. According to an industry observer, out of the 40 million or so C&S homes, less than 10 per cent constitute rural markets. Most C&S homes fall in the urban and semi-urban category, he says.

According to a company release, in smaller towns where the concept of pay channels has already got acceptability, cable operators would now have access to one more channel from Zee-Turner in addition to the four channels which were being subscribed so far.

The key features of the revised structure of pricing, the release says, are as follows:

*Operators in rural areas would continue to get a special rural package at the same price. There are no additional conditions and or riders to this pricing.

*Zee-Turner is offering geography, region and demography specific packages. For this segment and for operators in smaller places subscribing to four channels, what is being offered is an additional encrypted channel. For these operators, the new package of five encrypted and three FTA channels will now cost Rs 37 per sub per month.

The release ends with a concluding note: "Zee-Turner is confident that the new revised offering is in line with the expectations of its viewers and distributors and would pave the way for smooth migration to CAS environment."

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