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Sun to start test marketing transition to pay

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MUMBAI: South Indian language Sun Network is aiming to start test marketing its transition towards pay TV services in Andhra Pradesh. This was revealed by network chairman Kalanithi Maran to the Financial Express. Maran added that the test marketing would be followed by a campaign wherein digital IRDs would made available nationally, so that "every cable operator has our decoder". 

He said the decision to go pay was based on the fact that viewers were paying for channels they did not want to see. "They certainly would not mind paying for channels they want to see," he pointed out. "But if we find our subscriber base is dwindling by even five per cent, we will not go ahead with the plan." 

Maran's cautious stance apart, indications are that the entire Sun Network will be going pay by next year. First up will be its two Telugu language channels Gemini and Teja, both of which are expected to go pay latest by October.

Maran's Sun Network owns a bouquet of nine regional language channels in southern India. The entire bouquet will go pay by early next year, officials have been quoted as saying, with one channel going the pay way every 30 to 45 days.

As far as the Sun's Telugu channels are concerned, the plan is to charge a subscription of Rs 10 per household for both Gemini and Teja. While ratings agencies claim Gemini has a 41 per cent viewership and Teja has an eight per cent viewership in the rest of Andhra Pradesh, in Hyderabad their share is 40 per cent and five per cent respectively. Gemini has emerged as one of the strongest channels in the south, with nearly 19 to 20 of its shows figuring in the top 100 shows across all channels in the country. 

The network is currently appointing distributors for its channels in Andhra Pradesh and is confident it will find takers for its pay model from cable ops in the state. Apart from its nine satellite channels, Sun also has its own Sumangali Cable Vision to fall back on for effective distribution. Given that there are nearly seven million C&S households in AP and Gemini reaches nearly 100 per cent of these, the network should gross close to Rs 850 million from Gemini and Teja's subscription revenues alone this fiscal, say observers.

According to Maran, more regional language channels (other than what he already had) were not really the way to go as a test market exercise by the network for a Bengali channel showed it was unviable. "A Hindi channel is the next logical step but because there are so many players in this space, we will wait and watch for the right opportunity instead of jumping in recklessly."

Maran called digital compression and digitilisation as one of the biggest benefits to have come industry's way in recent times.

He added that there was no need to go in for an IPO as it had enough internal funds to keep going, and the markets were not conducive. 

Maran said that his group was in favour of CAS. "Our channels occupy the No 1 spot in every market they are present."

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