James Murdoch meets cable ops; makes another pitch for easing of DTH terms

Even as the government is readying to formalise the implementation of the conditional access system (CAS), chairman of the Hong Kong-based Star Group Ltd, James Murdoch, met up with some cable operators in a five-star hotel in Delhi on 2 May. The agenda: CAS and under-declaration of cable households by most cable operators in the country.

According to one of the cable operators who attended the afternoon meeting with Murdoch: "We got a feeling that Mr Murdoch is not very happy with the impending introduction of CAS as he kept on stressing the fact most broadcasters lose (subscription) money in India because under-declaration is rampant."

The informal meeting with Murdoch was attended by about five big independent and vocal cable operators of Delhi. Also present was Star India chief executive, Peter Mukerjea.

Both Murdoch and Mukerjea (who otherwise is Mumbai-based), along with some other senior executives of Star, had been camping in Delhi for the last three to four days. The two Ms of Star, reportedly, left the Capital on Thursday after some power meetings and parties held during the past few days, including a much-talked about party hosted by the former journalist-turned-TV-anchor-turned-politician, Rajya Sabha (upper house) Member of Parliament Rajeev Shukla.

A frequent visitor to India these days, Murdoch, according to industry sources, also took this chance to lobby hard for some relaxation in the policy guidelines involving KU-band direct-to-home (DTH) TV service.

But, point out senior government officials, a change in the existing DTH policy (which includes a 20 per cent cap on the shareholding of a media company in a DTH venture) is "highly unlikely at this juncture."

On being asked the reason, explained an official: "How can the government bring about a change in the DTH policy at a time when a company has already applied for a DTH licence. Making changes would be unfair for the little known company which has sought a licence."

Government officials have confirmed that Mumbai-based Space TV has applied for a DTH licence. Though the government is not clear, but industry sources insist that Space TV is fronting for Star Group which is natural since Star as a company cannot, and would not, apply for a DTH licence if it has to keep within the limitations of the various policy restrictions.

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