Sony, Star switch off feeds in Delhi

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: On the eve of the kick-off of the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka a major spat has developed on the distribution front. The cable subscriber-viewer has got caught in the middle of a cross-fire between broadcasters and cable operators in the capital.

A majority of viewers in Delhi and surrounding areas of Faridabad, Ludhiana and Noida, for example, have been doing without the Star and Sony channels since yesterday. And the tussle has not shown any signs of abating till late this evening.

While those who get their cable TV service through Hathaway-Win multi-system operator (MSO) in Delhi are doing without the Sony channels, except probably CNBC India, those who are serviced by Zee Telefilms subsidiary Siti Cable are doing minus the Star channels.

The Hathway-Win MSO in the capital claims it all started day before yesterday when Sony Entertainment TV India demanded that it cough up an additional Rs 2.5 million to get access to the feeds of the Sony bouquet of channels. The MSO claims that without giving it the requested time to evaluate the situation, SET switched off the feed of Sony channels yesterday.

SET India distribution head Shantonu Aditya had quite a different tale to tell though. Aditya clarified that intensive negotiations have been on for over a month now with discussions at a lower key on for over two months. "We sent them a final notice day before yesterday. They requested time till 12 noon yesterday and again time till 6 pm to get back on the matter. It was only after all avenues were exhausted that we finally switched them off after 6 pm," he said.

Similar was the situation with Star India. On charges of non-payment of dues and subscription money, Star switched off the feed to one Siti Cable franchisee cable operator in West Delhi that resulted in Siti Cable blacking out Star channels "in protest".

A senior executive of Win Cable today told "SET India has refused to relent and is sticking to its demand of increased subscription money in Delhi. So the viewers will have to do without the Sony channels. But phone calls from many concerned advertisers have already started coming in today."

Echoing similar sentiments, though from a different camp, a senior executive of Siti Cable said: "Star is putting unnecessary pressure on us for giving it more subscription money when we are already giving the broadcaster more than we collect from cable operators."

Aditya dismissed Win's contention on the matter as nothing more than grandstanding. He said that of the 1.4 million or so C&S homes in Delhi, Win claims it caters to 900,000 of these. Out of this what they were willing to give in terms of declared connectivity was not even 90,000, he said, adding that what SET was being paid for at the moment was only for 75,000 homes, which showed underdeclaration to the extent of well over 90 per cent. Aditya said that the argument that even MSOs had to deal with underdeclaring from their franchisees was false in Win's case because 40,000 of its connections were direct points for which the average subscription charge was between Rs 250 to Rs 360 per month. Responding to speculation that SET was about to hike its subscription rate to cash in on the cricket about which some MSOs had already intimated their subscribers, Aditya said: "There is no rate hike in the offing. The issue is connectivity. What we are asking for is a reasonable increase in declaration numbers."

Star raised similar arguments in the case of its dispute with Siti. Brushing aside the Zee Group cable arm's claims, a senior executive of Star India countered today: "It is not the cable operators who are under pressure, but us. With under-declaration rampant, all we told Siti Cable is that it should give us our due. Some action has to be taken against errant cable operators."

Siti Cable has also claimed that Star India is pushing for upping the subscription revenue between 25-50 per cent at one go, which will put immense pressure on it and Siti Cable franchisee cable operators.

Hathaway-Win's version is that SET India distribution executives told it to pay up a hefty amount of Rs 2.5 million as big time cricket will start and will be aired on SET Max. "But since most of matches, including those that feature India, will also be shown on DD, why should we pay up this big amount without detailed consultations with other associates?" the Hathaway-Win executive said.

This is not the first time that the broadcasters-cable operator face-off has resulted in decoders being switched off and in recent times the frequency has only increased.

With both broadcasters and cable operators not showing any signs of blinking first, it's Catch-22 situation for the viewers who will have to do minus certain channels depending on the MSO who provides the service to cable homes.

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