Television

Star raids Siti headends, SET back on Win

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NEW DELHI: The cable operators-broadcaster face-off in the Capital is lurching from one controversy to another. While Win Cable-Hathway and Sony Entertainment TV India have called a truce here, Star India got some Siti Cable franchisee operators raided late last week on the ground that they were airing pirated Star signals.

"SET India executives came to us late Saturday and opened up talks on restoration of the Sony bouquet feeds for Win Cable in Delhi. We told them that they had switched us off, so first the service should be restored before talks can be taken forward," a senior executive of Win Cable told indiantelevision.com.

SET distribution head Shantonu Aditya, meanwhile, while refusing to discuss specifics, said that an agreement had been reached that was agreeable to both parties.

The Win Cable executive, however, said that the services were restored on Sunday, much to the relief of Win subscribers here, "without payment of any amount of money as had been demanded by SET India."

SET India had demanded about Rs 2.5 million from Win-Hathway in Delhi for the feeds of the Sony bouquet recently, which was opposed by the multi-system operator, subsequent to which SET switched off the feed to the MSO.

A meeting between SET and Win Cable relating to the Delhi episode is slated to be held sometime next month.

Meanwhile, an official spokesperson for Star India confirmed that raids had been conducted in Delhi on cable operators who happened to be Zee group cable arm Siti Cable franchisees on Saturday because they were airing pirated signals of Star and re-distributing them to their subscribers. The spokesperson, however, refused to divulge any more details.

Siti Cable, in an official response has refuted the charges, saying only one operator was showing the Star Channel and that too through a direct arrangement from the adjacent cable operator in the vicinity and had made financial arrangements accordingly.

But industry sources here said the genesis of the raids lay in the switching-off of two head ends of Siti Cable in West Delhi, Paschim Vihar & Janakpuri (9th September night) for upgradation of paid subscribers. As a protest Siti Cable had "blacked out" all Star channels in Delhi. About a week before that Haryana Communications was switched off due to an issue of default in payment.

It has also been indicated that before the switch-off, in order to rationalize the subscriber base of Siti Cable Networks in Delhi, which Star feels is long overdue, talks were initiated with the headends concerned and meetings were held not only with Siti Cable's JV's but also with the senior management of Siti Cable. The meetings were not fruitful for the company as the results were way below Star's expectations. As a result, Star India had to go for a switch-off.

Admitting that some franchisees may have been airing pirated signals of Star, a senior executive of Siti Cable today said, "Raids cannot be a precursor to talks which is aiming at solving the matter, not complicating it. If Star continues to be arrogant, then we don't see a solution very soon."

The Siti Cable executive also maintained that Star raids also included some cable operators who had "duel feeds."

Industry sources alleged that subsequent to the switch-off, Star channels were being pirated by some Siti Cable franchisees all across Delhi.

Left with no option, Star India decided to conduct anti-piracy raids to ensure that its channels were not pirated on the networks switched-off. A plan was chalked out with the distributor to conduct raids on the Siti Cable franchisees in Paschim Vihar.

Three franchisees were raided for pirating Star channels and the raids were conducted by Star's distributor M/s Shiv Enterprises, along with lawyers and the local police.

Two persons have been arrested and booked under section 37, 51 and 63 of the Copyrights Act and a third person has been declared absconding. The equipment being used for piracy has also been seized. An FIR (No. 540/2002) has been lodged with the Paschim Vihar Police Station in New Delhi against the three networks. The three networks raided are Universal Cable, Amba Cable, and Galaxy Cable.

The raids seem to have sent a clear message in the market that Star is in a no-nonsense mood. But for the Delhi cable viewers, these face-offs only mean doing without their favourite programming.

SITI CABLE SAYS READY FOR INDEPENDENT AUDIT OF ITS BOOKS This is what Siti Cable had to say regarding the charges brought against it by Star:

Siti Cable has been the leading MSO in the city of Delhi and in Northern India. It has been bringing different channels to the houses via its franchise cable operators. However, in recent times Star TV has been demanding more & more subscription revenue by either increasing its rates which have increased from Rs. 5/- a few years back to Rs 40/- or by increasing the number of subscribers it is being paid for by Siti Cable.

Siti Cable would like to clarify here that it has been paying more than its paid connectivity to Star allegations by Star that Siti Cable is paying only 20 per cent is not correct and the fact is that Siti Cable is paying for 120 per cent of its paid connectivity to Star. Effectively, the channel is costing Siti Cable not Rs. 40/- as being mentioned by Star but Rs. 58/-.

Siti Cable on various open forums has always been inviting Star to come and have a look at its books through any independent reputed audit firm, something Star has been evading. Star has been taking hiding under the cover of IRS figures which are merely an estimate and a tool to market the channels to the advertising fraternity, whereas the records reveal the actual facts.

It is our endeavour to bring to the viewers the entertainment they desire at a right cost and it is an international norm that Content Providers are entitled to 30 per cent of the subscription revenue and balance 70 per cent is attributed to the distribution elements in the value chain. The scenario in the Indian context is entirely reverse. Here the content provider charges 120 per cent of the published rates and leaves the distribution chain to fend for itself. Today the cost of delivery of pay channels from Siticable to its franchisees is Rs 240/- per subscriber per month and does not includes the entertainment tax, service tax and other maintenance costs of the end operator.

Siti Cable has been advocating the cause of introduction of Conditional Access System which will bring in transparency and will end the day-to-day disputes between the content provider and the operators. This persistent dispute deprives the consumer of his/her right to pay for what they watch and thus reduce the outflow from the consumers. Everyone is privy to the happening in Parliament on the CAS bill which was sabotaged by patronising the political parties in this regard.

Siti Cable has switched off Star from its network in Delhi and is keeping the Star channels off in its networks in northern India from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm as a mark of protest against Star's high handedness and insensitive attitude towards consumers' needs and the cable operator fraternity. The other MSO of the area has also joined in this as they are also being extorted.

Some raids were facilitated on few cable operators with the help of local police by Star TV distributors with an allegation of picking up the signals of Star from the line of adjacent cable operator. Siti Cable has made inquiries and found that only one cable operator was showing the Star Channel with direct arrangement from the adjacent cable operator in the vicinity and had made financial arrangements accordingly.

About 200 franchisee of Siti Cable and other cable operators of Delhi had visited the Siti Cable office in Delhi and had pledged that they are not in a financial position to continue the arrangement with Star and impressed upon us that cancelling the agreement of Siti Cable Distribution Companies with Star despite was the only option. This was despite Star's threat to sponsor new cable operators who have the muscle power in their respective areas.

We hope Star will soon come forward in appointing an auditor of repute to audit our records, which will put paid to the extortionist behaviour in the industry & bring in transparency as a whole.

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