Cable TV

HC dismisses interim relief plea in ESS-INCable case

MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court this afternoon dismissed the interim relief that the Consumer Action Network (CAN) had sought.

CAN wanted the government to direct ESPN Star Sports to resume airing of signals to InCable while the dispute between the sports broadcaster and the MSO was being sorted out. India is currently playing the second test match against Australia. Meanwhile the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that had been filed in the High Court by CAN comes up for hearing next month.

In the PIL CAN is seeking government control on the cricket telecast rights whenever the Indian team plays. The PIL was filed a little over a month after ESPN Star Sports disconnected its signals to INCableNet over non-payment of dues.

INCableNet also stated that yesterday it paid Star Rs 90 million as the Rupert Murdoch broadcaster had threatened to cut off signals otherwise. The MSO also accused ESS of trying to bind them to a two-year contract. This was unfair as most of the major cricket for next year lies with Ten Sports and Max. For the record Ten Sports will showcase Sri Lanka hosting Australia, South Africa. Pakistan could host the big one - India in February. Max has the Champions Trophy in September.

"ESS has lost out in the bidding war. Nobody will watch the channel next year and they know it." ESS' counsel rebutted saying that the two-year offer was made as a concession and that INCable was now trying to turn the picture upside down.

INCable also accused ESS of only turning off signals in Mumbai and Delhi because that is where the broadcaster has a presence in the cable network business. The consumer would automatically start putting pressure on the LCO to change the MSO. The LCO would go to Hathway, in which Star has a stake and with which Star conducts excellent business. ESS however, claimed that signals had been cut off in seven of the nine cities.

With Saurav's boys looking like they might just be able to go toe to toe with Steve Waugh and the Aussies for the remaining three tests, the latest decision also means that any "disgruntled" LCO can switch over to another MSO.

It may be recalled that on 10 November, ESS had discontinued the signals of its two channels ESPN and Star Sports to INCableNet. ESS had stated that the dues owed to it had crossed Rs 71 million. This afternoon INCable said that it was willing to pay up Rs 36.6 million or Rs 40 million if the court wanted a round figure. This would settle half the amount and the signals could go back on air in the interest of cricket fans. As for the balance remaining, the issue could be addressed at another forum.

"Even in the case of Star we have paid only a part of the amount and there is no problem. It is very easy to state that we steal signals across the board. These accusations have been made with an ulterior motive. We have not done anything illegal whatsoever. As far as under declaration is concerned the court should understand that there is a difference between connection and viewership. The two should not be confused. Five people may be watching through one connection, "offered INCable's counsel.

INCable also stressed that they have 36 pay channels and out of them ESS is the only one that is creating major trouble.

On its part, ESS said that INCable had issued cheques that had bounced in the past. When INCable said that it was suffering major losses because the LCOs were giving back only a fraction of the money paid by the subscribers, ESS' counsel said that this gave the court the impression that the Hinduja's were in a state of insolvency. "If that is the case why are they still carrying on business?' he asked.

CAN accused ESS and the MSO of keeping the public in the dark until the day before the India-Australia Brisbane test match, when ads suddenly turned up from nowhere. "When we take up the issue the LCO brushes it off saying that the matter will be resolved. There is also the matter of too many advertisements not just on cricket matches but on other content as well. The consumer has to waste half his time sitting in front of television commercials."

"There is no regulatory mechanism and one should be put in place. Interestingly television is the only business in the country where, as the subscriber base increases, so too does the cost. In other industries the cost comes down as the subscriber base widens," stated CAN's counsel.

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