Pay channels go on blink in Mumbai; BJP's Somaiya filing PIL against MSOs broadcasters at 2:30 pm

MUMBAI: At the stroke of midnight (give or take a few minutes) viewers settling down for some late night movie action across Mumbai and Thane were left staring at blank TV screens. All pay channels were shut down in a simulcast move carried out by the cable fraternity.


The reason for the 24-hour shutdown: Cable operators were making a point that the recent hikes in subscription rates, around which consumers have been up in arms against MSOs as well, should be squarely blamed on broadcasting companies.

The action, endorsed by all leading MSOs and cable operators, came hours ahead of a public interest petition that BJP MP Kirit Somaiya is to move in the Mumbai high court against both cable ops and broadcasters over the recent hikes in rates. Somaiya's PIL is scheduled to be placed before the high court at 2:30 pm today, according to his press secretary.

Meanwhile, the Press Trust of India quoted Maharashtra Cable Consumers' Action Committee spokesman Sudhakar Velankar as blaming "multi-national broadcasting companies for the sudden hike in cable television rates."

He blamed both the Centre and the state government for "failing to rein in broadcasting MNCs."

Velankar strongly supported the cable operators move to blank "pay channels" for a day but said they are fighting for their cause and "consumers fight will continue".

Some cable operators have meanwhile hit out at Somaiya. WIN cable distributors Suvarn Amonkar and Sadanand Kadam said, "It is shame that the BJP MP, who has filed a petition in the high court, has made the Union government a respondent".

"If Somaiya, who belongs to the ruling BJP, cannot give justice to common customers, then he has no right to continue in his post", PTI quoted INCableNet distributor Ganesh Nayadu as saying in a statement.

The cable ops, meanwhile have got support from an unexpected quarter. Consumer Guidance Society of India president Anand Patwardhan, who has taken up cudgels against cable ops in the past, is this time with them on the issue of pay channels airing advertisements.

MSOs have said there should be a limit to the amount of commercial time broadcasters can have in a day on pay channels. A figure that has been mentioned is that out of total 1400-odd minutes of programming a channel has in a day, the limit of commercial airtime (excluding in-house promos) should be capped at 0.5 per cent.

Rationale: if a consumer is paying, for example, Rs 50 for a premium movie channel, then he should not be irritated by ads.

Patwardhan has reportedly quoted a 1956 United Nations Convention ruling (?), which purportedly says that a channel cannot be termed a pay channel if commercials are on it.

All this action comes just as the government has warned that the deadline for CAS rollout in the four metros of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, will have to be adhered to come what may.

The question really is if consumers are saying that cable rates cannot be above Rs 150 a month, how are operators going to extract the Rs 6000 or so for a digital box or the Rs 2,500 for an analogue box that will be required to be paid by each pay TV subscriber?

Expect the battle lines to get even more sharply drawn out as the 14 July deadline draws nearer.

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