Rate hikes, pirated signals lead to blank screens in Gujarat

MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: Showtime's been overtaken by sabre rattling between cable ops and broadcasters in the western state of Gujarat. 

Cable operators, who have not taken too kindly to the rate hikes of Sony and Zee and the rider-attached downward revision of Star's rates, have switched off signals in several parts of Gujarat. Broadcasters, on the other hand, are gearing to tackle the menace of pirated signals as World Cup cricket approaches.

While broadcasters' maintain the price revisions effective 1 January 2003 have been going on smoothly across MSOs and states, the rumblings are now getting audible.

The One Alliance, which hiked its rates from Rs 40 to Rs 55 effective 1 January, has hired two consultants to keep the menace of pirated signals in check. Sony Entertainment India's distribution head Shantonu Aditya says a court injunction led to raids on 1 January against Dev Networks in Surat. Two representatives of the cable op were arrested and later let off on bail, says Aditya. FIRs have been registered in six police stations in Surat and adjoining areas against cable ops broadcasting pirated signals. Dev Networks is currently back to the negotiating table with Sony, says Aditya.

Ahead of the World Cup SET-Discovery is aggressively going to crack down on piracy, Aditya asserted. "We are fully prepared to take on the pirates," he added.

Lead broadcaster Star India is also facing problems in Gujarat. In several parts of Saurashtra and Kutch as well as in south Gujarat, Star has been off air since 1 January. However, Star India corporate communications head Yash Khanna maintains that he expects the issue to be resolved soon and that Star India has not switched off signals anywhere.

Though Star India is yet to sign new subscription deals with big MSOs like Hathway and InCableNet, the company expects that by the time conditional access is fully implemented, its subcriber base would have increased to 12 million cable homes. At present it is about 6 million for the Star Network.

"We are in the process of finalising the deals with bigger MSOs after our new pricing strategy, but we expect that the target of increasing our base would be achieved," Sameer Nair, COO, Star India told

Nair expressed confidence that in a few days time the deals with InCableNet and Hathway would be finally delivered.

He also said that after the new pricing for the Star channels were announced, "between 60-70 per cent of the cable ops have already signed up." However, he refused to hazard a guess by what quantum Star Network's susbcription revenue would go up - or down - after conditional access is implemented and the cable ops sign up as per the new pricing startegy. "But one thing is sure. Our revenue from subscription will certainly go up this year," Nair asserted

Aditya also exuded confidence about the rollover to the new price structure. It has been smooth going, says Aditya, adding that he expects to have in place six million active paying subscribers by the time the World Cup kicks off mid-February.

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