MSOs hope to offer all channels at Rs 200 'invitation price'

NEW DELHI: MSOs now want to fix the price of pay channels and offer an invitation price of Rs 200. The cable fraternity is not giving up and going hammer and tongs against the big broadcasters, minus Zee Telefilms, that seems to be having the backing of the cable fraternity, courtesy the company's additional vice-chairman Jawahar Goel.

Even as an outspoken independent cable operator from Delhi and president of the National Cable & Telecom Association (NCTA), Vikki Choudhry, has shot off another missive to the government today alleging that broadcasters are playing hooky on CAS, the MSOs and some cable ops have said this time round they would come out with the pricing of pay channels.

"Since the broadcasters in yesterday's meeting wanted that MSOs should come out with a price list of pay channels, we are discussing amongst ourselves on coming out with the pricing of all pay channels in a few days time," Zee Telefilms additional vice-chairman and head of Siti Cable Jawahar Goel told today, adding that the MSOs' list would also include the Star and Sony channels.

Though the final pricing is yet to be arrived at as some more discussions need to be held, Goel did admit that they are looking at giving "an invitation price of Rs 200 for six months" to the consumers.

The other big broadcasters like Star and Sony were not available for comments on this latest development.

Asked what would happen if Star and Sony reject the pricing set by MSOs, like Zee yesterday did to a set of pricing floated by Star, Sony and ESS, Goel said, "Then those channels would not be carried by MSOs. In the Cable TV Act there is no must-carry clause for satellite channels."

The strategy of the MSOs, led by Goel who at times wears the broadcaster's hat and at times dons on the MSOs hat, seems to be to keep the pay channels' prices as low as possible for the consumers so as to drive the sale of set-top boxes --- something that the government has been saying ought to be done.

If such a thing does happen, it may split the broadcasters' lobby, already showing signs of tension, on the lines of swadeshi and videshi.

Meanwhile, after yesterday's fiasco of a meeting, another salvo has been fired by NCTA whose president Vikki Choudhry, in a letter to the government, has alleged that big broadcasters like "Star, Sony and ESPN-Star Sports want to derail the implementation of CAS" --- a notion that Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea yesterday strongly said needs to be dispelled.

Incidentally, Choudhry and Mukerjea had quite a few angry exchanges of words during yesterday's meeting on CAS at the information and broadcasting ministry in Delhi. There was also a time when Choudhry, seemingly irritated by Mukerjea's incisive arguments had snapped, "If you (broadcasters) want the government to fix the price for the basic tier, then let it also fix the price for the pay channels."

In today's letter addressed to India's I&B ministry secretary Pawan Chopra, NCTA provocatively has said that the big broadcasters are flouting government rules and are attempting to "form a cartel" instead of giving the maximum retail price of the pay channels.

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