Television

Zee does a U-turn, seeks government OK for bundling

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NEW DELHI: CAS is indeed turning out to be better than any of the soaps that most entertainment channels air with unexpected twists and turns.

 

 

The Subhash Chandra-promoted Zee Telefilms did a complete U-turn today, saying it is seeking government okay to exempt them from announcing a la carte price for the Zee family of channels, as also the Turner channels that are distributed by Zee Turner, a 74:26 joint venture between Zee Telefilms and Turner International India.



Stated reason: a la carte price would not be favourable for the consumer. The MRP for the Zee Turner bouquet of about 14 pay channels has been fixed at Rs 1.80 per day that totals Rs 55.80 for a 31-day month. 



Speaking to indiantelevision.com today after a press conference by the MSOs to announce the rates for cable service, including pay channels, Zee Telefilms additional vice chairman Jawahar Goel said, "We have come out with the maximum retail price for the Zee Turner bouquet of channels as announcing a la carte price would not be consumer-friendly." 

The irony of it all seemed to escape Goel, who a short while earlier was on the same platform as MSOs who were lambasting broadcasters for, among other things, bundling of pay channels.



Goel added, "We (Zee) are in the process of petitioning the government to exempt us from announcing the individual prices of pay channels as it would not turn out to be pro-consumer."



If Goel is to be taken at face value, then that means that the real purpose of CAS may be defeated and Zee would be joining the "cartel" of broadcasters (as the cable trade has dubbed them) that had been attempting to impress upon the government that tiering of TV channels have to be done, instead of individual pricing of pay channels, if the consumer has to be given real benefit.



When asked that bouquetising of channels, as being sought to be done by Zee Turner, would defeat the purpose of CAS and would also mean that Zee is now in sync with other broadcasters, Goel smiled and said, "Business toh sabke saath rah kar karna hain (business has to be done along with others only)." Incidentally, all along Zee has been supporting CAS and the way it had been sought to be implemented.



Asked whether the problems with other broadcasters like ESPN, Star and Sony have been sorted out Goel said talks are on with the likes of Sony and ESPN.



indiantelevision.com managed to contact information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and asked him for a response regarding the plea by Zee for exemption from announcing its a la carte rates and this is what he had to say: "I will only comment when the issue is brought before me. I have formally not been intimated about Zee seeking exemption from announcing individual prices."



Meanwhile, commenting on the latest twists in the ongoing CAS tale, Peter Mukerjea, Star India CEO dismissed the stance taken by the MSOs and Siti as untenable. "It doesn't make sense. How can they decide the price of the pay channels?" Mukerjea asked.



On Zee's trying to seek exemption from announcing a la carte price, Mukerjea pointed to the contradictory positions adopted by Zee. "Well isn't it surprising that Zee has changed its stance after keeping a high moral ground all these days on CAS? If they are actually seeking government exemption, then it would go against the spirit of CAS as has been mandated by the government. We have at least come out with our individual pricing too," he said.



SITICABLE'S INTRODUCTORY PRICE



Even as the MSOs today announced the price of the cable TV service, including what they thought should be the prices of pay channels, Zee Group cable arm SitiCable came out with an introductory offer for all pay channels at Rs 128 (excluding local taxes that are levied on last mile operators) for CAS-enabled subscribers. Over and above this, it will charge another Rs 72 (excluding local taxes) for about 60 free to air channels.



Donning the hat of an MSO, Jawahar Goel, who also heads Siti, said, "The introductory offer is likely to be valid till the (state) elections." Some Indian states, including Delhi, are going to polls later this year in October-November.



The majority of the Siti franchisees have been consulted and they have agreed to forego the pay channel distribution margin for the initial phase of the CAS implementation. Therefore, the price for the total services will come to Rs 200, plus service tax as applicable to the LMO, according to Goel.



GOOGLIES GALORE



Siti issued an official statement that is, however, so full of googlies that it would make the likes of even Shane Warne wonder.



"We are expecting the pay channels to fall in line with the government initiative and the need of the day. Any pay channel which is not contributing towards smooth implementation of CAS will be taken off from the Siticable Network as has been mandated by the Government of India," the statement said, but goes on to add, "At this stage, it is difficult for Siti Cable to announce individual channel prices till a survey is mounted and choice of the consumer is established in each service locality for which the waiver of the compliance is being separately requested from the Ministry of I&B."



The statement further goes on to add that broadcasters like Sony and ESPN have also shown their inclination to participate in Siti Cable's initiative, "except Star Network." Discussions with these channels have made considerable headway and will take some more time to enter into a formal agreement. 



The statement further said that the LMO was not collecting from the consumer any entertainment tax and was contributing the same to the state governments from his own revenues. The LMO has now decided to communicate to the public and collect the entertainment tax which is as high as Rs 20 per subscriber (in Delhi). The service tax is also 8 per cent," the statement stated, to which Goel, making a case for entertainment tax waiver or reduction, added that once the LMO starts charging the consumer for these taxes, the consumer will know "whom to vote for in the coming elections."



Rajiv Khattar, executive vice-president of Siti Cable struck a note of warning and said, "It is estimated that if CAS is not supported and implemented immediately, the subscription rates will shoot up to about Rs 400 per month as the price hike effected by the pay channels in January 2003 was not passed on by the cable operator to the consumer."



Now if these latest turns of events don't put to shame the script writers and episode writers of films and serials, nothing would. What we at indiantelevision.com can say is that the channel managers seem to have got heavily influenced by the serials they air.

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