Broadcasters reveal prices to I&B; to discuss with MSOs

NEW DELHI: Fifteen days away from the implementation of CAS, decisions still remain to be taken; discussions are still to be had to iron out glitches and prices have not been announced for the general public.


But what is known is that the soft launch of CAS is very much on the cards. The only difference is that it would happen simultaneously in the metros with the present system also prevailing for some time till everything else is in place and that rates floated earlier by some broadcasters have been turned into maximum retail prices, which also includes distribution margin for the cable fraternity. More importantly, the broadcasters have conveyed to the government the prices of the popular or the driver channels.


The government insisted today that CAS rollout is on schedule, but said it would study various options like "dual feed or illumination for the twilight zone" to make things easy for the consumers who should not face a blackout of their favourite channels post 14 July when all pay channels would have to be mandatorily be routed through set top boxes.

Broadcasters like Star, Discovery, ESPN Star Sports, Ten Sports and Sony have intimidated the MRPs to the government but did not reveal it to the media as some more discussions need to be held between broadcasters and MSOs. However, sources reveal that the prices are in the following range:

Star Plus is Rs 24 and Star Movies is Rs 20 (no change from earlier distributed list).

SET is Rs 14 (less by Rs 4), MAX is Rs 20 (up by Rs 4) and Discovery is Rs 10 (no change).

ESPN and Star Sports are priced at Rs 29 each (up by Rs 7).

Ten Sports would continue to be priced at Rs 14, according to a channel representative.

All the above prices are MRPs and inclusive of distribution margins].

The government has also said that the broadcasters have agreed --- in public interest and in deference to the Prime Minister's wish --- that they will freeze their prices for the transitory period, something that also needs to be discussed and finalised later.

"I have had a constructive and fruitful meeting with the broadcasters and they have indicated rates. Jawahar Goel of Zee will indicate his rates soon," India's information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told journalists today evening, but refused to divulge the rates indicated to the broadcasters saying the broadcasters need to hold some more discussions with the MSOs before the prices could be made public.

What the minister admitted that the prices indicated by the broadcasters are for the "driver channels" (like Star Plus, Sony and ESS) and along with the basic tier of FTA channels and taxes would total up to slightly over Rs 200, a figure that Prasad had earlier said would be comfortable with the consumers. Reports indicate that Prasad also made it clear to that the broadcasters have given an assurance that they would not hike pay channel rates for the next six months.

But what is surprising is that if the government gives in to the present line of thinking of the broadcasters, the consumers will actually end up paying more than what they are paying now. It is another story that Indian cable consumers pay rock bottom prices if compared globally.

The minister, however, said that various options are being studied by the government to ensure that the rollout of CAS is smooth. One of the options, according to Prasad, is to have dual illumination during the transitory phase when it would be seen that adequate number of boxes are available, the rollout doesn't inconvenience the public as also the industry.

Asked how long the transitory phase would continue, Prasad said, "We will have to work that out."

In a day when the broadcasters first had a long meeting with the I&B ministry secretary Pawan Chopra and later with the minister, the developments were totally filmy and straight out of a serial aired on entertainment channels. So much so that in the end when the minister was addressing the press, he had representatives from the broadcasting industry standing behind him in a show of solidarity.

Those who attended today's meetings with the government included Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea, Star India COO Sameer Nair, SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta, Turner International India country head Anshuman Misra, Discovery

India head Deepak Shourie, Zee Telefilms additional vice-chairman Jawahar Goel, Zee Turner CEO Sunil Khanna, ESS' Manu Sawhney and Ten Sports managing director Sharmista Rijhwani.

While Mukerjea described the meetings as "good and fruitful", Dasgupta said, "The rates given to the government are for individual channels and now discussions would be held with the MSOs for the distribution margin." Both refused to talk on the rates given, but indications are there that the prices conveyed today are not much different from those floated earlier by Star, Sony and ESS --- an exercise that had been termed by the government as a "non-serious" one.

Zee's Goel said that the individual pricing of Zee channels would be with the government by tomorrow evening. "The consumer will get the channels he wants," Goel added.

However, the cable fraternity has immediately rejected the various options and the rates conveyed to the government today, amidst tight security.

Hathway Datacom's vice-president (operations) for North India SN Sharma told, "There are too many ifs and buts still remaining. Also, dual illumination would throw up its own problems as it's not feasible with limited bandwidth available with the cable operators and MSOs."

Vikki Choudhry of NCTA said, "Dual feed does not make any business sense for the cable operators and it is also difficult to implement."

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