Pay broadcasters given some more time to announce rates

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: The government today offered a significant concession to the pay broadcasters on the issue of their channel pricing by giving them some more time to announce rates.

It may be recalled that I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had earlier said that broadcasters should have their pay channel pricing mechanism in place by 10 June so as to facilitate the cable service providers announcing their rate cards by the 15 June deadline.

 Information and broadcasting ministry secretary Pawan Chopra told journalists after a meeting with broadcasters today evening, "We have had a discussion with broadcasters and they have requested that they need two to three days more to discuss the issue with MSOs and their associates. Since we are trying to facilitate a decision making process, we have not set a deadline for them...but I have been assured they will announce their pricing as early as possible."

Having been given that concession, current indications are that a few days on the other side of 15 June is the period that most broadcasters are now looking at to announce the prices of individual channels so that the MSOs can then publicise the prices for the consumers' benefit.

Talking to, Star India COO Sameer Nair said, "We are aware of the 15 June deadline (on announcement of prices of pay channels) and we will publicise the prices soon." Asked specifically when does Star expect to publicise the prices of individual channels, Nair replied, "By 16-17 June."

SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta had told prior to today's meeting that the channel pricing details were being worked out and that he expected it to be ready around about the 15 June deadline.

Subhash Chandra's Zee Telefilms has maintained that its bouquet would cost Rs 55 but has yet to publicise individual channel rates.

Nair also said that they have "several options" on pricing of channels, but would like to sit together with all stakeholders of the industry to discuss the issue. "There are several options (and) we need to sit down with fellow broadcasters and MSOs (to thrash out the pricing matter)," he explained, adding, "We are trying to come up with a plan that will benefit all."

Zee Telefilms additional vice-chairman Jawahar Goel sounded more strindent when he said, "We took the lead on pricing in a post-CAS regime, but the others have not yet taken any step in that direction. Now, we will wait for others to announce their prices. Let them also come out with some figures."

ESPN India's country head Manu Sawhney, of course, saw no problems for broadcasters. "There are no problems that are worrying us (broadcasters)," he said in reply to a question as to what are the issues that are still bothering the broadcasters, or some of them at least.

However, according to some of those who attended today's meeting, during the closed door meeting Chopra made it clear to representatives of all broadcasters in no uncertain terms that the government would tolerate no delays in implementation of CAS and that they should announce the prices of pay channels ASAP.

Still, experts pointed out that the government does not seem to have much options on the matter vis-a-vis the broadcasters and would find it difficult to make a broadcaster toe the CAS line if that particular company decided to play truant. That is why, the experts explained, the notifications issued by the government refer directly to cable operators and make them responsible for almost everything, while referring to broadcasters only indirectly.

Meanwhile, when Chopra was asked about the softening in stance of the government vis-a-vis broadcasters --- despite I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad lashing out against critics and opponents of CAS --- the secretary said, "The idea is to let everybody come out with a transitional plan that will be beneficial for the consumer."

The meeting, which lasted almost two hours during which several rounds of tea were served, could not be termed a stormy one, but the waiting journalists outside Chopra's office in Shastri Bhawan in Delhi did get glimpses of some glum faces.

Others who attended today's meeting included additional secretary (broadcasting) I&B ministry Vijay Singh, Doordarshan director-general SY Quraishi, Sony Entertainment TV India's distribution head Shantonu Aditya, Television Eighteen Ltd's MD Raghav Bahl and TV-18's CEO Haresh Chawla.

According to Chopra, the broadcasters also have no problem with the notification that disallows bundling of channels so that the consumer has the freedom to choose a channel of his choice without any pressure to get add-ons too.


The Rupert Murdoch-controlled Star India has sought clarifications from the partner-turned-competitior Subhash Chandra's ZeeTelefilms on the headend in the sky project before deciding whether Star channels would be offered on Zee's HITS platform or not.

"They had written to us (on HITS) and we have sought some clarification from Zee on uplinking of channels and such issues, but have got no reply yet from them," Nair responded, when asked by whether Star India is willing to join a HITS platform promoted by Zee.

According to Nair, the clarification was sought some one month back.

"Unless we get a clarification on such issues (HITS would entail re-uplinking channels from India after being encrypted at a master facility of the service provider), I cannot say whether Star would join a HITS platform or not," Nair said.

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