Pay channels offer 'early bird' discounts

NEW DELHI: After the government 's summer offer in the form of slashed duties on import of set top boxes, it's the turn of the broadcasters to extend the summer discount to lure subscribers in a post CAS regime.

"We are looking at various schemes, including invitation price, for customers of boxes. Those who buy or place the order for the boxes now, will get discounts in the rates of pay channels," a senior executive of a multinational broadcasting company operating in India said today after a meeting of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) where CAS, amongst a host of other issues, was discussed.

Faced with the CAS inevitability, the broadcasters are now looking at ways that will create a demand for set top boxes even before the D-day of 14 July draws near. And "early bird" schemes and "invitation price" are just two of the alternatives being studied.

"The government has not disallowed discounting and we are exploring ways to offer packages to consumers," another representative of a broadcast firm said.

This invitation or early bird scheme cannot last for long and the broadcasters would like to extend such schemes for a limited period of time, something that may have to have the Indian government's approval.

The government had clarified some days back that pay channel managers cannot arbitrarily hike the price and once the prices are revised, they may have to hold it for some months --- between six and 12 months --- before the next revision could be effected.

"We'll have to see how long we can extend the invitation price scheme as we may have to inform the government of this," another broadcaster said, adding that these discounting schemes have to be worked out in association with the MSOs as their and cable operators' distribution margins have to be factored in while offering discounts.

Many have not yet worked out distribution margins, though Zee has announced that cable ops who become partners for the HITS project stand to get margins up to 40 per cent.

However, attempts made by to elicit a response from the government on the period for which discounts can be offered by broadcasters to consumers proved futile. The I&B minister had a busy schedule and could not meet the media today.

Still, a senior executive with a company that has interest in broadcasting as well as cable distribution retorted, "Why should I discuss the various schemes to be offered to consumers in the IBF? Such things have to be discussed in my company's board meetings." This was an indication that despite assertions of co-operation in the industry, not everybody is game to reveal all the aces.

The various discounting schemes are being mulled by broadcasters with an aim to see that consumers in the four metros snap up maximum number of boxes where CAS is being sought to be implemented from 14 July.

Speaking on the sidelines of a Cartoon Network press conference, held at the same venue as the IBF meeting, Turner International India country head Anshuman Misra admitted that broadcasters visualise a "drop in viewership and revenue" in the short term, which can get neutralised if "over the next six months (by January 2004 end) about 50 per cent of the (approximately 6.4 million) C&S homes are STB-equipped."

"I think over a six-month period if even 50 per cent of the C&S households in the metros go in for the boxes, it'd be a comfortable figure," Misra added.

Today's IBF meet was attended, amongst others, by Star India COO Sameer Nair, SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta, TV Today Network CEO G Krishnan, Zee Telefilms additional vice-chairman Jawahar Goel, Sri Adhikari Brothers vice-chairman and managing director Markand Adhikari , Television Eighteen Ltd. CEO Haresh Chawla, Doordarshan director-general SY Quraishi, and Turner India's Misra


The IBF also discussed other issues like a replacement for Bhuvan Lall whose three-year contract as executive director was not extended recently.

According to IBF sources some candidates are under consideration, including a former information and broadcasting ministry secretary. Incidentally, the first ED of the IBF was former I&B ministry secretary Bhaskar Ghose who left only after six months of stint.

The issue of outstanding from advertising agencies was also discussed.

The sources said that though the outstanding have come down drastically to about Rs. 890 million, realization is still a problem. Out of this Rs 890 million, a big part is owed to Star India, considered the highest grosser of revenues amongst broadcasters in India.

The IBF has also decided that NDTV would be admitted as a member of the organization after Prannoy Roy's company turned a broadcaster by launching two news channels earlier this year.

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