'Blocked', lesser known FTA channels gain in Mumbai

MUMBAI: The ongoing face-off between Hinduja Group MSO INCableNet and the major pay broadcasters in Mumbai has certainly benefited the smaller channels and other free-to-air channels which used to be blocked due to other considerations.

Viewers are getting accustomed to watch Action TV instead of AXN, ITV and Remo (a new music channel which is being shown in parts of Mumbai) channel instead of Channel [V]. Also, many of them are tuning in to regional and local cable movie channels.

There are cases of viewers in the western suburbs of Mumbai who are getting channels which they never used to get - Aaj Tak, ETC , ETC Punjabi, Headlines Today, and the entire gamut of Doordarshan's regional channels.

"Since last month, Action TV has enhanced its presence in the country and in Mumbai. The free-to-air (FTA) channel is now available in 5-6 million households in India and has also struck a distribution deal with the Kerala-based Asianet channel," says Fifth Avenue Media Services (FAMS) director-marketing Roland Landers.

Action TV is being distributed by FAMS, perhaps the first business process outsourcing consultancy firm for the broadcasting business (satellite TV to be more precise). FAMS has entered into an agreement with Silk Route Media to distribute two new channels Action TV and F&S. The second channel F&S (Fashion & Style) will definitely be pitted against Trendz (part of the Zee Turner bouquet) and the free-to-air Fashion TV (FTV). F&S is expected to launch just ahead of the CAS rollout deadline of 14 July.

Mumbai-based last mile operator Shafiq Butt says: "Despite the ongoing tussle, many cable operators are giving customers more than 82 channels, including several film channels. There are several FTA channels available and more will come in between now and 14 July 2003. There will be several options available." 

Meanwhile, MSOs are adding their own channels to their "bouquet". It is a known fact they would need in-house or outsourced channels to make their platform attractive after 14 July and even currently as the face-off with pay channels continues.

For instance, the INCablenet network has CVO (the movie channel), INMumbai (the news, entertainment and views channel), INMumbai Plus (which shows music videos), Tele-shopping network channel and at least two-three other channels which show feature films.

Indusind Entertainment and IN Mumbai's senior V-P marketing George Sebastian says: "We have demonstrated that organised cable can shoulder the responsibility of offering quality content and quantifying reach and viewership. In fact, during the weekends, our local cable channels perform better than the nationally available channels. Also, the premieres of blockbuster movies happens earlier on the local cable channels as compared to the nationally televised ones."

INCableNet claims to cover 72 per cent of Mumbai's C&S homes. The MSO has plans to centralise operations and provide capsuled feed from a single control room even in Bangalore and Delhi by making investments into a fibre-optic network.

The Rajan Raheja controlled Hathway Cable and Datacom, partly owned by Star India, already has number of cable channels namely, Cine Channel, a movie based entertainment channel reaching 30 cities, C-News, a local centric news channels telecast in three different languages: Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati; and ITV, a dial in interactive music channel.

Hathway also operates various other local channels targeting various pockets of Mumbai, for example WIN (western suburbs), Space Vision /ICT / UCN for South Mumbai, C-Movies and Liberty in Thane.

A Hathway spokesperson says: "Cable TV services being the core business, Hathway has been providing wholesome content to its customers including all the pay channels. In the post-CAS scenario, Hathway would continue with these local channels as a value added service to its consumers and in case required Hathway can always start more local channels."

Not to be left behind, some of the cable trade distributors in Mumbai have also started channels showing films - "pirated" versions of new releases and "adult" content.

There are some rumours floating around that the distributors and last-mile operators will be wrested off their control of the local advertising which is shown on these channels. Sources say that the local advertising (in the city of Mumbai) contributes monies in the range of Rs 500,000 plus per month to the distributor or MSO who controls the control room.

A viewer Yadav Salian (staying in the western suburbs) who is facing the brunt of the ongoing tussle between INCablenet and hasn't accessed Star, Zee or Sony bouquets since the past few days says: "The cable operator is giving us several new channels and some of them are extremely watchable. We didn't miss any of the regular programmes on Star, Zee and Sony. In fact, the people in my colony (100 plus flats) haven't even protested to the cable operator notwithstanding the ads placed by broadcasters in newspapers."

Though such a trend is not yet visible in other metros like Delhi, Kolkata or Chennai because the respective dominant MSOs are not in a position like INCablenet - having being cut off by most pay channels - the state of affairs in Mumbai could be a just a glimpse of the state of affairs post 14 July 2003.

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