Karnataka viewers in for cable fee hike

BANGALORE: The days of "free view" for Karnataka's TV addicts are about to end. They will soon have to pay to watch their favourite Kannada language soaps. 

Come 1 August and two south-based TV networks, Sun Network and Raj TV, are turning pay. Lead network Sun has decided to turn four of its local channels -- three Kannada and one Telugu -- into pay channels.

Market leader Udaya TV, along with Udaya News and Ushe of (all of the Sun Network), will become dearer by Rs 18 from next month. Udaya TV is to be encrypted from 1 August while the other two channels are already running as encrypted feeds.

This step is in line with Sun's already laid out plans, as per a company spokesman, who says that their Tamil and Telugu channels are already pay channels. The company plans to go in for ground distribution initially in Bangalore along the lines of their Sumangali and Gemini cable operations in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu respectively.

Raj TV's general entertainment Telugu channel Visa TV will also turn into a pay channel from 1 August at a Rs 6 per subscriber rate.

As of now, cable operators are undecided over whether or not to pass on the extra charge to the subscriber.

During the course of a telephonic interview today, Ponnacha, spokesperson for the Karnataka State Cable TV Operators Association, said that the matter would be discussed at a state-level meeting of all district cable operators and their associations scheduled to be held on 1 August at Kumte.

Ponnacha's personal view is that only those subscribers who are paying a lower slab of subscription fee should pay the extra charges so that the subscription fee in Bangalore does not exceed Rs 250 in any case. Calling the broadcasters' "sudden decision" to turn these free-to-air channels into pay channels unjust, Ponnacha asked, "If in Tamil Nadu, Tamil channels are free and in Andhra Pradesh, Telugu channels are free, why should we in Karnataka pay for Kannada channels?

"We invest all the money in dishes and cable equipment. The ad revenues from these channels are among the highest in Karnataka, as these channels are quite popular, why should the broadcasters follow different policies for different states?"

Ponnacha said his network had different subscription rates for people of different socio-economic strata. "We have multi-millionaires, rich people, then come well-to-do small businessman and salaried class executives, then peons and other staff, vegetable vendors and auto-rickshaw drivers and sweepers as subscribers. People having sets with 10-12 channels or very old TV sets generally pay around Rs 100 per month. The maximum charges are Rs 250 per month and we'd like to keep the limit there. An increase of Rs 24 by the broadcasters (three channels from Sun and one from Raj) translates into an actual minimum increase of Rs 50 for the subscribers."

"I may have to start charging Rs 250 from next month, a hike of Rs 50 from next month onwards," said cable operator GK Ashok Kumar of Sri Sai Maruthi Video Vision. "I've not yet calculated the impact of service tax on my charges," said V Krishna Kumar, another cable operator.

Ice Networks Pvt Ltd (Bangalore) managing director S Babu, meanwhile, said that his network would abide by any decision taken at the meeting between the MSOs and cable operators.

A dharna against Sun TV's decision is also under consideration, according to industry sources.

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