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Content, customer service all important: Guthrie

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MUMBAI: The customer continues to be king.

Star TV CEO Michelle Guthrie put the viewer-consumer firmly on top of the agenda during her maiden speech at a public forum in India after her elevation to the post.

Quality of content is just as important as the last mile customer service at the distribution end, Guthrie pointed out, if the consumer has to be wooed for the long term. China, which has recently realised the importance of quality programming has thrown open its doors to foreign programme producers to feed the liberalised television sector, she noted.

While recounting the new revenue stream of wireless services like SMS that have fetched in handsome revenues for Star in China, Guthrie hinted that such services could also be made available at a later date in India Addressing the session on the experience of pay TV markets in the Asia Pacific in the last decade, Guthrie said that unlike India, cable networks are very well equipped in terms of technology, better in some cases, than those in the UK and US. "To sell TV seriously, you have to entertain viewers month after month... and to have a continuing relationship with customers, you have to understand that customer service (at the cable operator end) is important," she noted.

Guthrie's stress on international production values in programming, as also her emphasis on localisation, should hold true in India too. She pointed out the ratings success of the dubbed Jackie Chan movies on Star Gold, which she happily noted, had fetched better TRPs than original Hindi movies.

Price Waterhouse Coopers entertainment and media practice Asia Pacific leader Marcel Fenez, in his address, stressed on the need for education about the pay TV scenario at various levels. The consumer, the advertiser as well as the regulator as well as the enforcement agencies first need to be updated with the issues and a dialogue initiated if a pay TV market has to develop fully, he said.

Time Warner's Hugh Stevens said there was a need to address different markets differently, even though some of the issues confronting these markets could be the same. The following session on addressability - where do we go from here, saw friends, foes, cousins and brothers putting forth their diverse points of view on the issue, with particular emphasis on the giant on the horizon - broadband.

While Reliance Infocomm president Prakash Bajpai enumerated his company's plans for venturing into broadband in the country (2,00,000 homes to be fiberised in the next few weeks), SET-Discovery alliance president Shantonu Aditya recommended setting up of effective dispute settlement mechanisms and encouraged the setting up of other modes of delivery, including broadband. Broadband 

would succeed, he noted, if it can offer ' more for less' if the set top boxes are heavily subsidised and if it is able to provide interactive and specialised content.

It was upto HTMT's Ashok Mansukhani, representative of the MSO sector, to rue the premature death of conditional access and the massive investments in set top boxes that have gone to waste "waiting for a particular company to be ready with its broadband plans...", he said. Cable can compete with broadband, he maintained, using special niche content, pay per view and other options, he maintained.

NDS UK vice president Derek Nottingham, in his speech, dwelt on the major platforms like BSkyB, DirecTV, Echostar and Foxtel, all of which depend on CAS, which ensures protection of content and revenue and allows for free market 

conditions.

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