ESS, SCV in talks as clock ticks for World Cup kick-off

MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: The countdown is well and truly on as the world awaits the greatest sporting spectacle on the globe - the Fifa World Cup 2006 - to get underway tomorrow in Munich, Germany. 

In India a very different confrontation is on between ESPN STAR Sports, the exclusive telecast rights holder, and Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV), promoted by the Sun Network, which belongs to the Maran family that rules in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and owns cable networks in Chennai, a city where CAS has been implemented since 2003.

The first ball in the fracas was kicked by SCV on Wednesday when it issued a statement that all World Cup matches would be telecast live on any free channel on the premium band enabling viewers without STB (set top boxes) to get all the action. 

ESS in its response issued yesterday was quite categorical that "soccer lovers in the city can enjoy live telecast of Fifa World Cup 2006 only through set top boxes or through DTH services." For Maran family patriarch and DMK leader M Karunanidhi, recently sworn in as chief minister after ousting bitter political rival Jayalalitha at the hustings, the prospect of Chennai's citizens being deprived of the chance to see the soccer World Cup is unthinkable.

While the buzz in Delhi is that Karunanidhi had called for a meeting with ESPN managing director RC Venkateish and his team might well be stretching things, that ESS and SCV executives were scheduled to meet to thrash out the matter today is true.

It is worth noting here that one of Karunanidhi's pre-election promises was for the supply of free colour TV sets to the state's needy so all matters linked to the television are politically charged. 

Till the time of writing this report, an update on the meeting between ESS executives and the Marans were not available.

According to information available with, the issue will get resolved if an agreement is reached between SCV and ESS on the payout Chennai's dominant MSO will have to give to access the telecast.

Once that happens, SCV's assertion to its subscribers that the World Cup matches would go live on the free-to-air (FTA) band will be fulfilled. 

The fact is though, that whether SCV and ESS reach an agreement or not, if the MSO were to show the World Cup matches on the FTA band it would be in breach of existing CAS laws. 

Chennai after all is the only metro in the country where conditional access is operative and delivery of pay channels by any means other than through a set top box is illegal.

A point of note is that SCV already appears to be in in violation of CAS laws in the matter of the Ten Sports telecast of the ongoing India-West Indies Test series being played out in the Caribbean. SCV has been airing the matches live on the FTA band. 

However, since the SCV subscriber is not having to pay anything extra for getting the Ten Sports feed, for all practical purposes the Dubai-based sports channel is an FTA channel in the Chennai territory. That the Sony-Discovery One Alliance distribution bouquet (of which Ten Sports is a part) has chosen to look the other way about it is clearly linked to the fact that SCV is its distributor in Tamil Nadu.

Sun TV Network promoter Kalanidhi Maran’s younger brother, Dayanidhi, is a minister in the federal coalition government in charge of telecommunications and infotech portfolios. 

ESS warns cable ops against unlawful Fifa telecast 

Rajesh Kaul, associate vice-president, affiliate sales, ESPN Software has in a statement said, "No other channel, whether pay, free to air or terrestrial is authorized to provide, show or distribute the Fifa World Cup Germany 2006 in the territory of India.”

He added, “Also carriage, reception or distribution of the Fifa World Cup Germany 2006 by any MSO / cable operator / sub-operator without written authorization from ESPN Star Sports is a violation of copyrights and hence an illegal activity. If any person(s), entities are found to be resorting to such activities, legal action shall be initiated against such persons(s) / entities."

These assertions by ESS were necessitated as cable operators in various parts of the country were threatening to show the World Cup either through ESS signals or by accessing them from elsewhere.

For example, learns from ESPN India that a cable operator in Agartala in north-eastern part of the country had threatened to access the World Cup via Bangladesh TV, signals of which spill over to Indian border states also.

Dish TV bullish on WC fuelling STB sales

The cable controversy apart, Subhash Chandra's Dish TV, country's first DTH service, is bullish that the World Cup would fuel sale of boxes not only in Chennai, but in other parts of the country also.

Dish TV business head and additional vice-chairman of Essel Industries Jawahar Goel said, "The off-take of our DTH boxes in Chennai is up almost 300 per cent these days."

While admitting that having ESPN and Star Sports on the DTH platform is an incentive for sale with the soccer fiesta just a day away, Goel, however, said that Dish TV would like to keep "away from the controversy" raging on in Chennai involving ESS and Sumangali.

"We are businesspeople and would like to restrict our involvement to business deals," Goel explained.

An added advantage for Dish TV --- present subscriber base in India close to 1 million --- in pushing up its sale is that pubcaster Doordarshan will only be able to show the opening ceremony and match, plus the two semi finals and the final of the soccer World Cup.

According to a report in The Hindu, taking advantage of the growing World Cup football fever, infotech major HCL will start distributing Dish TV products through Nokia outlets in Chennai. 

HCL, itself a Nokia distributor, officially launched its DTH distributorship at a meeting for 120 dealers in Chennai on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, asked what would be Dish's reaction if cable ops in football-crazy Kolkata in West Bengal re-transmit ESPN and Star Sports signals during the World Cup illegally to subscribers, Goel said action would be taken against errant cable ops.

"Any cable operator trying to steal ESS signals from Dish TV (for football matches) would be hauled up and legal action will be initiated against him," Goel said, pointing out that such subscribers would be switched off from the Dish control room.

"We have launched a nationwide anti-piracy drive and will not tolerate piracy of signals from Dish TV," Goel said.

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