Star Sports gets support but ban continues

The battle between Mumbai's cable operators and ESPN-Star Sports is entering another phase. Cable operators are believed to have met the information & broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley yesterday presenting to him their grouses against the sports services and how the contracts drawn up by them are totally one-sided. Jaitley is believed to have heard them out. One will have to wait and watch how Jaitley will react.

ESPN-Star Sports meanwhile has received support from the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, a representative body of television channels, programmers, producers, advertisers and marketers, and the Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), a representative body of cable operators. The two have condemned the initiative by cable operators to black out the two sports services following a hike in subscription rates by Star Sports.

IBF president and Prasar Bharati CEO Rajiv Ratna Shah says: "Pay TV is going to be the norm for the future. Television programming being a very expensive proposition, the channels need more than one revenue stream besides advertising, subscription fees too may be necessary. That's how the television industry has evolved around the world and India is no exception."

He added, "Just as newspapers, the television channels cannot survive on advertising revenues alone. Newspaper prices average about 50-120 rupees per month today whereas the channels charge only about 3 - 8 rupees per month. The pay TV charges in India are among the lowest in the world. The subscriber fee set by each channel is a business decision it has to make, and must take into account the market conditions. We therefore do not favour pressure tactics adopted by some persons, including black-out of some channels by a few cable operators from Mumbai."

COFI has on its part also condemned the mixing of politics with business. "Often the modus operandi used by politicians or their relatives is to divide the cable operators on political ground and present to the government that certain issues be resolved which may give them personal benefits and avoiding the main issues that have adversely affecting the industry since last 10 years." COFI has also frowned upon the practice of politicians who have been forcibly taking over networks from small operators using the cover of friends and relatives.

ESPN Software India managing director Manu Sawhney's has also warned cable operators that they are legally bound to show ESPN and Star Sports on their networks as they have signed contracts to that effect. to the cable operators Says Sawhney, "The television viewers are being deprived by the cable operators of watching the exciting cricket series on ESPN and STAR Sports. This is in complete violation of the agreements that they have signed with us under which they are contractually and legally bound to provide the ESPN and STAR Sports services to the consumers of the cable network for reception by their subscribers".

Meanwhile cable operators do not seem to be affected by the furore they have created by imposing the ban. There were no signs of ESPN and Star Sports making a come back on to TV screens in Mumbai as the ban entered its second week. Viewers in Mumbai have tuned into Sony Max which has been airing the youth World Cup tournament from Colombo. And hence they have not been raising a stink. This apart the Indian cricket team has been putting up a good enough show to make viewers believe that they are missing out on a good thing.

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