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Shut-off shadow on World Cup eve

With 12 days to go for the first ball to be bowled in the World Cup, a dispute over numbers between broadcaster and multi-system operator (MSO) has cast a shadow on the Calcutta viewer’s pitch.

Sony Entertainment Television, which has exclusive satellite rights for the telecast of cricket’s quadrennial showpiece in India, is yet to get the extra connectivity it has sought from RPG Netcom, which feeds more than 75 per cent of Calcutta’s cable homes. Sony, which has raised its bouquet rate (covering Sony, SET Max, HBO, AXN, Discovery and Animal Planet) from Rs 40 to Rs 55 per connection in the new year, is clearly out to make hay while the Cup shines. It has put Netcom on notice, hinting at a switch-off if the “desired” numbers are not forthcoming.

“We hope the issue will be amicably resolved in a day or two, and the Netcom officials have given us an assurance that they will obtain the numbers and sign the contractual obligation. If we don’t get paid for the numbers we are looking for, we might have to consider a switch-off,” Shantonu Aditya, president, SET-Discovery, told Metro on Tuesday.

RPG Netcom CEO Ashim Dutta was not so sure that the numbers would come from the ground. “Sony had initially asked for 100 per cent increase in connectivity, then settled for 75 per cent. But many of our member-operators are not willing to cough up anything extra before CAS (conditional access system) is implemented,” he said.

Dutta, however, stressed that a switch-off was not the answer. Netcom, along with all other leading MSOs in the country, had requested the information and broadcasting ministry to ensure a freeze on both rates and numbers till the CAS rollout deadline of July 14. But the ministry refused to step in.

A section of operators has resented Sony’s blanket connectivity-hike move. “It’s not fair to club all operators together, since declaration levels vary dramatically,” said a cableman in east Calcutta. Sony has rejected a proposal to carry out its own market survey on “real connectivity” across the city. “It’s logistically not feasible at this juncture,” said Aditya.

Sony insisted it had got the numbers it wanted from SitiCable and Manthan, the other two MSOs in town. Netcom-affiliated operators see this as a pressure tactic. “With the recent rate hike, Sony’s demand for additional numbers adds up to a 150 per cent increase in pay-out, which is not acceptable,” they concluded.

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