The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Guess game in channel choice
- Zee-Turner buoyant, STAR and Sony bond

Pick and choose is fine, but at what cost' With 80 days for the conditional access system (CAS) to roll into cable homes in the four metros, precious little is being done to address the basic question of cost to the consumer. The broadcasters are buying time and talking bundles, the multi-system operators (MSOs) are playing the guessing game in ordering set-top boxes, and the consumer hardly has a clue.

Fear of poor penetration and a drop in revenues has even led the broadcasters’ lobby to various doors of influence, pleading for either a pushback of the deadline or a single-city pilot project before a national launch. One door being beaten down by the broadcasters in doubt is that of parliamentarian Somnath Chatterjee, chairman of the standing committee on information technology.

“The whole idea is to defer D-Day and conduct the CAS experiment on a much smaller scale, in a smaller town, where the ad-revenues don’t really count, before the mega metro move,” observes an industry-watcher.

Amidst all the confusion, dark horse Zee-Turner has emerged front-runner, announcing that its bouquet price will remain Rs 55 after July 14, while ‘favourites’ STAR and Sony struggle to prepare packages tailored to diverse tastes (see box).

The buoyancy in the Zee-Turner camp stems from a definite notion that its package (comprising Zee TV, Zee Cinema, Zee News, Zee English, Zee Music, Alpha Bangla, Cartoon Network, MGM, CNN, CNBC, Reality TV, Kaireli, etc Punjabi, etc Music) could well turn out to be the budget viewer’s right choice.

Zee-Turner CEO Sunil Khanna, confident the clincher in Calcutta for his bouquet will be Cartoon Network and Alpha Bangla, says: “We expect at least 60 per cent cable homes in this city to opt for the set-top box. Ours is a versatile bouquet, with a bit of something for everybody, and we are not banking on the strength of just one channel.”

The obvious dig is at STAR Plus, the ‘killer channel’ that keeps STAR ahead of the pack on TRPs. Both STAR, seen largely as a one-channel parcel, and Sony, which doesn’t have a strong driver, now that its World Cup honeymoon is over, are perceived to be on the same boat, lacking the variety the Zee-Turner fare offers. And so they must work out attractive combination packages.

Officially, though, no commitment on pricing is forthcoming from the duo. “We are still working out our post-CAS rates, but there is no question of any pay channel going free-to-air, as that would defeat the very objective of CAS,” says Sameer Nair, chief operating officer, STAR.

Shantonu Aditya, president, SET-Discovery, refuses to comment on post-CAS pricing, saying it’s “premature”.

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