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Channels go off beam over pending bills

The Zee-Turner bouquet of channels was switched off on Friday on the RPG Netcom network, which feeds nearly 70 per cent of Calcutta’s cable homes. A communication from Zee-Turner, the distribution arm of Zee Telefilms, said the channels were blanked out “in the wake of large outstandings, continuous dishonouring of cheques and the inability of RPG Netcom to keep the financial commitments for the services offered".

The blackout means viewers subscribing to the Netcom service will be deprived of channels like Alpha Bangla, Cartoon Network, Zee TV, Zee Cinema and CNBC. Commenting on the switch-off, Zee-Turner CEO Sunil Khanna said: “We have been holding talks with RPG Netcom for a long time, but due to large outstandings, we are forced to take this action. We regret the inconvenience caused to our viewers. It is unfortunate that they will have to suffer for the service provider’s payment default, even though they are paying their monthly subscriptions on time.”

Netcom CEO Amit Nag admitted there are outstandings and that discussions with the broadcaster are on. Speaking to Metro from Mumbai, Nag said: “We have cleared our accounts from August onwards. The issue lies with dues prior to that period and part of the problem is poor collection from the ground. We are talking to Zee-Turner on reconciliation and hope to sort out things in a few days."

While it’s no secret that some cable networks operate with sub-10 per cent declaration levels in this business, where lack of transparency is deep-seated, a few master control rooms with “good payment records” are not amused at the switch-off.

“Why should the viewers on my network suffer when I have cleared all my dues' What do I tell them if they seek an explanation'” asked Mrinal Chatterjee, director of Akash Sutra, which serves large pockets of cable homes along VIP Road. Chatterjee also termed the recent switch-off of SAB TV on the Netcom feed “arbitrary”.

The RPG Group multi-system operator recently acquired city distribution rights of the STAR and Sony bouquet of channels, triggering considerable “misgivings” among rival service providers Manthan, CableComm and the Zee-owned SitiCable.

A section of cable operators protested the move, terming it “monopolistic”. The Cable Operators’ Sangram Committee even took a delegation to the STAR and Netcom offices, seeking status quo on declaration levels.

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