The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bouquet back with blackout bogey

The Zee-Turner bouquet of channels, switched off on Friday, was back on the RPG Netcom network by Monday evening, following a rapprochement reached on payment status. But with the government dragging its feet on CAS and funds flow from cable operators as sluggish as ever, fear of more such blackouts looms large, even over popular sports channels.

“Why just Zee-Turner' We are struggling to meet financial commitments made to all broadcasters, including STAR and Sony, the packages we have distribution rights for in Calcutta,” RPG Netcom director Dilip Sen told Metro. The principal roadblock is still payment by the last-mile cable operators, he added.

“They collect subscription from all the viewers, but fail to honour payment contracts formulated on even less than 20 per cent average declaration levels,” Sen added. Netcom officials maintain total outstanding from the ground stands at Rs 15 crore at the moment.

According to company CEO Amit Nag, the net amount payable to Zee-Turner was Rs 3.5 crore. It is learnt that the broadcaster was seeking an up-front recompense of Rs 1 crore as precondition for switching on the channels — with the consumer clamour for CNBC outdoing that for Cartoon Network and Alpha Bangla during the blackout. An initial settlement figure, of around Rs 60 lakh, paved the comeback path on Monday afternoon.

“We have been urging all broadcasters to be a little patient with the payment status, since in this unstructured scenario, one can’t expect magical results overnight. We have already identified the perennial defaulters and are continuing with our disconnection drive. But what can we do if they run away and are sheltered by other service providers'” lamented Sen.

Patience is wearing thin and pay channels are out to leverage their expensively-acquired strengths. With the eagerly awaited India-Australia Test series a few days away, ESPN, which has beaming rights, is pondering a significant revamp in numbers that could well trigger another crisis. “Any package can go off on any network any moment,” observed an operator.

The Netcom brass, having sunk over Rs 30 crore in CAS technology, is contemplating switching off the STAR and Sony bouquets to those MSOs readily connecting defaulters. “With the government failing to implement CAS, which would have automatically streamlined the business, we will have to be more ruthless in our policy with the ground operators. If some master control rooms can honour their payment contracts, why can’t the others'” Sen asked.

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