The first Sunday of every month, you religiously pay your para cable operator for your select soaps, Hollywood flicks, news updates, live sports action and sundry other programmes on the small screen. Still, there’s no guarantee your favourite fare on pay-TV will be beamed into your home, uninterrupted.
Take Tuesday, when hundreds of thousands of cable and satellite homes had to spend an evening without some of their programme picks bouquet, with RPG Netcom —which enjoys city distribution rights for STAR and Sony —blacking out the STAR bouquet on the Manthan network for non-payment of dues.
And this is just the beginning. If STAR’s gone off Manthan today, it could be STAR off SitiCable or Sony off Manthan tomorrow. With ESPN-STAR Sports and Ten Sports also running up huge outstanding bills, thanks to poor flow from the Calcutta cableground, sports fans too could face a blackout bouncer.
As yet another cable war flares up and consumers suffer for no fault of theirs, the government has decided to step in. According to sources, representatives of broadcasters have been summoned later this week to Writers’ Buildings. On the talks table is a stock-taking on rates and a possible pointer to when CAS will be rolled out.
With anarchy in the cable-and-satellite air, the government is learnt to be setting a date — sooner rather than later in the new year — for the pick-and-pay “transparency tool”. Till then, Writers’ Buildings will be hoping for a hassle-free status quo in the chaotic cable world.
But the ground reality of under-declaration and default gives little scope for stability and the viewer is invariably the worst-off. STAR-less Manthan viewers, for example. “Manthan owes STAR Rs 40 lakh, and unless they pay it up front, we won't be able to switch them on,” RPG Netcom CEO Amit Nag told Metro on Wednesday, adding that the network “owes Sony Rs 30 lakh”.
Netcom claimed Manthan was paying for only 73,000 of the committed 133,000 points to STAR, figures confirmed by a STAR spokesperson. “But the issue has to be reconciled between our distributors RPG Netcom and Manthan,” added a STAR official from Mumbai. Under consumer pressure, the Manthan management, while denying it has “any outstanding” with STAR, is keen to reach “an amicable settlement in the interest of the viewers”.