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MSO dues pause Sachin play, viewers stumped

The fear of India losing more wickets before the end of the day’s play was gnawing at cricket buffs when several of those watching the match in the comfort of their homes encountered a fresh scare — a blue box had popped up on their TV screens, declaring that the signal might be withdrawn because of “huge payments” outstanding.

If Manthan subscribers missed several minutes of action through the day — from Sachin’s strokeplay to Anderson’s swing — cable users in parts of Behala could not watch the entire day’s play.

Several homes in Pathakpara, Behala S.N. Roy Road, Parispara and Banamali Naskar Road went blank on Tuesday night after a power problem damaged electrical equipment in the office of Star Vision Enterprise, which distributes signals from two MSOs.

Cable services were restored almost 24 hours later, around 7.30pm on Wednesday, but by then several Behala residents had missed Sachin Tendulkar’s return to form in what could well be his last Test at the Eden.

Lakhs of Manthan subscribers — both set-top box users and those with traditional cable connection — were reminded of the Doordarshan days with a colour bar appearing on the screen after the blue, opaque square had blocked the screen for several minutes.

Live transmission resumed but the disruption is likely to recur as Manthan owes a substantial sum to the ESPN-Star Sports bouquet. A Manthan source put the figure at Rs 21 crore.

“At first, I thought it was a message from either the MSO or the cable operator for me, saying I had missed a payment. It was only later that I realised it was a message for the MSO by the broadcaster, ESPN and Star Sports, which they obviously wanted subscribers to see,” said Rajeev Rana, a college student from Selimpur.

While some were left figuring out what the message was and why it had popped up, others switched to Star Sports and Star Cricket to catch the action.

The good news for viewers is that the signal cannot legally be withdrawn at least for the next three weeks, by when the Test series will be over.

Sources said according to the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), a broadcaster can withdraw signal from an MSO or direct-to-home (DTH) player not before 21 days of serving a notice, which Manthan claims it has not received.

“The broadcaster can withdraw channels 21 days after serving a notice. But ESPN-Star Sports is inconveniencing our subscribers even before that. We will lodge a complaint with TDSAT tomorrow,” said a senior Manthan official, adding that payment had been delayed because some cable operators were switching MSOs in the wake of digitisation.

ESPN-Star Sports, however, declined to comment on the matter.