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More thorns in sports bouquet

CABLE ROW BLACKS OUT THRILLER: Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel (left) celebrates his goal with Luis Suárez on Sunday. Hathway subscribers missed Liverpool’s thrilling 3-2 win over EPL title rivals Manchester City at Anfield where fans marked the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. (AFP)

A three-pronged impasse between STAR Sports, Hathway and cable operators looks set to drag on for months and deprive the MSO’s subscribers of live action from Wimbledon and Team India’s England tour.

According to cable industry insiders, the STAR Sports channels, off air on Hathway from April 1 after their prices were allegedly hiked, are unlikely to make a comeback on the MSO that serves over 3 lakh homes in and around Calcutta in the next few months.

Hathway subscribers have already been missing English Premier League and F1 fixtures and are set to miss upcoming live sports action on STAR Sports — such as Wimbledon in June and India’s England tour, starting July.

Hathway had declared that subscribers could view the channels à la carte but that has not happened because cable operators have refused to pay an upfront fee of Rs 5,000 to the MSO for the right to beam the channels.

The MSO and representatives of the Cable Operators’ Sangram Committee sat across the table on Friday but could not arrive at a solution.

The MSO gave the pledge to reduce the monthly rental for the premium package by Rs 5 as compensation for the four off-air STAR Sports channels. The cable operators, facing flak from subscribers, asked the MSO to raise the rent by Rs 5 and put the channels back.

“If Hathway can reduce the package price by Rs 5, it means this is the value of the channels. We want them to raise the rent by Rs 5 and continue to provide the channels,” said committee secretary Apurba Bhattacharya.

The MSO had got the cable guy’s goat by asking each of them to pay Rs 5,000 for the a la carte service.

Bhattacharya said the operators would be left with little option but strike work from next month.

STAR Sports, having lost viewership because of the impasse, has come out aggressively against the MSO with an advertisement blitzkrieg on TV, FM radio and newspapers. The ads claimed STAR Sports had nothing to do with the price hike, as opposed to Hathway’s allegation, and the channels are available on other MSOs and DTH players.

Though Dish TV too has taken STAR Sports out of some of its packages, subscribers can watch the channels a la carte.

“Things move smoothly in DTH because there is no middle tier… like cable operators… to complicate matters,” a STAR Sports official said.

The print advertisement by STAR Sports provides the phone numbers of Hathway offices and asks people to find out why they are not providing the channels.

Shifting to a different MSO is a near-impossible option because cable operators are fiercely territorial. “I changed to Siti Cable in October along with some neighbours because of problems with my service provider GTPL. After two months, a Siti guy told us he is out of our locality. We are back with GTPL now,” said Pratul Talukdar of Bangur.

Hathway subscribers can circumvent the territorial monopoly by going direct-to-home — exactly what STAR Sports asks readers to do in its print ads complete with the logos of four DTH providers.

Guidelines of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India state that an MSO cannot change channels in a package within six months of a subscriber opting for it. That rule has been thrown to the winds.

Raising the price of a package by Rs 5 — which is what the cable operators want Hathway to do — would go against the rule book since many customers had opted for the channel bouquets less than six months ago.

People subscribing to the premium package at Rs 325 or more were hopping mad over the sports blackout. “Contact the MSO first and if fails to address the grievance, write to us at traicable@yahoo.co.in. We will take action against the guilty,” Trai deputy adviser G.S. Kesharwani to Metro from Delhi.