The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Beam-block bid cleaves cable ranks Blackout bid in game of numbers

The broadcaster is in revenue mop-up mode, hiking package prices and demanding more numbers from cable operators. A section of cablemen, reluctant to reveal connections and cut down on profits, is keen to declare a STAR war. But the majority of master control rooms, pushing for transparency and consensus, are opposed to any beam block. The leading multi-system operator (MSO), meanwhile, has warned operators to ‘beam all or none’…

Clearly, turmoil is the hallmark of the cable trade in town, in the lead-up to the conditional access system (CAS) rollout. Leading the trouble stakes is a section of operators, alleging it has been “pushed to the wall” by the broadcasters. STAR is enemy number one for the ‘blackout brigade’, as it has linked its price rollback to declaration — only an operator with 100 per cent declaration will avail of the Rs 10 slash and the reduction will progressively shrink with under-declaration.

STAR — despite accounting for over 40 of the 50 most popular programmes on the small screen — is the chosen protest point for the Calcutta cableman, also because SitiCable can’t switch off Zee-Turner and Sony has the cricket World Cup. Most constituents of the nascent Sangram Committee of Cable Operators threatening to block the STAR bouquet can, apparently, be traced back to the 10-odd ‘major defaulters’ identified by an industry market survey. The dip-stick study, commissioned by quite a few master control rooms, has picked six big cable network companies from south, three from the north and one from central Calcutta as “heavily under-declared”, showing less than 15 per cent of their actual connectivity.

“Besides, STAR has misled viewers by the price rollback eyewash. Our payout has actually gone up significantly, if you consider the extra numbers it has demanded,” says Tarak Saha, spokesman for the Sangram Committee. The association has submitted memoranda to the broadcasters, seeking “status quo” on the rate hike till CAS is implemented. “We will go out of business if we are to accommodate all the rate hikes. How much can we burden the consumer'” asks Saha.

Not all his cable comrades would buy the sob story, though. “Barring a few small operators, most of the master control rooms have enough margins to play with,” observes Mrinal Chatterjee, of Akash Sutra, which is “completely against” a switch-off.

Around 16-17 master control rooms met RPG Netcom officials and representatives of Sony and Zee-Turner in a closed-door meeting on Saturday to work out the way forward over the next three-four months before CAS — giving viewers the power to choose — is in place. The team will call on STAR this Tuesday.

A proposal to ask for “around Rs 25 more” from the viewer, and pay up the rest from their own pockets in the interim, is being considered by this group. “We have sought the broadcasters’ cooperation to educate the viewer about rate hikes through the print and electronic media. Our consumers don’t have a problem paying more for their favourite fare on TV, as long as they know why the hike has come about,” says an RPG Netcom-affiliated operator opposing the blackout call.

The numbers game is poised to see another twist, with independent studies conducted by both STAR and Zee — Sony has also been asked to conduct its own survey on connectivity — throwing up “almost the same names” as ‘heavy’ defaulters. This is pointed out by a member of the group opposing both a blackout and the broadcasters’ demand for extra connectivity at a flat rate.

“Why should someone with 80 per cent declaration cough up the same extra percentage as one who reveals only 15 per cent of his points'” asks an operator in east Calcutta.

The “45 per cent-odd” RPG Netcom operators opposing any blackout have already requested Sony and Zee-Turner to seek extra numbers in a graded manner linked to “real connectivity”. STAR and ESPN Software will be offered the same rapprochement formula till CAS.

RPG Netcom, too, is wary of another switch-off. “Since we have to pay the broadcasters for all the bouquets, we can’t allow any operator to drop any package from his last-mile network,” says Netcom CEO Ashim Dutta.

Resistance to beam block, greater transparency and then, CAS — the viewer could well emerge the winner.

nEnvironment fair: Mayor Subrata Mukherjee will inaugurate an environment fair at Madhyamgram on Monday. Rathin Ghosh, municipality chairman, said the fair aims to sensitise people to the preservation of nature. Models of 500 species of snakes and 1,000 species of birds will be on exhibit. There will also be slide shows demonstrating weather phenomena.

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