The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre relaxes deadline on CAS bouquet

New Delhi, June 10: Cable television broadcasters today told the government they are working on packaging channels at different rates for the viewer and the Union information and broadcasting ministry has responded by relaxing a deadline by when the channels are to be declared “pay” or “free-to-air”.

Representatives of major broadcasters STAR, Zee, CNBC/TV18, Doordarshan, ESPN and Sony said they had sought time to create “tiers” of pay channels, leading figures of the industry said after a meeting with I&B secretary Pawan Chopra.

“Over the past one or two months everybody was working independently,” Sameer Nair of STAR said. “Now we are working on a combined strategy.”

The idea of “pay channel tiers”, which the broadcasters will discuss among themselves and with multi-system operators, over the next few days nixes the government’s wishful thinking that the conditional access regime will force channels to turn free-to-air.

Nair said broadcasters should be able to come out with their proposal by “the 16th or the 17th”, within 48 hours of a June 15 deadline set by a government notification last week. The deadline was fixed in view of the government order to make the conditional access regime mandatory in four metros from July 14.

Broadcasters did not explain what exactly “pay channel tiers” mean. Prima facie, it appears broadcasters will group their channels under different heads, such as “sports”, “movies”, “general interest”, “entertainment”, “knowledge”. Each of these “tiers” will then be slotted in different price brackets.

This would mean, hypothetically, STAR Movies, HBO and Zee MGM being grouped under a “movie” tier that may be priced at Rs 30 a month. The “tiers” could also be classified under different grades, for example as a “basic pay tier”, a “premium pay tier” and/or a “super pay tier”.

Chopra said broadcasters had asked for time to discuss their proposals with multi-system operators such as RPG Netcom, Siticable, Incable and Wincable. “They are quite conscious of their deadlines and the dates and we are trying to facilitate their decision making,” Chopra said. “Everybody has assured us that they will cooperate.”

Jawahar Goel of Zee/Siticable said the broadcasters were looking at other options too in the run-up to the CAS regime. He said everybody had fallen in line and CAS was about to become a reality.

It is also clear after today that except news and channels that are even now free to air, most broadcasters will put a price tag on their channels. Nair said all channels from STAR’s stable, barring STAR News, will be “pay”.

Haresh Chawla and Raghav Behl of CNBC/TV18, S.Y. Quraishi of Doordarshan, Manu Sawhney of ESPN and Shantonu Aditya of Sony were in the meeting as were additional secretary Vijay Singh and joint secretary Mohuya Pal.

Foreign films

The Centre today announced that it has relaxed norms for foreign film producers to shoot in India. Proposals will be cleared in three weeks, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

The minister said producers will also not be required to hold a preview of films shot in India before they are cleared for release. Only the scripts will be studied and previews will be held for “exceptional” cases.

Prasad said the policy applies to all countries, including Pakistan. However, the government will expect some form of reciprocity from Pakistan. He said while the Indian film industry accorded respect to Pakistani artistes and a freedom to them, Pakistan has not yet responded in kind.

Permission to shoot in Jammu and Kashmir, in the Northeast and specified border areas would take more time to be cleared. Visas to visit India to shoot a film will not be contingent on clearance of the script, the minister said.

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