The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Southern surge on cable turf
- Chennai network in talks for beam buyout

A southern invasion awaits cable and satellite homes in the city.

Sun Network, headquartered in Chennai, is poised to rise in the east with a big bite into Calcutta's cable pie. Group channel Gemini is said to be spearheading the Bengal beam bid.

Sources said the southern cable superpower is ready to seal a deal and buy out Indian Cable Net (formerly RPG Netcom), the largest multi-system operator (MSO) in town.

It is also in talks with CableComm and Manthan, two of the three other city MSOs. The aim, of course, is to establish a virtual distribution monopoly ' the three enjoy a combined market share of around 80 per cent ' in what would be uncharted territory for Sun.

Run by Kalanidhi Maran, elder brother of Union communications and IT minister Dayanidhi Maran, the network has 12 regional channels in its kitty ' including Sun TV, Gemini TV, Surya TV and Udaya TV ' and an MSO arm, Sumangali Cable Vision, which monopolises the Tamil Nadu cable business.

Sun, it is learnt, is planning a similar model in Calcutta. Apart from eyeing the share of the three MSOs, the group is also launching Surjo TV, its free-to-air channel in Bengali.

The channel, says the trade, is going on air in April with a formal launch likely on Poila Baisakh. This would mark the group's first non-southern regional language channel.

The Indian Cable Net buyout and the consequent entry of the southern player marks the first major churning in the cable trade in town.

It also coincides with the government move to clean up the beam business with the first-ever cable census.

As far as the Indian Cable Net-Gemini talks go, a final due diligence report has apparently been prepared, with assistance from a reputed consulting firm, paving the way for final touches to the handover.

From both Sun and Indian Cable Net, mum was the only word. A senior official of Sumangali Cable Vision, when contacted in Chennai, said only Kalanidhi Maran was authorised to speak on the matter. He could not be reached as he was travelling.

Indian Cable Net officials, too, refused comment under a secrecy clause. The cable wing of RPG Enterprises has been on the buyer's block for a while, dogged by broadcaster battles and payment problems from the ground. Over the past few months, Indian Cable Net had, in an attempt to stem losses, cut down its reach by offloading operators with bad debts.

Indian Cable Net also doubles as the local distributor of the STAR and Sony bouquets and a buyer could benefit on that count, as well.

Sun's talks with the two other city MSOs are in the preliminary stages. There has, apparently, been some progress in case of CableComm, while proposals have been presented to Manthan.

The Zee-backed SitiCable, with around 20 per cent share, could remain the only other player in a Sun-shine market.

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