Cable operators black out pay channels

CHENNAI, DEC. 30. Cable TV subscribers in the State face a hefty hike in subscription rates or a blackout of all pay channels including Star Group channels, HBO and Discovery.

All pay channels were blacked out in Chennai today by cable operators to protest the ``exorbitant'' hike in rates by the channels. The strike was complete with the two main feeder operators in Chennai - Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV) and Hathway Cable - joining hands with the Tamizhaga Cable TV Urimaiyalargal Sangam (TCTUS), which organised the one-day strike.

The Tamil Nadu Cable Operators Welfare Association (TCOA) planned another one-day strike for January 3, Mr. S.K. Bhaskar, south Chennai district secretary, said.

Pay channels increased rates annually. ``But this year, the prices were increased upto 65 per cent, which is too much,'' Mr. C.D. Rao, general manager, SCV, said. The expected hike was in the range of 10 to 15 per cent. ``Cable TV operators will be affected first and ultimately the customers.''

All the pay channels including the Star TV Group, the ESPN, the HBO, the AXN and the Discovery have announced increase in rates from Rs. 1.50 for Discovery and Animal Planet to Rs. 13.75 for Star TV Group with effect from January 2002.

As a result, subscription rates might go beyond Rs. 200 per month because of the hikes, Mr. M. Prabakar, member, TCTUS, said. Currently, operators paid about Rs. 70 a month for all the pay channels together. With the hike, they will have to pay about Rs. 100 per month for the channels. The extra burden will eventually be passed on to the customers.

The TCTUS would collect feedback from subscribers before deciding either to go along with the hikes or black out the channels. ``There were no complaints from subscribers today for not broadcasting the channels. There is very little demand for them,'' Mr. Prabakar said.

The organisation would request the pay channels to postpone the hikes by six months to a year or negotiate for lower prices. If talks failed, the TCTUS might have to stop broadcasting the channels, he said.

The price hikes were inevitable considering the increasing production costs and the demand for better fare, Mr. Yash Khanna, vice-president, Corporate Communications, Star India, said when contacted in Mumbai.

Justifying the increase, he said they were compelled to do so because most operators under-declared their subscriber base. ``Of 38 million homes with cable connections in India, we are paid only for about six million subscribers,'' he said.

Mr. Rao countered that only about 10 to 15 per cent of subscribers in Tamil Nadu watched the Hindi or English pay channels, so they did not have to be declared as subscribers. Operators argued that it was impossible to pay the channels for all subscribers as they had high maintenance costs.

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