Tamil channels' move sparks war among cable TV operators

CHENNAI NOV. 24. The decision of Tamil television channels to go pay has triggered a battle among cable TV operators, with those relaying only free-to-air channels taking up cudgels against operators transmitting both free and pay channels, and chiefly against the multi-system operator, Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV).

The emerging group of `free-to-air' (FTA) operators established the Tamil Nadu State Cable TV Operators' Welfare, Protection and Service Association recently, and in a meeting today laid down a list of demands to the State Government and a threat of agitation if they were not given a fair share of the Tamil pay channel pie.

The FTA operators now want to transmit at least some Tamil pay channels at an additional Rs.10 per subscriber so they can still have a presence in the market, but allege that the Tamil channels are refusing to give them the decoders. "They refuse to give us decoders saying we should go through SCV to get them," said the president of the association, R.Mano. "If we get the decoders, we can broadcast at least two Tamil pay channels at a nominal hike," he said.

"Operators getting transmission from SCV do not show many free channels like Maa TV and CNTV, which have good English content, educational channels like Gyan Darshan, and Tamizhan channel, a new entrant. Actually, we have a wide variety in the free-to-air segment too," he said.

The association urged the State Government to take steps to release the cable TV industry from a monopoly unit, and "ensure that the poor do not have to pay for channels they do not want to watch, and to direct the Tamil pay channels to give decoders to non-SCV operators too".

The association, which has a membership of about 250 operators from all over Tamil Nadu, has proposed to hold an agitation on November 29 near the Chennai Collectorate, Mr.Mano said.

The FTA operators were emerging as stiff competitors for regular operators, giving a good bargain for consumers burdened with increasing subscription rates. While most operators were charging a monthly rate of Rs.150 to Rs.250 per subscriber and hinting at a further hike in tariff, the emerging group was offering about 45 channels at Rs.60.

The intense competition from this group to the regular operators was most evident when the latter openly supported the decision of Tamil channels to turn pay, saying that the move would wipe out such competition even if that was at the cost of the subscriber.