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Channels cosy up to last mile operators

Nithya Subramanian

NEW DELHI, Dec. 15

IT'S time to cosy up to the cable operators. Even as the Rajya Sabha cleared the Cable Television Networks Amendment Bill 2002 paving the way for a Conditional Access System (CAS), the three big broadcasters are focusing their attention on the small-time cable operator in order to keep their revenues intact.

And the spotlight this time is also on operators in the smaller cities and towns. Zee-Turner Ltd, for example, conducted workshops in Kanpur and Varanasi recently on CAS, new technologies and its latest head-end in the sky project.

Mr Sunil Khanna, CEO, Zee-Turner, said that such workshops would be conducted in various towns across the country.

"We are trying to work on a different strategy. We are looking at ways to change the attitude of the cable operator. We want to add value and give them good guidance," he said.

Similar views are now being aired by Star India officials. The company decided to bring down rates on the condition of complete disclosure by cable operators. "We are also working towards increasing transparency. Our team of close to 100 members visit cable operators and there is constant interaction. We also have regular programmes for the operators in far-flung regions. Mailers, posters and programme updates have always been part of our efforts," he said.

Cable operators, meanwhile, said that with the passage of CAS Bill, broadcasters could not afford to bully cable operators. "Earlier the multi-system operators (MSOs) were a pampered lot, given holiday packages in India and abroad. The last-mile operator (LMO) was not given any attention. Now, the LMO has also become important," a Delhi-based operator said.

Meanwhile, the recent proposal to hike subscription fees from January 2002 by some of the leading bouquets such as Zee-Turner, ESPN-Star Sports and the One Alliance is being met with opposition by the cable operators.

They are planning to write to the Government to ask the broadcasters to maintain the status quo on the subscription rates till CAS is implemented.

"We want the Government to intervene. Till CAS is put in place, the broadcasters are trying to garner subscription revenues by increasing rates," said Ms Roop Sharma, President of Cable Operators Federation of India (Cofi).

With broadcasters insisting on complete disclosure, cable operators are planning to ask them to send surveyors to cross-check the actual number of households.

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