With the Star India Private Limited, a company which owns almost all regional channels in South India, including Asianet, strengthening its stand on the rate which it levies on each channel, the cable TV operators in Kerala have found themselves in a baffling situation.
This time, the Star group has come up with a 100 per cent hike in rates. Each year, the companies which own the channels increase rate for the paid channels. In Kerala, a total of 300-320 channels are available from different owners. Among them a great number of channels belong to the paid category.
Interestingly, the Star group has not levied the same increment on all operators. Instead it had asked only Kerala Vision, one of the leading cable operators in the State, to ally with the new rates.
The Star group has already cut the service it has been providing to Kerala Vision, after they declined to comply with the hiked rate for paid channels. Nearly 28 lakh customers of Kerala Vision are now not receiving the channels which are owned by Star India Private Limited.
Worsening the scenario, the Star group is also publishing advertisements in newspapers requesting customers to do away with Kerala Vision. The cable operator, in retaliation, has begun strike against the ‘hegemonic’ decision of Star India.
Various cable operators also suspect the hike in rate and consequent action on the leading cable TV operator by the Star group as a move to get hold of their business. Last year, Star India had terminated channels from the operators associated with Cable TV Operators’ Federation. Several cable operators, including Link Vision, had earlier faced the same action by the Star group in the recent past.
Star India Private Limited is a company owned by 21st Century Fox and has gathered the ownership of many popular regional channels in India. These include Asianet, Suvarna, Vijay and many others.
“When cable operators began business here, in the early 90s, almost all the channels were free of cost. Then the monopolies began accruing all these channels and they fixed rate on each of them. Now almost all the favourite regional channels are paid. It has been like this earlier itself. But we have been trying to avoid the customers from bearing this liability. When the companies demanded to levy charges on customers, we used to settle the rate based on number of connections and region,” said Sanu Raveendran of Kochi Cable Vision, a cable service provider.
The cable operators in Kerala allege that the stand taken by the Star group is a trick to monopolise the entertainment business.
“It was the selfless service of cable operators in Kerala which helped the villages, towns and cities in the State receive bulk number of entertainment channels at the cheapest cost. There are villages in Kerala where the cable operators provide 200 or more channels at just Rs.150 or Rs.200 a month. This is a revolution indeed. Now the giant business groups who have already monopolised the entertainment industry want to break this rapport between the cable operators and the customers. Their policy is to divide and rule. They have now attacked Kerala Vision which is the leading cable operator in the State,” Sanu said.
Meanwhile, the cable operators also point fingers at the customers who showcase insensitivity towards their woes.
“We are becoming helpless now. But the customers also seem to be insensitive towards our difficulties. They ask why they have to pay more all of a sudden when they had been paying just Rs.200 per month for all these channels. In the case of Kerala Vision, when the cable operators are not able to provide service of several channels owned by the Star network, some customers have decided not to pay anything to them. Besides, many of them call their operator and abuse them over phone. They do not realise that the operator is bearing all those charges levied by the companies on customers,” Sanil Francis, of Link Vision, another cable service provider.
The cable operators also warned that the entertainment scenario in the State is on a phase shift. “The cable TV will slowly become unaffordable to the common customer. Those who have been paying Rs.200 or Rs.250 will have to pay Rs.1,500 or more if they have to see all the channels they have been receiving at a cheap rate. When such a situation arises, the customers will realise what has been going on. Resistance will emerge from their side at that time. Kerala Vision has launched agitation against the Star group. If the Kerala Vision fails in this battle, it will pave way for the foreign companies to decide what the commoners have to see and what not. At that time, the masses will know what the cable operators have been doing all these years to get the channels available at their fingertips,” Sanil said.