If Star India Private Ltd has its way, couch potatoes addicted to its channels in Mumbai and Delhi may soon suffer withdrawal systems. For, the broadcaster is threatening to switch off its channels to the Hathway distribution network in Delhi and Mumbai.
On June 7, the company served notices to the Raheja-owned cable distribution company Hathway Cable & Datacom across several cities for non-payment of cable subscription dues. A source in Star's distribution division says that Hathway has already overshot its credit limit of 90 days.
The spat between the two companies is curious since Star India has a 26 per cent stake in Hathway Cable & Datacom Private Ltd. In fact Hathway denies the charges made in Star's public notice published in the leading dailies.
A release from Hathway states: "Hathway completely denies the content of the public notice released by Star India Pvt Ltd. Star TV is our joint venture partner and the dues to Star India are in the normal course of business credit period."
Star TV refuses to divulge the amount that's due from Hathway, but media industry sources say that the sum is close to Rs 23 crore (Rs 230 million). Star India claims that it had no choice but to serve a public notice to the cable distribution company as it was made mandatory by TRAI's Interconnect Order of December 2004.
The TRAI order states that the cable TV signals cannot be switched off without prior notice of a minimum of one month to protect the interest of the consumers.
The companies are also expected to briefly state the reason for not delivering the signals.
Cable TV industry sources say that the dispute between the JV partners could also be related to carriage fee. The buzz in the industry is that though Star is an investor in the company, Hathway is now keen to get paid for carrying the Star channels on prime bands, in keeping with the trend in the industry.
Considering the bandwidth constraints, cable operators and MSOs have been demanding huge carriage fee, running into several crores a year per channel, especially from the new channels.
Lately, even the old pay channels are having to shell out carriage fee to remain on the prime band in a cable network.
Top executive of a rival MSO claims "that Star is now probably interested in pushing its DTH project and wants to create confusion in the cable industry."
In its release, however, Hathway states that the "problem is only with respect to new pay channels
ew bouquets like Hungama, Disney channels etc. ...customers are not willing to pay additional sums of money for subscribing to these channels..."
Though Star refuses to elaborate on the spat, a spokesperson in the company says that it has served notices to others as well. The Star bouquet on Asianet in Kerala was switched off some days ago.
In Kolkata, too, notice has been served to RPG's cable company now bought over by Zee-owned Siticable.
In January 2005, ESPN- Star Sports switched off its signals to Hathway in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Ludhiana. The dispute was resolved when Hathway paid part of the Rs 70 million that was due.Additional reporting by Aparna Krishnakumar