The cable TV operators in Coimbatore city and the STAR TV group are again in a sparring mood. The cable TV operators have blanked the Tamil channel Vijay TV from the STAR TV stable from September 1 following the channel becoming `pay', the first Tamil TV channel to do so.
According to a member of the Joint Action Council of Cable TV operators in the city, it is not only in Coimbatore but the entire Tamil Nadu the cable operators have blanked out the Vijay TV channel.
It is the second time in the last few months that the cable operators and the STAR TV group have clashed over a revenue-related issue in the city.
During the earlier impasse, the STAR TV group ran a sustained campaign stating that "STAR is looking for enterprising entrepreneurs to re-distribute their services in the city of Coimbatore". It said that preference would be given to existing cable TV operators and those with experience in cable TV business.
This became necessary because of the dominance of a single distributor — Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV), reportedly belonging to a popular Tamil TV channel — in Coimbatore city.
The grouse of STAR TV was that while the customers paid cable operators for STAR network, "unfortunately the money never reached us, courtesy, a few cable operators."
However, efforts to have an alternative distribution network in place apparently did not fructify, the differences were ironed out and the telecast of STAR TV programmes resumed a couple of weeks later.
In STAR TV's basket of channels were STAR Plus, STAR Gold, STAR Movies, STAR World, STAR News, the music Channel `V', National Geographic and the Tamil Channel STAR Vijay.
STAR TV charged Rs 39.50 per connection a month for the basket of seven channels, with Vijay TV coming free. But from September 1, Vijay TV was also made a pay channel for which the group fixed a separate monthly fee of Rs 9.50.
Apart from this, its two popular sports channels — ESPN and STAR Sports were bundled together and a separate fee of Rs 24 per connection a month was levied.
Speaking to Business Line, Mr Siva Murugesan, a member of the Joint Action Council of Cable TV operators in the city said the cable TV operators were apprehensive that with Vijay TV becoming a pay channel, it would open the floodgates for other Tamil channels to take the pay channel route to shore up revenues.
This would be a body blow to the cable TV operators since they would have to sharply hike the subscription rates to stay in business. The Tamil channels have predominant viewership and at present these were free-to-air channels.
He said even now, the prominent TV channels like STAR, ZEE, Sony and Ten Sports offered their channels as a basket, and not all of them were popular among the public.
The total payment due to all the pay channels put together worked out to Rs 163 (excluding Vijay) per month per connection and in most of the areas in the city, cable TV operators were not able to collect this amount as monthly subscription due to economic factors.
According to soruces the operators had other expenses like levies to the Central Government and local bodies besides staff salary and EB/rental outgo and unless they hiked the monthly subscription amount to around Rs 200, they would find the going tough. But they feared that if subscription rates were hiked so steeply, there would be customer resistance.
While operators could consider a levy of Rs 2 or Rs 3 per connection per month as reasonable for airing this channel, the present fee of Rs 9.50 per connection was not acceptable to them.
But for the avid watchers of Vijay TV, the blackout has come at the wrong time as the popular reality serial anchored by Tamil actress Lakshmi — `Kathai Alla Nijam' — highlighting real life stories has become a big hit.