TDSAT directs Arasu to pay 50% of Rs 277.5 crore dues to Sony
Arasu will have to pay dues to Sony within two months to avoid disconnection of signals by the broadcaster
The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has directed multi system operator (MSO) Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corporation (TACTV) to pay 50% of total outstanding dues worth Rs 277.51 crore to Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) to avoid disconnection of signals by the broadcaster. Arasu will have to pay the 50% amount to Sony within two months.
The dispute between the parties is over the non-disclosure of bouquet packs by Arasu. The non-disclosure came to light after Sony conducted an audit of Arasu's addressable systems. Subsequently, Sony raised a demand of Rs 277.5 crore against Arasu failing which it had threatened to switch off the signals to the MSO.
Sony has contended that the audit report discloses the various channels, comprising seven unreported DPO packages and also details and numbers of subscribers which have not been supplied by Arasu in its subscriber reports.
The tribunal noted that the auditor also supports Sony's plea and at this stage there is no good material available on record to hold even prima facie that the auditor’s report suffers from errors on that count.
On Arasu's explanation/defence that the concerned three channels namely Sony Max HD - 4025, Sony PIX HD – 4027 and Ten 1 HD – 4010 do not belong to Sony group HD channels but to the private local channels of TACTV, the tribunal said that this argument does not merit acceptance for more than one reasons.
"Technologically, these channels of Sony group can be uplinked only by the broadcaster and downlinked by a DPO like the respondent. Such facility or the legal authority to uplink or downlink does not vest in a local cable operator providing local channels. Further, no agreements to show lease or transfer of proprietorship, etc., from Sony group to any local channel has been brought on record to substantiate such an unusual defence," the tribunal said.
In its interim order, the tribunal directed the MSO to pay 50% of the total demand. "In view of such findings and considering the chance and probability of success of the petitioner or the respondent, this Tribunal is inclined to follow some of its earlier orders in similar circumstances whereby broadcaster’s demand of similar nature was directed to be met by the concerned MSO/DPO but only to the extent of 50%. Similar arrangement would be just and proper in this case also, hence the respondent is directed to pay 50% of the total demand of Rs 277,51,90,451/- as contained in the demand notice dated 3.3.2021 (Annexure P - 26 colly)," the tribunal said.
"If 50% of the amount indicated above is paid within two months from today, the petitioner shall not issue disconnection notice without seeking leave of the Tribunal. This interim order is only with regard to demand based on audit report as contained in Annexure P - 26 (colly). In respect of regular invoices and current demands, the parties are expected to act in accordance with the agreement and trade practice. The payment in terms of this order shall abide by final adjudication in this matter," the tribunal added.
The matter has been posted before the Court of Registrar on 9.3.2022 for passing necessary orders and directions to make the petition ready for hearing.
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