Now Talking TV: Cable Wars and Local Media (2)
Director: Shaina Anand
Duration: 01:19:55; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 20.996; Saturation: 0.122; Lightness: 0.487; Volume: 0.380; Cuts per Minute: 0.601; Words per Minute: 138.944
Summary: We were told about Suroor TV, a local Urdu-language channel, that an enterprising young Banglorean had tried to run from his family home. Lokesh, a local cable operator, used to air the channel as it would be hugely popular in Deccani-speaking Shivaji Nagar.
This clip shows Lokesh, his 'gang' of cable operators from the locality, and members of Suroor TV. Members were joined by Jawahar Raja and Shudhabrata Sengupta (Sarai) and Lawrence Liang (alf) for an unedited and uncensored 80 mins of talking. This has been shot in Suroor TV Studio, Cox town, Bangalore.
JW: ... Also the law's effect on our film-watching and music-listening culture. So I research these things. But I'm also a lawyer.
Jawahar Raja from SARAI
Cox Town, Bangalore
SS: I'm Shuddha. I work for SARAI in Delhi, which is a centre for the study of developing societies. I work there as a researcher and a media practitioner. At SARAI we try to focus on the important issues of our society, and we also trace the changes in the information technologies in cities, whether it is communication through cable and television or even the internet. And we examine these technologies and how thy are incorporated in everyday usage. That's why I have a personal interest in talking to you all.
LL: Oh! I'm overwhelmed. You speak such amazing Hindi.
Shuddhabrata Sengupta (SS), another representative of SARAI introduces herself and her work. Lawrence Liang (LL) from the Alternative Law Forum
compliments her on her use of Hindi.
KH: Oh! I should also introduce myself. My name is Kazi Muhammad Shahbad Akbar, you guys can call me Kashif. I had been running a local Urdu channel called 'Suroor TV' in Bangalore for the past five years. I'm still trying to run it.
SF: My name is Safina Fazai. I help Muhammad Shahbad in running the channel. I'm the chief editor of the channel.
SA: You all can introduce yourself off camera.
CO: I'm a local cable operator.
SD: I'm Stanley Devraj, a resident of Shivaji Nagar. I'm running a cable operation. It's very difficult to run a cable operation here.
Kashif Haq, the founder of the now defunct Urdu channel, 'Suroor TV', and Safina Fazai introduce themselves. A local cable operator, who has chosen to remain anonymous, joins the conversation, as does an associate of his, Stanley Devraj.
PT: We start.
SA: Yes, we start.
AS: So Kashif should lead.
SA: Kashif, you can introduce the show now.
AS: And who's cuing that? Safina?
LL: We'll watch that, right?
SA: Just a quick introduction to the show. So now it's a formal beginning. Start capturing.
(voices off camera)
They discuss having to start the broadcast.
KH: Hello friends, I'm Shahbad and I welcome you to this show. Through this show I want to tell you about the people who work to get the television and satellite channels that you watch in your homes to you. There are three well known cable operators of town present here today. We also have some experts who work on these issues with us here today. We have two lawyers, Lawrence and Jawahar. We also have Shuddha with us who works for an NGO called SAHAI.
KH: Sorry, he works for SARAI. I run a local Urdu channel in town. And Safina Fazai, who's the editor of that channel. So friends, let's begin with the first phase of the show by watching this clipping.
SA: Can you rewind it a bit? Make it louder.
The copy on the screen reads:' World Information City TV. Now Talking.'
Kashif opens by making mention of the topic being discussed, as well as by providing a quick introduction of the main participants.
KH: For information, there are gate-keepers, who have bought over top officials and the government. In Bangalore, there are three major cable operators.
CO: The MSOs are capturing everything. They have a monopoly. Nobody
else can survive.
KH: They are In Cable, SitiCable, Hathway. In Cable belongs to... Rahejas or Hindujas?
KH: Hindujas. Big construction firm. Hathway is?
CO: Hathway is Rahejas. Also big construction firm.
KH: And Siti Cable is Subhash Chandras, who also owns Zee. When I was starting Suroor TV- according to the TRAI, MSOs were supposed to carry my signal free of cost. They should not charge a penny from me since this was a free to air channel. But since they have the power, they all demanded a carrier fee.
There is a discussion of the three main MSOs currently running in Bangalore - In Cable (a subsidiary of the Hinduja group), Hathaway (which belongs to the Raheja Group) and Siti Cable.
KH: At that time Siti Cable gave us the lowest offer. I was paying them a monthly carrier fee of 1 lakh rupees. I thought I will pay it for 6 months to see what the demand for my channel was. The Siti Cable people were also very devious. They carried my signal for two months; then when my channel was hitting its peak, they'd cut it.
CO: They began by cutting it on Saturdays and Sundays. Suroor TV was becoming very popular.
SA: And you would have to run back?
CO: Saturday, Sunday.
KH: Especially on Saturday and Sunday, they would cut it. These people - In Cable, Hathaway and Siti Cable have become so strong that it is up to them. Either you give them money, whatever carrier charges they demand - one lakh, two lakh, whatever they demand, or else you cannot run this kind of channel in Bangalore. This is the situation in Bangalore.
CO: Suroor TV was becoming very popular.
KH: Definitely, because it was independent media.
CO: For three months that channel aired, and customers were happy. When the channel got cut, customers stopped paying me. They said, "Restart that channel, and we will clear your dues."
Kashif explains his own experience interacting with these MSOs during the period when Suroor TV was on-air.
KH: So, what do you have to say about it? How can a channel like mine, in today's atmosphere, in today's economy, survive?
JW: The problem is not only in Bangalore. It is in other cities as well. We work in Delhi. We heard about the same problem from cable operators there. They have a two-pronged strategy. Firstly, they will keep increasing the costs that you have to bear, and on the other hand, not allow you to operate on any level. They have the same strategy in all cities. This strategy is easy for them, because their monopoly is growing. First there were fifteen operators, now the MSOs have come in. So it is difficult to stop them.
Kashif questions the survival of small channels in this extortive and controlling economy (with specific reference to his treatment by the MSOs.) Jawahar responds.
LL: And the question also is that when people think about their cable supply, very rarely do they think about where it comes from and what the structures behind it are. So, if awareness is spread about the impact of this monopoly structure - for example, you here are trying to air this Urdu channel that can air your local culture. Here, you will face maximum opposition, because today's globalisation scenario is built upon information monopoly. Local content is never shown. One coca-cola advertisement is circulated all over the world in a local environment, and that is called 'local culture.' So, if you want to make a strategy, you will have to raise viewer support. If you look at it legally, in 1995, there was a very important judgement called the 'Air Waves Judgement.' There, the Supreme Court interpreted article 19(a), about freedom of expression, to include the importance of viewership rights. Until 95, the freedom to speak was strongly upheld. But with this case, a lot of discussion was raised about infrastructure and the rights of the viewer. So if you think of a legal strategy as well, the support of your viewers is very important.
Lawrence discusses the importance of the viewership's rights, making specific reference to the Air Waves Judgement'
Air Waves Judgment
SD: I will take Lawrence's point further, in another direction. The situation that you're in, with Suroor TV. Firstly, let me say - I really like the name Suroor TV. It is a lovely name. Because the pleasure one gets from conversation between two people - those who know Urdu will know the meaning of suroor
(pleasure). We are all in the 'suroor
' that we all should meet, talk, and share ideas. And according to me, your channel is a very important part of this process, in the unfolding of this drama of people talking to each other. And according to me, this has a strong relationship to the right to the freedom of speech. In any city, or locality, if people meet up, whether they are friends, or family, or members of the same locality and they want to share their views with the world, any mechanism that stops them from doing this is a blow to the freedom of speech. And according to me, in our society, there are repeated blows of this kind. And as these blows increase, society becomes more and more cowardly. It becomes cowardly, as well as ignorant. Because if there isn't the freedom of speech, there isn't the freedom to hear. As Lawrence was saying, if your audience doesn't have the freedom to see a program about its locality, then without that knowledge, he will not be able to speak either. So. I feel that this is not just a battle between some cable operators and some TV station, but is about something larger. This is why, as Lawrence was saying, if there can be a discussion about this in Bangalore. If such channels grow, what can their role be? And by stopping them, what conditions are created and what harmful effects to society are caused? Then society's silence becomes a dangerous thing.
Stanley discusses the meaning behind the word 'Suroor', and states that society's silence in the contexts of these injustices can soon become a dangerous thing.
JW: Before 1990, when there used to be a discussion on censorship, it used to be about the government. Whether the government gave you the right to say something or not. But now the situation is such that the government's hold on things has become less, it's now its private media companies. And there are just two - three - four of them who decide who can say what to who and how.
LL: The thing about cable is that it is not like other industries, where the government had a big role to play and there were stringent laws. When cable was starting in India, it was due to the effort by local cable operators. It was only because of this that MSOs, etc could enter the market.
CO: We made the efforts and they are reaping the benefits of those efforts.
SD: Because you built the base.
CO: We built the base, we made the investment. And now they are making
the profits. We made the investment and we built the base and they are making money off it.
There is a discussion regarding the state of censorship, as it appears to have moved on from the censorship associated with the government to the control asserted by private media companies.
KH: First, the Government decentralised information and cable. Do you think it is time to centralise this process now?
LL: I am very suspicious of any attempt to centralise. Because if you look at the previous cases, for example, the Supreme Court judgement I was talking about earlier - about Air Waves, they clearly stated that air waves are public property. But what is this interpretation of 'public property'? After this judgement, Prasar Bharti, Doordarshan, etc... If you rely too much on centralisation or the making of stringent laws, it will still be equally bad for the local players.
CO: Take the example of Suroor TV. If a new channel is launching in the country, the Central Government should take some action on standardising the rate - for example, eight rupees per channel. If you can stick to the rates, then launch it, otherwise don't launch. The government needs to take some action on this.They stick to the lower rates during the launch but they hike their rates with increasing popularity sixteen, twenty, twenty-five and so on. We can't pressurise the customers so much. So the government should take some action about standardising the rates they charge.
There is a discussion regarding the possible centralisation of the government in order to prevent the issues under perusal. An anonymous cable operator suggests that the government needs to exert more influence in these cases.
CO: After that, any increase in rates should be discussed with the government.
LL: Government involvement in such matters is actually important. Because there are certain provisions in law through which the rights of a private player can be limited to a certain extent, if the government recognises it as the matter of public interest. For example, if I have a patent on some medicine. During a national emergency, the government has the right to declare my patent invalid for that duration. Similarly, in this case, the government can make certain things mandatory and fixes the rates being charged by these channels.
CO: The government should give the public the right to choose the channels they want to watch and cancel subscription to the ones they don't want. Right now they don't have the freedom to choose.
The others agree that the government should take a more proactive role in the administration of private media companies.
JW: The problem is that the government might say that the MSOs will have to show all channels. But just like your channel has been shut down illegally, the same thing can be done legally too. If all the small cable operators are closed down and just a couple of big operators remain, your channel will be closed down anyway.
KH: Yes, that's true. Because you can get the satellite links only from the big MSOs. The question is, what should be done about their monopoly?
SA: Kashif, now that we're talking about links, let's see the video.
KH: We'll watch another clipping about links.
Jawahar suggests that the added control of the government is unlikely to overthrow the MSOs' current monopoly on the market, adding that Kashif's channel could merely be shut down then on a fabricated yet legal pretext. Kashif agrees, and then introduces the next clip.
KH: The cable operators that are there are neither here nor there. We are broadcasters, but we are regulated by the Information and broadcasting ministry. So I sent a letter to the chairman of TRAI and he sent me a completely impractical response. He said that the cable programs telecast in the city are not digital, they are monologue. Till the time it is monologue, we cannot take any actions against the cable operators. That is not mentioned in the by-laws of the latest copy of TRAI. If you see, it clearly states here that every broadcaster will provide on request signals of its TV channels on non-discriminatory terms to all distributors of TV channels. Any agent or any intermediary of broadcaster multi-system operator must respond to the request of providing TV signals in a reasonable time period but not exceeding 30 days of the request. Whether it is the TRAI regulations, or the handbook, it means nothing. This Cable Regulation Act, 1995 - this does nothing. The guidelines are not clear, the laws are not clear,what is one supposed to do with this? You get no power, no authority. If something unjust is happening to you, whether you can file a case on someone or not - this tells you nothing. I don't know what they've written.
The clip shows Kashif speaking with regard to the Cable Regulation Act, 1995
, one set up by the TRAI
KH: So these are the guidelines. So they have given guidelines, but there are no rules and regulations. There is no law. Why is that? So, to register myself I have to go to the GPO (General Post Office). Even when these people (cable operators) need to register themselves, they go to the GPO. We get a license. Why is that? Because, according to me, there are twenty-five lakh cable operators. How many cable operators are there in India?
CO: There are around one thousand two hundred in Bangalore.
KH: There are two thousand in Bangalore.
The conversation focuses on the number of cable operators in Bangalore in particular, and India at large.
LL: If you see the history of this Act - Cable Television Network Regulation Act, 1995 - this was a panic Act. The scenario was such that there was no law to govern cable television at the time. Cable operators were flourishing in the cities and small towns all over India. At this time there were two major pressures - one was by copyright holders who were afraid that their works were being aired by these operators, and the second was that the anxiety over censorship; that they are showing a blue film here, etc. The State had lost control over what people saw. It's history is very interesting because this legislation was passed in a panic situation and there was no clarity at that point. The knee jerk response of the State is always of a regulatory nature. The State never uses facilitative logic, it uses the logic of clamping down. So the logic of licensing, regulation and control got fixed onto cable TV. Because there are so many controls on small cable operators, it becomes easy for large MSOs. As you know, people with money can make the law comply with their wishes quite easily. Historically, that was the problem with this panic Act. It went into a regulatory mode instead of a facilitative one. If at that time there was a little discussion on the possible role of cable operators and local culture, perhaps the legislation would have been different.
Lawrence explains the history behind the Cable Television Network Regulation Act, 1995
Cable Television Network Regulation Act
KH: That law was made in 1995, it's been ten years since then. Why hasn't anything been done about it till now?
LL: I don't have a lot of information about this. But a change in legislation depends on whether the cable operators here are united or not. If there are isolated incidents of individual cable operators trying to change things in their own city like Bhopal, or Shivaji Nagar, or Delhi, that will have no effect. Because you are battling against very strong opponents. I don't know if a concerted effort is being made or if there is a strong lobby power for this.
SF: According to you, are the MSOs controlling us because of their monetary power?
LL: Absolutely. They are controlling things because of their money and lobbying power.
The focus of the conversation shifts to a possible change in legislation.
KH: You've been working in this field; how do you feel about this?
CO: If you see Suroor TV, it is a local channel that is running and its popularity is increasing. Generally, when a channel's popularity is increasing, we air it. But Hathaway, Siti Cable, In Cable, etc, what they do is - a channel just released, for example, Toon Disney by Zee. They don't consult us. They don't ask whether we want this channel or not. They don't tell us the cost, or what the rate is, so that we can decide whether we want this channel or not. They do not do this. If it is profitable for them, they switch on that channel and we have to make the payment. In such a situation, the public has no freedom. The public wants channels like Suroor TV, but they do not provide these channels. They air whatever is profitable for them. Even if the public does not want it and does not like it, they impose it on people.
The conversation moves to include the view of one of the cable operators present.
CO: If you see, there is something called Prime Band in Cable. Prime Band, Mid-Band and UHF. Now, UHF comes under low frequency. Now a cable operator cannot air a low frequency band without paying money. People who don't make a lot of money still have old TVs, and those TVs have only prime bands. Now, what these people should do is put the channels that the public wants most in the Prime Band. But they do not do this. Now, MSOs have a monopoly. In all of Bangalore, there are three MSOs. There is no one else. Now what they are doing is that they air the channels which pay them money in the Prime Band. For example, Aaj Tak
will pay them some money, and then if Aaj Tak
gives money, NDTV won't be far behind. They also give cash and get put on Prime Band. So now Prime Band is full of only news channels and cartoon networks. (laughter) There is no other channel only.
The discussion moves to the manipulation of the Prime bands by the MSOs for monetary gain.
SD: The issue that you raise is very interesting. Because the question is that the public wants to watch Suroor TV, but the MSO wants to air channels that are profitable to them. But if they are asked why they make the programs that they do... For example, we had a spate of 'K' serials; we still do. Then reality TV, game shows, now cartoon channels. If you ask any television executive behind these shows, they will tell you they are created because the public wants them. But what you are saying paints a different picture. You are saying that the public also wants to watch Suroor TV. But the MSOs say, "to hell with the public. We'll show this because it's profitable." But at the same time it's claimed that certain channels are shown due to public demand. This means that in deciding television programming, public interest does not figure. And there is something else involved. Through cartoon network, you can advertise toys. Through news channels, you can propagate a certain political view and type of advertising. Through sports channels, you can get advertising. So, you will see that when this 1995 judgement came out, people thought that if the spectrum went beyond the control of the State, then there will be diversity. We thought that the different colours of the rainbow could be expressed. If fifty homes in a locality each wanted to watch a different show, they could. That diversity will perhaps come. But the opposite has happened. Channels have cloned each other. There are two sports channels that both show the same thing. So that rainbow that could have been, never got formed. So my question to you is that when you started Suroor TV, you must have had an idea of who your audience is and what they wanted. You must have had some calculation and some relationship with that public. Otherwise you would not have invested so much capital and labour. So, I would like to know more about that picture that you have of your audience.
Stanley discusses his understanding of the MSOs' deeds.
KH: See, that's quite easy to answer. I don't want to know what is happening in America. I want to know what my neighbour is eating. This is our mentality.
SD: Or we might want to know both.
KH: But you are more interested in your neighbour because you can go to his house to eat. You can't go pay a visit to Bush.
SD: And you shouldn't, even. (Laughter)
JW: He will eat you up. (laughter).
KH: So, when we started, our main aim was to promote awareness amongst our people. And there was no awareness because there was no media for them here. Here there is a large Muslim population of sixteen - seventeen lakhs. Thirteen lakhs according to the census. Government policies , agendas, etc were not reaching this area at all, and we found out that there was this need to know in society. My dad worked in his profession for twenty-seven years and then retired.Then I did my MS in communication. I was also doing a lot here in Bangalore with the Lion's Club and other social organisations. So, we thought about how to bring about an awakening in these people, when right now they know nothing.
SD: And you saw a demand for it.
Kashif justifies his setting up of an Urdu channel. He lays emphasis on a person's curiosity with regard to local events, rather than those involving, say, George Bush
KH: There was a strong demand coming from the public. Because there is an Urdu press, but how many people can read and write Urdu? People wanted to see their own taste, and actors and poems from their own localities. So we calculated all this and realised that there is definitely a need for this amongst the people. Because local-level leadership development needs to be done, and many other things. And this was not happening because there was absolutely no media here. And we thought about this, and this was the best kind of media to do because it was audio-video media. Because you can see it or not, and those who can understand it will see it. So we conducted surveys and found out that some people are interested in Ghazals
, some in poetry, some in Islamic religious talks. Lots of sardars
told us that they had migrated from Pakistan and that their culture was different, and they got to see no programming relevant to their culture. People's culture was not being represented.That's why we started this channel.
Kashif speaks of the demand from the Urdu-speaking public for representations of their own culture, such as the singing of ghazals
, and Qawwalis
SF: I'd like to say another thing - that each individual wishes to spend a moment in his own environment. For example, if I am seeing Surya TV, or any channel, I will change it, because I can't relate to it. But if I find out that something is being aired about my local culture, I will be very happy and I'll definitely watch it because I will understand what is going on. So information is transmitted the most to people, not when it's in English or in a language that they do not understand.
SD: Even the Hindi that comes on TV these days I do not understand at all.
Safina agrees with Kashif's point regarding a need for one's own environment and culture.
KH: What we kept in mind here is to use the type of Urdu that is commonly spoken in south India. Because, for a regular person, it is not possible to understand high-standard Lucknowi
(from Lucknow) Urdu . He will only understand if we speak in the local dialect.
SD: Or, for example, people that speak Urdu in Delhi often watch the news on Pakistan TV. But the dialect that is employed there is not spoken by anyone. Nobody understands it. That Urdu is not spoken anywhere other than the news on Pakistan TV. Right? That is nobody's Urdu. Or, even in India, the Urdu news that used to come on Doordarshan and on the radio, etc.That too was not spoken by anyone.
KH: How will anyone understand if you speak in such a pure, high form of Urdu?
There is a discussion regarding different versions of the same dialect, as well as their ability to be understood by the common man. For exmaple, Kashif makes reference to the Urdu
spoken in Lucknow
, which is a particularly pure strain, and cannot be understood by those not familiar with the same.
LL: If you look at the situation with Hindi media historically, this situation will manifest itself in many ways. If you see the history of music, you will find that when HMV was the only player from 1908-1980, the cultural impact was that... When you have such a large monopoly, your only market can be the national market. So a niche, small market makes no economic sense for you. So at that time, all the other languages that existed became dialects of Hindi - Bhojpuri, Gharwali, Punjabi, etc all became dialects of Hindi. And their individual oral traditions and cultures were lost. But since the 1980s with the cassette revolution, T-Series came into the market and broke HMVs monopoly. From then until now, if you see the volumes, you will see that the sale of Hindi songs has gone down and various local traditions have risen up. We need a similar revolution in media.
KH: Like in ETV.
SA: Can we now we come to the topic of MSO versus cable operators?
Lawrence cross-references the case of the MSOs with that of the Indian music industry, making reference to HMV
's monopoly on the market before T-Series
Another clip is shown; this one focuses on the subsidies provided to the MSos by the government in order to aid the distribution of information and communication.
KH: The reason Siti Cable and all of them exist is because the government has aided them so much. The government has given them subsidies, the government has given them electricity lines. Now they have increased the rent, but earlier it was very low, something like ten rupees per pole. Because the government wanted there to be equal distribution of information and communication. So when these cable operators started, the government gave them a lot of assistance. So if you see these electricity wires, for example, are all public property. How can they use them? Until they are not servicing the public, how can they use the electricity poles and the ground? That is public property. I am the public.
KH: So how can they demand money from me and say that "if you want to air your signal, which is to benefit the entire public, you have to give us money"? These people are very strong. I'll tell you a problem that (beep) is facing. These MSOs have become so strong that, say (beep) has a connection...
KH: That's someone's name that we've beeped out.
KH: ... And they ask him to join them - he's with Siti Cable right now so if In Cable ask him to join them - and he refuses, then they threaten him.
LL: You use a lot of bad words on TV. (laughter)
KH: They've angered me that's why.
KH: (beep) is still strong. There are many weak cable operators. They don't even get to know when the MSOs give their signals to someone else.
KH: This person spends money, he does the networking for the entire area. In a blink they cut his wires and fix their own, and before you know it they have the connection of the area. And he'll be helpless. Because they've got a lot of power now and there's no one to stop them. They're spread all over India, and, as I told you, these are all big companies. And I doubt if the law will do anything to prevent what's going on.
KH: Just to tell you that the beeps were actually to edit out someone's name. He is a cable operator; he cannot boycott them openly. No one can say anything against them. If he says anything against Siti Cable for example, what will happen is that Siti Cable, In Cable and Hathaway will unite for this one time, even though they are competitors, and just not give him a connection. So they have become so strong. So, what do you have to say about this?
SA: There are three cable operators here, you can address them directly.
KH: You can ask them about their problems and about how the MSOs harass them.
The clip continues by referring to the dishonesty of the MSOs, as well as the control exerted by the same on local cable operators.
CO: The cable operators don't mean anything to the MSOs. They will do whatever comes in their mind. There is no value for the cable operators. The main point is that they are getting some payment, and that's all. You are making a living and that's all. If you want to make some money apart from that, they will not let you. They are pressurising us so much. We had a problem two months ago; the government was going to increase the entertainment tax. It was Rs. 1,000 then they made it Rs. 1,500, then Rs. 3,000. And then they wanted to raise it from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 7,000. So that is a Rs. 4,000 increment. So they were supposed to levy that tax of Rs.4,000 on the MSOs, but what they did was - they sat down with the Information Minister, had some discussion and reached an understanding.
SD: Yes, this always goes on between them.
The conversation now revolves around the increase in entertainment tax.
CO:They reached an understanding and said that this tax does not apply to MSOs. They only have to pay a service tax. Pay the service tax and that's all. Entertainment tax will have to be borne by the cable operators. Then it was decided that the entertainment tax will be shared between the cable operators and the MSOs. We face a lot of problem. The tax rose from 1,500 to 3,000. Then we went on strike, but the MSOs refused to shut down. So whoever wanted to switch off, switched off. But the next operator was not switching off, so what could we do? We didn't have unity and so we switched it on, and had to bear the Rs. 3,000. Now, when the MSOs felt the pressure of tax from the government, what did they do? They had a monopoly since there are only three of them. They got together and shut down service throughout Karnataka. So the government got scared by the second day and said, 'it's okay, you don't have to pay. We will speak to the operators.' So there is no value for us here. When we were taxed, we bore it. But when it's falling on the MSOs, they threaten the government with a shut-down. They are least bothered about the customers. They don't give the channels that the public wants and which would give the public information. When they were faced with the tax of Rs. 3,000, they threatened the government and shut down service. Now there is so much pressure falling on us. They only put the pressure on us. The pay channels also put a lot of pressure on us. Like Star increased their rate from Rs. 40 to Rs. 50. What they should have done is shut down and refused to negotiate. But they have entered into a partnership with Star. They are thinking that if rates rise by ten rupees, their profits will also increase. So okay, they agree to the rate hike. And we cannot do a shut-down, because our union and association is not strong. Now, when there was too much pressure, the association called a meeting and had a discussion. We decided to make a case. But while the case is on, we have to make the payment.
The anonymous cable operator states that the MSOs and the government have reached an agreement whereby the increase in entertainment tax is borne almost solely by small cable operators. He also makes mention of the pressure he is under to show pay channels like Star TV
, despite his viewers' preferences.
service shut down
SD: I want to ask you a question about content. Agreed, you have to show whatever the MSOs provide. But in the middle of that - for example, I have often seen advertisements for a local dhaba
(small roadside restaurant) during a film. Suppose they shut all local neighbourhood channels, like Suroor TV. So many times the public will not even know why the channel has been shut down. So, are you able to give messages like this?
CO: No, we can't.
SD: Who can stop this?
CO: Now what it is saying in the Act is that people who are broadcasting channels and entertaining the public have to pay entertainment tax. Now, we are service providers. We are not starting channels, not putting news, not airing advertisements. If we were to air advertisements, we would have to pay the entertainment tax. Now they are not thinking of all this. The movies that we air, for example, a T-Series movie - we are not airing advertisements. Now, the payment that we receive from MSOs has become less. They are increasing taxes and our profits are reducing. We used to put a little local advertisement in and make a little money. But now what the government has done is that they have brought that advertisement under the ambit of entertainment tax. So what the cable operators did was they had to stop doing this.
Stanley and the anonymous cable operator discuss the effect of the raised taxes on their ability to show small, local advertisements.
Kashif suggests that the cable opwerators attempt to become independent of the large MSOs. The response is that they are unable to obtain the decoder
necessary for such an endeavour.
SD: So local advertisement has been stopped?
CO: We cannot do it. If we don't do local advertising, we have to pay Rs. 3,000. If we do air advertising, we will have to pay Rs. 7,000. Who would want to take that risk?
KH: So why don't you become independent?
CO: We can't. That is the main problem.
KH: Why not?
CO: That is the problem going on in Bangalore. Now, for example, there is the Star package. If we want to air that, we have to get decoders. Now, we are five operators - even if we get together and want a decoder, they will not give us one. They will say you have to contact an MSO. They are not releasing decoders in Bangalore.
KH: It is a nexus between MSOs and the channel operators.
CO: They are all together. Decoders are not possible - we have tried lots of things. A bunch of cable operators got together, but still they would not give us a decoder. If the decoders get released, the monopoly of MSOs will absolutely go.
LL: If you look at this situation, it's a recent development. In 1950s, there was this problem in America. We talk about content and carriage, and now the convergence of the two. There, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) made a very important ruling saying that content and carriage must be completely separated. Because when content and carriage merge and a media monopoly is formed, it is very difficult to fight against that. So here is the problem that you mentioned with Hathaway and Star.
CO: All of them - In Cable, Star, Zee, Hathaway, Siti Cable - all of them are together. Now ten of us in our area got together to ask for a decoder. They say 'make a declaration of 1,000 points and then we will release the decoder.' What the MSOs do is that they will give 3,000 points but will not allow the decoder to be sold outside. They increase it by 3,000 points and make sure all the MSOs stick together.
Lawrence makes reference to the Federal Communications Commission
) and its effect on local cable operators.
LL: I have one solution. You have a small commercial world of cable operators...
CO: Now this set-top box is coming. Even the MSOs will die. You can see why Kashif is facing a lot of problems to run his channel; because the MSOs have got a monopoly. There are so many upcoming, local channels, and they are not allowed to air, or charged a lot of money, so no one is entering the market. If the decoders are sold outside, the MSOs will die. Right now, for ten cable operators, there is one MSO. But if we get the decoder, we will make ten operators and one agent amongst us. If that happens, automatically upcoming channels will come up. Because those ten operators would like to promote local upcoming channels, because that channel is being made. We will air all channels, free-to-air or whatever. Whoever wants to come is welcome. Give us the signal and we will air the channel. If you are giving it free of charge, it will help us to get viewership also and the problem will be solved.
The cable operator cites his fears regarding the arrival of the set-top box
free to air
set top box
SD: What was your suggestion?
LL: My suggestion was this - I am seeing two - three worlds here. For you, this is a lived problem. Even us, we were thinking a lot about these problems - about information, ownership, about local content. But these two worlds have never met. We talk in our academic conferences, and you in your rooms, but actually we both have a common interest. We should make a starting point here and discover how we can work together, because this is a very serious long-term problem.
CO: This is a small problem right now. After five years, there will be no cable operators. The government is saying they will reduce the unemployment rate. It will not happen. After five years, with the entry of DTH, all the cable operators will die out. Out of 1,000 cable operators, now only 5 are surviving. So, the 50,000 people dependent on that - their families, etc are all left out in the cold. There is full unemployment.
LL: There is a model.
KH: We'll see the next clip, then well get back to this.
There is a discussion regarding the effects of Direct to home (DTH)
on the business of local cable operators. Lawrence suggests forming an association in order to seek ways around this long-term problem.
out of business
KH: My channel was being shown on Siti Cable and (beep) had Hathaway at that time. Hathaway was refusing to show my channel. But if I wanted to get my channel - demodulate it and modulate it, I had to go to (beep) because he was the closest Siti Cable operator. Siti Cable gave me the go ahead for this. But when I went to (beep), he demanded to be paid ten thousand rupees a month to transmit our signals. Because there was a lot of demand for our channel in this area we agreed to his terms. From (beep)'s set up to (beep)...
CO: Almost 700 meters.
KH: We bought and installed 700 meters long wire. After three months the wire got cut.
CO: Not even three months. Almost two months.
KH: After two months, they cut the connection and took the wire with them. The signal went, the pact didn't matter. I had even paid him twenty thousand rupees.
The clip shows Kashif discussing the investment he was forced to make, and the losses he suffered as a result of the cable operator's dishonesty.
KH: You wanted to say something.
SA: I just want to say - this cable that goes from house-to-house, wire-to-wire, it goes from window-to-window, terrace-to-terrace, building-to-building. If you take one area - Shivaji Nagar for example - there are many cable operators operating. Between them there are a lot of things. For example, Suroor is coming on Siti, but the viewership is controlled by Hathaway. So Siti gives its line to Hathaway so that this channel can be viewed by Hathaway customers, because there are 4,000 people here in Russel Market who want to watch this channel. So there is this kind of sharing through wires. Various problems emerge - one is more powerful than the other on the local level, for example. So there is unity, there is disunity. There is a kind of sharing, there is jugaad
(fixing things), there are politics. It would be nice if we could hear some more about that.
Shaina attempts to direct the conversation towards a discussion of the interaction between local cable operators.
Russell Market , Bangalore
SF: First I would like to say something. It looks like history repeating. Earlier, there would be 'dumping'. Now there is 'dumping' of channels on cable operators. All the channels are being dumped on them, and the ones that viewers want are not provided. After that, you see the situation of divide and rule; there is no unity amongst them. And one more thing is that this is like the Zamindari
(feudal) system, where the ones who did the labour were always the most exploited. The middle-men ate everything. So do you think all this that happened in the past is still happening? And if it is happening, what will it lead to?
SD: People nowadays call this 'information feudalism.' As you said, with the Zamindari
(feudal) system, the land-owner decided who can and cannot take things, like water, from his land. If we have control over the wires, we decide what is allowed to be transmitted through those wires. It is the same thing.
Safina and Stanley cross-reference the current system of the MSOs with the feudal Zamindari
Kashif clarifies his statements in the clip shown earlier.
LL: However bleak the situation is, we find a solution and manage a way. You people have to face this situation on a daily basis. Maybe you people should tell us what your everyday survival strategies are.
SA: I think you should also tell your viewers.
AS: Can you explain this 700 metres of cable that you were talking about?
KH: See, what happened was that my signal was going through Siti Cable. But these cable operators all had Hathaway. So how could I give them my signal? I took one wire that could go from the Siti Cable operators to these operators. It was 700 metres long. And I linked them and demodulated the signal. I had to take permission for this from Siti Cable. They gave it. So after demodulating, I was giving the signal to them. There was such a demand that they aired a competitor's signal. But that wire was cut after two months. Siti Cable gave me permission for this, but the person there who was giving me the signal demanded money. And I was helpless because there was no other option.
CO: Actually, he was not making an unfair demand. As Jawahar was saying - the government and MSOs have talks and discussions in secret. This is the game of the MSOs. They can't make the demand themselves, so they make this guy collect it and say they will collect it from him. They will share it 50-50. They can't collect it directly. So they do it indirectly.
CO2: Otherwise that cable operator will face problems and won't be able to survive in this field.
SA: Can you people tell us about the day-to-day problems you face as cable operators?
CO: (unintelligible) It is not my job to decide what channel is aired or not. It is my job only to make connections and take collections. And during collections, sometimes, they give only Rs. 100 instead of Rs. 150.
CO2: Now what has happened is, in Indranagar people are giving 80 channels so they are collecting Rs. 300. They can afford to make the investment and give the channels. In other areas it is different. If it is a big operator, he can afford to invest. But the small operators with 200 - 300 connections cannot afford to invest. After putting lacs of rupees in, he will not make any money off it.
The conversation focuses around Kashif's experience in the clip, and the possibility that the same was orchestrated by an MSO.
KH: So you want them to have a fixed rate?
CO: They don't have anything fixed. That is what I am saying. Now see, amongst us, there is competition. Between local operators there is competition. We are sitting here together, but behind there is competition. If I put my rate at Rs. 150, he will charge Rs. 100. Then I will come down to Rs. 70, then he will bring it down to Rs. 50. Because of this problem we have not been able to make an improvement. If the cable operators can come together like the MSOs have done, even we can make progress.
The conversation focuses on the local cable operators' competition for clients.
CO: The main problem is the billing system of the MSOs. They should look at the status of the operators and make the bills. Right now it is equal for all. Everyone has to pay a fixed amount, whether you have a hundred connections or ten thousand connections. Someone who has 1,000 connections will have to pay Rs. 30-40,000. A normal cable operator, making his sustenance with 200-300 connections or so, cannot afford to pay Rs. 30-40,000. And after this, to pay the channels also, and pay taxes, and run your home; it is not possible. It is not possible to hire anyone. Like now, I have an assistant. The two of us do all the work. But it is becoming impossible to pay him. Where things are more official, we can collect money easily. But in areas like slum areas, peoples daily wages are about Rs. 100 a day. We cannot charge them Rs. 200 a month. They will not pay. They will say they do not want a cable connection and will be satisfied with only Doordarshan. For entertainment, he will be ready to pay a maximum of Rs. 75 - 100. For us, if we collect only Rs. 100, we cannot manage to survive. Because the MSOs are charging a fixed amount per point. They don't care whether you have 150 connections or ten thousand connections.
The anonymous cable operator suggests the need for the charges to be made as per scale, rather than across the board.
CO: There is no Act to govern the MSOs. They need to put an Act in place to govern the MSOs. They need to charge operators according to capacity. For someone who has a lot of connections, they can charge more. But they need to charge less to someone with less connections. This is not happening. They levy a fixed amount, and if you do not pay, they disconnect the service. So, what happens to the weaker operators? They make only Rs. 10,000 a month. Then after the first month, when the MSO does not get its payment of Rs. 20,000, they need to call in the cable operator to find out why this is happening. They do not do this. The customer is paying the money, but we are still piling up debt with the MSOs. And then, when after a while it reaches Rs. 2-3 lakhs, they directly disconnect the service. The cable operator next to us might be strong and be able to make regular payments. They will support him. Now, the MSOs are giving a line to us and to other operators. So while our service is disconnected, they should tell the next cable operator to support us, but they are not doing this.
SD: They are following the policy of divide and rule.
The discussion now follows the need for an Act to regulate the MSOs.
CO: They are not telling us not to put new connections. If we have only 300 connections, and 50-70 are disconnected in 3-4 days we become weak. We are forced to sell to either the MSOs, or to the next cable operator. So there is an amount. Now I call the MSO 3-4 times, 'come tomorrow', 'come day after' - I call him 5-6 times and give him Rs. 10,000. For the cable operator next to me buys me over, the price is increased by Rs. 10,000, but he can pay it in one shot. So it's not a problem for them. What they are doing is trying to buy out and finish all the small operators. They are thinking that if there are fewer cable operators, it will be easy for them. For example, now if there are hundred operators, it is difficult for them to make collections. But if tomorrow there are only 50, it becomes easier for them.
SD: But in this whole discussion, there has been one factor missing - and that is the public. They do not have the information. They think either you (Suroor TV) have stopped making programs, or that cable operators are not providing the channel any more.
KH: They don't know about the MSOs at all.
The conversation follows the possibility that the MSOs are attempting to put small cable operators out of business, as well as the need to inform the public about the reality of the situation.
CO: I'm saying that local channels... What you're saying about the public not being aware is true.
KH: The MSOs are firing off their shoulders.
SD: The question that both of you were asking was what can be done. According to me, lots will need to be done. Firstly, though, I think the public needs to be made aware of the situation.
KH: We have told the public. We gave them the numbers of the MSOs and told them to make their demands to them. There is a Pakistani Urdu channel called QTV. One customer called and asked why Suroor TV is not coming any more. There were thousands of calls like that coming everyday. The MSO said that if you call demanding Suroor TV, we will shut QTV also. So the customer gets afraid.
CO: Because now there is only one channel running - QTV. If they shut that also, there will be a problem. Because they shut all the other Urdu channels, they shut down EtV Urdu. Saudi got cut. One customer came and roughed me up and asked me "are you from RSS?", why have I cut the Saudi channel. They cut this channel during the month of Ramadan, so people were angry.
KH: Where will the public go? Can they go and file a police complaint?
CO:If the public had knowledge about these things, they could go to the Consumer Court and make a case.
KH: But the case will be put on you.
CO: Yes, the case will come on us. But we will direct them. This is not our work.
They discuss the fact that Suroor TV was discontinued in the month of Ramadan
, and the possibility that the MSOs, feeling pressured, might choose to discontinue the only remaining Urdu channel, QTV
, in retaliation.
Lawrence makes reference to an American group dealing with communication rights, The Electronic Frontier Foundation
SA: Lawrence was saying something. You were saying...
LL: Yes. Actually, I've forgotten. But there was a previous point that was connected. There are many discussions about the formation of a group which is based on a very successful model in America. It's called EFF (Electronic Freedom Frontier), where activist groups come together for communication rights. This is important because the government doesn't take the issue of communication rights seriously. Because the government has a very narrow approach towards entertainment and information. It doesn't understand the premise of entertainment. The public has a right to watch what they want.
CO: They are even taxing entertainers. Charging service tax is understandable, but why are they charging entertainment tax?
Electronic Freedom Frontier
LL: You need to form a language of rights. There are rights for the spectator, and there need to be rights for the person who is servicing the spectators directly i.e. the cable operators. To bring them together, a language needs to develop.
SD: For example, if you see the situation with water. In every city, in Bangalore as well, there is the same problem that water does not reach. When water does not reach, people get together to investigate where the water is not coming from. And if you see, it is the same kind of battle that is being fought here. So that consciousness needs to be raised in society so that when a channel is switched off, people ask where the tap is being shut.
KH: We did all this. We went to the root of the problem and explained it to people. But these people are very strong. They have a very strong political influence. Ordinary people cannot fight them. And if a group of people tries to fight them, they will lose their political interest somewhere else. That's the problem. So what I think...
CO:The public needs to give support to the cable operators. If the cable operators are affected, the public gets affected as well. So if 1000 cable operators take a stand, then an equal number of people from the public should also support them. Only then will we be able to pressurise the MSOs.
The conversation follows the methods by which action can be taken against the MSOs.
JW: This is a numbers game. Because so many people have come to see our programs. So, as with water, they are eliminating an entire segment's right to it. The same with entertainment - they are completely blocking an entire section of society's right to a certain kind of entertainment. So our strength lies only in our numbers. Our future plan of action perhaps needs to be based on this. How can we use these numbers? Because, like this, it is never going to get finished; this war is going to continue. Tomorrow, if the MSOs are not there, they will find a different method to control this, and to silence some voices.
KH: I tried to file a PIL and go to the Consumer Court, and things. The lawyer ran away. (laughter)
LL: There are so many of us here. Your strategy needs to be a multi-problem strategy. Because this effort might disintegrate.
KH: I did a signature campaign and got 5 - 10,000 signatures. The people of the area even said they would cut all the wires until the time that Suroor TV restarts. But I knew if that happened, the cable operators would face a problem. Nothing would happen to the MSOs. They would face no losses. The cable operators would lose. So we definitely have a link with the public. But what should our plan of action be?
The discussion moves to possible plans of action for the future.
segment of people
Lawrence suggests linking this struggle of local channels and cable operators with other endeavours of local persona versus large corporations.
SD: You will need to translate the numbers of people into action. How can we use them?
KH: Where should we go? I don't know long these cases will take. The Consumer Court...
LL: Your strategy needs to be to link up to other kinds of struggle. If you limit yourself only to the cable struggle, it will not do. The problems that you are facing are faced at a similar level by lots of other unions. Retail stores versus large super-markets. It is the same problem there. What happens to small shops when a Food World comes to the area? There is the same problem in medicines. Generic drug manufacturers versus large pharmaceutical firms. If there is some way that you can make connections to other struggles, you can find ways to help each other and learn from each other. But, perhaps we have been in too pessimistic a mood in this program.
SA: Last question - Why should we have local TV channels?
KH: But as far as cable channels are concerned, if you set aside the cities like Hyderabad, Delhi, etc, which are the stronghold of these MSOs, in the smaller towns the cable operators are doing really well.
CO: Even in villages, the operators are doing quite well. They are independent. They show five channels, they have their own channels which are free to air.
KH: They have their own news.
CO: They have their own local news which is village-centric.They are doing quite well.
KH: This is happening in small villages.
SA: For how long has this been happening?
KH: It's been happening for the past three-four years.The technology has become quite cheap.
CO: So I called some operators from Delhi to come and speak here, but they refused to speak in front of the camera. I told them this footage is not going to be shown on NDTV, or Aaj Tak
, or any other news channel. I told them nobody is going to take this CD and show it to Hathaway, telling them that the operators are against you.They are just collecting information on a CD to show it to the common people.
KH: That's right.
CO: So at least the common people will understand and pay us on time.They don't understand that. They're just not ready to come in front of the camera. Basically, they cannot challenge the big operators. If they come in front of the camera, the MSOs will suppress their business. It's not possible to challenge the big players.
The clip shows Kashif and an anonymous cable operator discussing the difference between cable operators working in large cities such as Hyderabad and Delhi, and those working in smaller cities, or even villages.
free to air
SD: Perhaps we need a media campaign. For example, if you, Lawrence, some cable operator, some school teacher, some parents, all get together as a Citizens Group and want to give information to the press and tell them about your difficulties and the fact that if you don't get to see programs pertaining to your culture and locality, you become useless, to some extent. So if you do that, perhaps something can happen. Now I don't want to end on a pessimistic note, but I say 'perhaps' because the question is of people's daily wages, their freedom of speech, and the development of their local culture. These are three very important questions.
KH: We have already tried all this. We have taken the help of all sorts of group leaders, the press, etc. But we have not been able to shake them. They say go to the authorities. And the authorities send back a letter saying that injustice is being done, but that they cannot do anything about it. We have tried everything.
Stanley suggests that a Citizen's Group approach the media regarding the violation of their right to information, while Kashif refutes the suggestion.
freedom of speech
JW: Perhaps there is some way. For example, when Hathaway blocked you, you went to Siti Cable. In that way, you were able to stay alive...
KH: But then Siti Cable shut us down!
JW: What I am trying to say is that sometimes people give too much weight to the legal angle. In my experience, the legal process is mostly only sound and light. The action takes place somewhere else, in a boardroom somewhere, or between MSOs. And after that the battles in court are, not simply for show, but largely inconsequential. Our fight perhaps needs to be somewhere else.
LL: The PIL process is problematic. We tell any client who comes to us wanting to file a PIL to never file one. Because with the current atmosphere around PILs, you have to be very strategic and careful, because it is not like the eighties. Those days have gone.
SD: The days when PILs used to be of some use.
Jawahar and Lawrence advise against pursuing legal action, as they believe it would fail to bring about any real change.
KH: You are saying there are other means. But you have seen the fear created in people. This is a type of criminal/ mob mentality. People have hired criminals. He can tell you how he was harassed. You people tell us. You are not saying anything. What are your problems?
CO: When you see programs, take 'Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi
' for example. It is a very popular program, watched mostly by women. It spreads mostly by word-of-mouth and one woman telling another. Now when Suroor TV was launched, they shut it down before it could reach its peak. Why? They had invested lacs of rupees but the MSOs shut them down. They are charging us thousands and trying to shut us down.
SD: How did he finish you off?
CO: They have a fear. They are afraid that information and news will get ahead, and they do not want that.
The anonymous cable operator suggests that the MSOs attempt to stifle smaller channels that focus on information and news so that the viewers will continue to watch programs on pay channels. He cites the example of 'Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahhu Thi
', a popular program on Star Plus.
KH: When Suroor TV was reaching its peak, we got a lot of calls requesting us to change our program timings. We asked why. They said, 'No, change it because the timings clash with Star, or Sony.' So for us this was a happy thing. Afterwards, we found out that Star and Sony ratings fell when Suroor TV was being aired. So then we found out about those politics. The pressure was coming from the MSOs to finish us off.
SF: Whatever situation you consider, the people who have the money and power can through any means oppress the people who don't.
KH: That you will have to fight.
SD: You have to keep fighting. For example, we did not know about this. Now we came here and got to know about this. Now wherever we go, wherever our voices go, for example, at the conference yesterday, we will invite you and ask you to speak there. If we ever go to a forum where freedom of speech is discussed, then we will talk about this. So word slowly spreads and it is spread.
KH: It is a struggle.
SD: And I think we should continue spreading our knowledge, in whatever capacity we can.
Kashif explains that the MSOs attempted to discontinue Suroor TV due to its interference with the ratings of better paying channels, such as Star TV and Sony.
LL: There's a saying that says that if you fight, there is no guarantee that you will win. But if you don't fight, you are guaranteed to lose.
AS: You have the support of this audience. And since this is the ending note, maybe you should also say something to the audience in their homes watching this.
SD: I perhaps won't say anything to the audience. But I'd like to say that those people who are MSOs and bosses in television world are dumb. They are apathetic to what people want to watch or watch. They listen to the advertisers. But, in the long run - now, TV is only a 10-15 year old technology. Soon there will be a challenge on this.
KH: It has already come.
Stanley states that the future is likely to hold a revolution with regard to the information available on television.
SD: It has. Broadband will come. Day after tomorrow, if some other technology comes, even their shops will shut. But they will not have to shut down if they make some attempt to listen to the public voice. According to me, I have not seen any more apathetic and down-right stupid individuals than the rulers of the Indian media establishment.
KH: Including me?
SD: You are not a ruler. For example, Star TV's boss. There's this thing called TRP ratings. TRP rating is a fiction.
SD: It is a manipulated fiction created by 32 people, more or less. Through which the viewing habits of millions of people are meant to be controlled. So in the end - you might think prospects for you (cable operators) are bleak in the short-term, but...
The conversation moves to a discussion of TRP ratings and their use in determining what is fit for public consumption.
CO: If their shop shuts, even our shop will shut. If they lose their companies, we lose our jobs.
KH: Actually, that is the problem. My problem can be solved. But they have a bigger problem. Because two months ago news came out that BSNL is giving a 2-in-1 connection. Soon they will give a 3-in- where you can get cable channels as well.
CO: Now, when we are running it - taking from Siti Cable, or Hathaway, and running it, we are getting 64 kbps speed. We take Rs. 600. It allows unlimited download. But now BSNL is coming in and giving 256 kbps for 500 rupees. They are giving 256 kbps speeds! For unlimited!
KH: It's 1GB download.
LL: The 128 kbps package is unlimited.
CO: 128 kbps unlimited. So slowly people are leaving us and going to them. So now we have lost the internet to them. Soon we will lose cable as well.
The conversation moves to the problems local cable operators are due to face with regard to internet and cable television packages offered by large corporations.
SA: Any questions from the audience?
P: What is the relation of Direct-To-Home to home in all this? No one spoke about this, and does it have any relevance to this matter? And I'd like to say one more thing - as a final viewer, I never had any idea about MSOs. I heard the word two days ago. So, there is absolutely no awareness. I haven't read about it in any magazine. I've not heard it mentioned on any talk show or heard what it is. We just thought that the cable operator has been replaced by another name. But what the relationship between the two is, what this set-top box is - there have become too many names and alphabet soup, that the viewer is left completely confused. He just wants to watch his program, and that's a very real problem. That's one thing. What media should we chose to spread awareness? To try and reach people? A Conference is one way, but those are mostly academic exercises.
Shaina invites questions from the audience.
Set Top Box
SD: No, I think it is also our responsibility to write on these issues.
CO: So now that we have all come here and gotten together and talked, you must write about it. Otherwise what's the point of travelling this far?! (laughter)
CO: We don't want to just have this talk-show and finish the matter. You must also take some action. There are so many problems that we cable operators face. The association that's behind the curtain must come in front.
CO: And they will each share their problems. And they will give you support. So, even our association, which is behind the curtain currently - if you write about it and the public gives us support, they will automatically get in line.
The conversation moves to the need for the continued association and support of those gathered and watching against the issues discussed during the broadcast.
P: And I'd like to say one more thing. For example, when petrol prices increase, people don't complain to the petrol service provider. They don't stage a rally outside the petrol pump, because they know the communication is coming from somewhere else. And when you watch a news program and hear that petrol prices have increased and people's opinions, they criticise the government. But this is not the same with cable TV. Since cable TV first came in the nineties, we were made to believe that the cable-guy has all the powers. It's this black face that we get everything from. For us, Sony, Star, everything is the cable-guy. We don't know anything about all these different providers, and we don't know that much. So for us there is just one face. There is one public face and that is the cable-guy. If nothing is coming on our TV, the first person we call is the cable-guy. So those channels of communication need to be clarified.
KH: I think you've answered your question.
SD: Responsible viewership.
CO: Responsible viewership - that is why DTH is coming.
The conversation revolves around the need for responsible viewership.
KS: See, DTH is something called Direct-To-Home.
CO: Now you will no longer be dependent on the operator. Take it directly and use it. So what will happen with DTH is that you will have to purchase different packages separately. Now Zee is saying that they will give the first year free if you put their dish.They are giving it for free - not charging for one year. In that one year all the local operators will be forced to move out. DTH will cover everything. Once they cover everything, they will raise the price. There will come a time when it is all DTH. Star is giving 85 channels - if you want to see even only 40 channels, you will have to pay 400-500 rupees.
KS: DTH - Direct-To-Home. It is another big game.
CO: Now they are giving it cheap. They put Sun TV, ETV and saying it is life-time free. Now they are saying it is free, and they came just like that and put the dish. At that time it used to be completely free-to-air. Then they started pay channels, and since ESPN started the price has risen to Rs. 150 and now Rs. 250.
The dialogue follows the incipient arrival of DTH
and its effects on local cable operators.
direct to home
free to air
KH: About this, the government is also saying something, which is that pay channels are not allowed to show advertisements. Only the free-to-air channels will be allowed to show advertisements.
CO: They are saying that now. It will take them at least five years to implement this.
KH: This is true.
CO: It will take five years. Which is why I said right at the beginning of the show that the government is not going to take any action against pay channels. They are not taking any action. This information needs to filter into the public mind. The government is not taking any action. ESPN, which started at Rs. 4, is now priced at Rs. 32.
KH: It's increased eight times.
CO: Even now, this Rs. 32 is not fixed. The government started putting a little pressure on them which is why they have stayed quiet. Now when they have some inside discussion with the government, the rate will automatically go up.
The conversation revolves around the continuously increasing prices of pay channels, notably that of ESPN
SD: One thing we must remember is this - we say that powerful and rich people do things 'automatically.' Nothing happens automatically. Just like we have met up today and are talking, even they need to meet up and talk. They did it sooner. You are doing it later. But now the process will move forward. They will continue meeting and you will continue getting together and talking as well. So slowly perhaps, in the same way that media companies, MSOs, State Governments, political parties co-ordinate and make and break alliances amongst themselves, you must also form connections between yourselves; some municipal politician, some other small journalist, some school association or parent-teacher body - in that way small alliances will be formed. Some will break, some people will leave, but that process will continue.
KH: The effort will definitely be there.
Stanley suggests the need for the general public to continue to form alliances if they wish to see change effected.
SD: Because earlier, this conversation that is happening between us, didn't have a medium. Even the reason for this conversation that is happening is - some people met in Russel Market during Russel TV, everyone got the opportunity to talk to everyone, people met, a context was formed, and you started the conversation. Perhaps the people from the conference will leave. But if the conversation amongst you remains on, and if all our conversations in different circumstances and depending on each person's reach and standing continues, then just as their network sustains, so shall ours.
LL: Now Shuddha and Jawahar will go back to Delhi, but we are in Bangalore only.
JW: So when they come to beat you, call him.
SD: And when you come to Delhi, we will meet you again.
KH: So friends, I am sure you have learnt a lot and got to know about many issues. If we get your support, who knows what we can do. Thanks a lot for watching this program. Thank you very much. (applause)
The program ends with a call for the continued support of the general public.