Exasperated by what they see as under-declaration of television subscribers by cable operators, broadcasters are contemplating independent audits in certain areas to ascertain the true number of subscribers.
When the conditional access system (CAS) was enforced in parts of New Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata last January, it was to have made subscriber numbers more transparent. But broadcasters believe that the reporting of incorrect numbers is still rampant. Cable operators and cable network owners, though, deny the claim.
An official at STAR India Pvt. Ltd—the Indian arm of the Hong Kong-based satellite television company wholly owned by News Corportaion—said that so far, the company had not received subscriber information from cable network owners, called multi-system operators (MSOs). “These guys are supposed to have a subscriber management system from which they’re supposed to give us data, but we’re not getting that, and we’re not getting paid. It’s quite a tricky thing,” he said, requesting anonymity.
One option for STAR, the official said, was to visit individual homes and ascertain the numbers on its own.
STAR’s problems with cable network owners have been well documented. Mintreported on 12 April that STAR had planned to take legal recourse because the company believed that MSOs were not transparent enough.
STAR is not the only one complaining. Sony Entertainment Television India Pvt. Ltd also claims to be facing the same problem. “Broadcasters are doing the audit to check whether the numbers are correct or not,” said Anuj Gandhi, president, SET Discovery Pvt. Ltd, the distribution arm of Sony and Discovery Network. “We will doing our first audit very soon,” he said.
The audit will be done to check whether the cable network owners’ data system, which records subscriber information, works properly.
The official at STAR said broadcasters and MSOs recently had a meeting in which broadcasters demanded an audit on subscriber numbers but their demand was not complied with. “It’s only talk now, but broadcasters want to make it happen,” he said.
Ashok Mansukhani, executive director, IndusInd Media and Communications Ltd (IMCL)—a subsidiary of Hinduja TMT Ltd that operates the company’s MSO business—denied that there was any confusion on declarations. “IMCL is not aware of any so-called independent audit. All CAS-related information is regularly provided to broadcasters as per the regulation,” he said.
Mansukhani said broadcasters had inspected their data, and that their transparency had not been questioned.
“We have done everything required by the law and have held joint and separate discussions with broadcasters in the presence of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (which also regulates the cable television business in the country) and the Indian Broadcasting Federation (the country’s apex body of broadcasters), and separately,” he said.
But there are other broadcasters for whom CAS has worked just fine. Ashish Kaul, executive vice-president, Essel Group (the promoter group for Zee Telefilms Ltd), puts STAR’s complaint down as a grouse.
The network, he believes, is reacting to the numbers because they show Zee leading STAR. “We’re not tom-tomming it too much because the sample size in the conditional access system areas is so small,” he said.
The Essel Group also runs Wire and Wireless India Ltd, one of India’s biggest cable network owners.