Chennai: The cable television network launched by the Tamil Nadu government a year ago, promising a cheaper alternative to subscribers, has turned out to be a non-starter, and several operators are blaming the changing dynamics within the state’s first family for this.
The launch of Arasu Cable TV Corp. Ltd by the state government was seen by many as a bid by the state government to undermine the dominance of Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV), a multi-system operator run by the Maran brothers, Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi.
They had fallen out of favour with their grand uncle M. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu chief minister and leader of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The Marans and the DMK chief reconciled before the April-May general election.
Multi-system operators such as SCV and Arasu buy signals from television channels and in turn feed these to smaller operators, who then beam them to households.
Kalanidhi Maran is chairman and managing director of Sun TV Network Ltd, the No.1 broadcaster in Tamil Nadu. His younger brother Dayanidhi Maran is currently Union minister of textiles.
On 14 July, P. Pounraj, a cable television operator in Madurai, filed a case against Arasu Cable before the Madurai bench of the Madras high court for not providing him signals six months after he switched to the network. The bench has issued a notice to Arasu Cable to reply in two weeks.
“I have been asking them (Arasu Cable officials) for providing signals, have made so many telephone calls, but (there’s) no response,” says Pounraj. He says he paid Rs5,000 as deposit to Arasu Cable in January and has since lost some 65 out of 200 subscribers.
Several other small cable TV operators who had switched to Arasu also say they have lost subscribers as the network doesn’t relay key channels.
P.W.C. Dawidar, Tamil Nadu’s information technology secretary and in-charge of Arasu Cable, said the network is still in talks with several pay channels, including Channel Plus, which distributes the Sun TV network’s bouquet of channels. He claims Arasu has around 30,000 subscribers.
A senior SCV official declined to comment on this story and asked Mint to contact Kalanidhi Maran.
Maran could not be reached on telephone. An email sent to his office on Wednesday afternoon remained unanswered.
“After the patch-up, ....Arasu Cable’s position went back to zero,” alleged a cable operator in Chennai. “It is an open secret. Everybody knows (this).”
He and several other operators Mint spoke with did not want to be identified for fear of hurting their businesses.
According to a recent policy note on information technology by the Tamil Nadu government, Arasu Cable’s share capital is Rs25 crore and it has so far been sanctioned a loan of Rs36.35 crore from the state.
P. Sakilan, state president, Tamizhaga Cable TV Operators General Welfare Association, says Arasu Cable received around 15,000 applications from cable operators for links but “only very few operators are still with Arasu”. Mint could not independently verify the claim.
Kayal R.S. Elavarasu, president of Tamil Nadu Cable TV Urimayalargal Sangam, or Tancus, says Arasu Cable suffered mainly because pay channels—which charge a premium for their broadcasts—refused to distribute their signals to the operator.
“Without the support of the channels, no one can run a cable distribution system,” said J. Jeeva, president of a local channels’ association. “The government can put up control servers spending crores of rupees, but if the channels don’t support them, then what’s the point?”
Jeeva, who runs Channel Vision, a Madurai-based cable television business, says he decided to switch to Arasu Cable hoping he “would be able to air 150 channels instead of the original 50, giving a stiff competition to the DTH (direct-to-home) players without spending more on technology.”
Since then, as Arasu Cable’s fortunes have plummeted, at least 170 out of his 700 subscribers have opted out, he says.