Legal tangle over DTH subscription offers

ESPN unhappy with Tata Sky’s reduced package rates
Both ESPN and Tata Sky are disputing the legality of offering the sports channels outside of the latter’s base packages both at the TDSAT and in the Delhi High Court.

New Delhi, June 3 Direct-to-home operator Tata Sky, which dragged rival Dish TV to the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) last week, for the latter’s “free set-top box offer” is now having its own reduced “subscription offer” introduced this month being scrutinised closely by consumers, competition and the broadcaster.
As of this month, subscribers were told, they could pay less for the base pack that Tata Sky offers. Tata Sky says it reduced prices for wider access to digital entertainment. “The family pack is now available at Rs 200 per month instead of Rs 250. This pack offers around 90 Hindi, regional, kids, infotainment and news channels,” said the company in a statement yesterday. “The top-end Super Saver pack offering over 110 channels, including English channels, is now available for only Rs 260 per month,” it added.
What’s not spelt out is that the pack would not include the sports channels from broadcaster ESPN, and a handful of BBC’s channels which would be offered separately. ESPN’s bouquet (ESPN, ESPN-Star Sports and Star Cricket), will cost an additional Rs 40, BBC’s channel an additional Rs 30 and Ten Sports Rs 10 per month. Tata Sky says broadcasters and consumers were informed through a ticker that ran for the last 21 days. The company also points out that an annual subscription pack works out to Rs 217 per month, which with the addition of the severed packages will still cost consumers less, albeit marginally.
According to Tata Sky, all consumers need not be obliged to pay for such niche content such as those offered by ESPN and BBC. “We are offering consumers more choice under the current regulatory environment. These channels (referring to sport’s channels) are event based and cater to a relatively smaller audience. Rather than force them down every subscriber, we are offering them the choice of not paying for these channels round the year,” said Mr Vikram Mehra, Head, Consumer Marketing, Tata Sky.
Dish TV’s take
When contacted Dish TV Managing Director, Mr Jawahar Goel, said, “Tata Sky has, on the contrary, increased its own subscription. However, we don’t fight competition in courts and don’t want to be considered litigious.”
ESPN, unhappy with the new offer, had sent Tata Sky a notice on May 31 alleging violation of a court order. The two parties had already been disputing the legality of offering the sports channels outside of Tata Sky’s base packages both at the TDSAT and in the Delhi High Court. While a member of ESPN’s legal team maintains that taking ESPN out of the existing packages is in violation of a May 30 judgment of the Delhi HC (which asked the broadcaster to provide signals as was being provided up to May 20), Tata Sky has a different interpretation of the same order.
Earlier, on May 21 the TDSAT had directed ESPN “not to give effect to” para C1 of the broadcaster’s Reference Interconnect Offer (RIO) which said that all ‘concessional’ pricing was on condition that all three sports channels be carried in the base pack. (Under paras A&B of ESPN’s RIO operators can pick individually priced channels, said the company). Following this ESPN had approached the Delhi High Court on May 26 which disposed off the writ petition on May 30. The TDSAT will hear the matter again only in early July.
A sports channel costs broadcasters more than any other genre. While the Telecom Regulatory Authority has mandated that cable and DTH operators be allowed to chose individual channels from content owners (or have an a la carte option), its recommendation that channel prices for DTH be fixed at 50 per cent of what they cost cable operators is only an advisory.
Tata Sky, meanwhile, had filed a writ petition in the Delhi HC against competitor Dish TV for a misleading commercial.
It had taken up the matter with MRTPC claiming Dish TV’s “free set-top box” was misleading. The MRTPC had issued a notice to the Dish TV, and is to hear the matter again on July 11.
Our Bureau

Wednesday, Jun 04, 2008
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com

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