Will State ensure all channels in its Arasu Cable TV network

If this does not happen, the operators fear that they may lose their subscribers to DTH service or to new cable operators

Those were the days when the avid television watchers in Madurai used to eagerly wait for Fridays and Sundays. ‘Oliyum Oliyum' (film songs-based programme) and Tamil feature film telecast on these respective days were the most popular programmes on the only television channel beamed till the 1980s. 
However, many households in southern districts had a second antenna to capture the feeble signal of Roopavahini, a television channel popularly known as Ceylon TV. Besides All India Radio and Doordarshan, the only entertainment for the people was the cinema house. 

Technological advancements saw the advent of video cassette player/recorder (VCP/VCR). However, it remained a luxury for the majority of middle class then. 

A few educated unemployed youth tried to fill the vacuum on the entertainment front. They laid overhead cables on the streets to give additional entertainment. Small rooms, where a VCP/VCR was used, turned out to be the control room from where they played two feature films a day. They collected a nominal subscription of Rs. 30 to Rs. 40 a month. This sowed the seed for the cable television network which has turned into a multi-crore business now. 

From a mere single channel network with mundane technology, the industry now has grown manifold in more than one way.

Sweat and blood

It was never a bed of roses for the cable operators. “With not much technical knowledge and lack of willingness among the people to pay a nominal subscription, it was with much difficulty that we ran the show,” a cable operator said. The subscribers came with many excuses not to pay the full subscription. “We have only black and white TV sets. We were out of station for 10 days,” were the most common explanation given. Stealth snapping of cable also occurred frequently. 

Soon, a video magazine, Poomalai, made its entry. Then came the satellite channels from the Star Group for which, the operators installed a dish antenna. “We had to add more antennae with the introduction of more channels. The antenna with 16-feet diameter cost over Rs. 1 lakh then. As many of the operators could not afford it, they formed smaller clusters of network,” said P. Daniel, secretary of Cable Operators' Guild. Local cable channels were promoted that helped in meeting the maintenance and electricity cost, he added. In a span of about eight years there were nearly 40 channels in the air. 
Free connections were also given to subscribers who permitted installation of amplifiers in their homes. “Without the electric power from them, signals could not reach the tail-end,” another operator, K. Ashok Kumar, said.

Trouble begins

The introduction of pay-channels and entry of a multi-system operator forced small operators to lose their hold in the industry in the early 2000. 
“We were at the mercy of the MSO and pay channels. With big players in the industry, the operators had no other way but to join the MSO network through the head-end operators,” A. Pandi, president of Cable Operators Guild, said. 

The entire industry thrived on fudged figures. The operators did not reveal the real figures, in terms of number of household connections. The head-ends retained a portion of the connections for their benefit. The MSO dealt it in a different way with the pay-channels. 

However, with the compulsion of each others' requirement for the very existence of all involved, the industry grew at a faster pace, though with complaints against one another every now and then.
The fee for the cable operator, which was initially fixed at Rs. 45 per for every declared number of connections, soon went up to Rs. 100. As the industry saw addition of more sports channels, more English movie channels, more Hindi channels and more children's channels, the fee too went up. 
“At the present rate of pay-channels, the subscriber would end paying up around Rs. 360 a month. But, with the buffer connections (undeclared connections), the operators are able to make up with a subscription of Rs. 100 to Rs. 200,” Mr. Daniel said. 

Many a time, the operators were up in arms against the MSO.
They complained of high-handedness of the MSO. “We could not face the subscribers' wrath when a popular channel went out of air or an unwanted pay channel was added in the bouquet,” Mr. Pandi said. Amidst protests and pacifying measures, the show went on. 

Meanwhile, the advent of direct-to-home made minor dents in the cable operators' revenue.
The twists and turns in politics saw the entry of a second MSO. Though initially there were lot of noise, the matter got settled down as time passed. 
At the fag end of its tenure, he All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government announced formation of Arasu Cable TV Corporation. It could not take off after a change of guard in the State.
However, immediately after a political turmoil within the then ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Government began setting up of Arasu Cable TV. 

But it could reach only a minuscule pocket in the State and the MSOs maintained their grip over the industry. 

“The Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, has re-opened the Arasu Cable TV project to end monopoly of the MSOs. We are happy about that. But we cannot convince the subscribers without the popular pay channels. The Government should bring in all the popular channels in its network and provide 24-hour technical support, so that the cable TV industry grows further,” Mr. Pandi said. 

If this does not happen, the operators fear that they may lose their subscribers to DTH service or to new cable operators who could enter the industry with the blessings of the MSO.


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