Sun TV group’s TV transmission business in a fix

Chennai, Aug 29 :

A day after the Maran brothers – Kalanithi Maran and Dayanidhi Maran – promoted Kal Cables Pvt Ltd got a breather from the Madras High Court, fresh trouble has started for them as well as for their direct-to-home (DTH) business.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Friday filed a charge sheet in a Delhi court against the Maran brothers and Sun Direct TV, the company which offers DTH service to around nine million subscribers.
The charge sheet, booking them for criminal conspiracy and under the Prevention of Corruption Act in the Aircel-Maxis deal, was filed before special CBI Judge O.P. Saini, who will hear the matter Sep 11.

The matter relates to sale of mobile telephony operator Aircel to Maxis, owned by T. Ananda Krishnan, in 2006 wherein Aircel’s original owner C. Sivasankaran had alleged that he was pressured to sell as his firm was denied licences.

The CBI has alleged quid pro quo saying that in return, the Malaysian company invested around Rs.650 crore in Sun Direct, owned by the Maran family.

According to the website of Sun Direct, a joint venture between the Sun TV group and Malaysia’s Maxis group, it has over nine million subscribers and started operations in 2007.

While the DTH subscribers may not face service disconnection, the lakhs of households here who have taken connection from the local cable operators affiliated to Kal Cables are facing the prospect of their TVs going blank.

Firstly the information and broadcasting ministry had cancelled the MSO licence given to Kal Cables Aug 20. The company was one of the 17 MSOs so dealt with.

The central government had ordered Kal Cables to run a scroll informing the subscribers that its service would be cut in 15 days time.

The Madras High Court Thursday however allowed Kal Cables not to run that scroll while posting the case for Sep 2.

According to the ministry, the licence to Kal Cables was cancelled as the home ministry denied security clearance to the company.

The company was given licence to operate in Chennai in 2012 and a provisional licence to operate in other parts of Tamil Nadu in 2013.

The central government, which did not give any reason for the home ministry’s refusal to grant the security clearance, is expected to submit this to the court.

Officials of Kal Cables were not available for comments when contacted by IANS.

According to P.Shakilan of Tamizhaga Cable Operators Association, the Chennai city has around 40 lakh satellite channel subscriber base.

“Of that 10 lakh will be direct-to-home (DTH) subscribers and 30 lakh cable TV subscribers,” Shakilan told IANS.

Out of the 30 lakh cable TV subscribers, nearly 15 lakh will be with Kal Cables and the balance shared by other MSOs like TCCL and others.

Queried about the fate of households who receive the signals from cable operators affiliated to Kal Cables, he said: “There are other cable operators affiliated to other MSOs from whom the connection could be obtained.”

However there are around 1.5 lakh households with STBs connected to Kal Cables and the fate of their investment in the equipment is unknown.

If the court decides in favour of the central government, then it will be a big setback for the Sun TV group in the city as it would have to depend on other MSOs to reach its channels to households.

Kal Cables was sort of a captive arm for the Sun TV group of channels in the city and an entry barrier for other competing channels.

The other trouble that Kal Cables is now facing is from the Chennai Corporation that has started removing the cables for non-payment of right-of-way fee by the cable operators.

Meanwhile the Tamil Nadu government has been urging the central government to expedite the issue of Digital Addressable System (DAS) licence to Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corporation (TACTV) at the earliest.

In July, Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested him to issue the licence at the earliest, noting she strongly suspected “that the non-issuance of the DAS license to TACTV by the previous UPA government was only to facilitate particular private business interests, as other licences were issued at the same time”.


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