Even as Airtel Digital and Star India are trying to scuttle a new TRAI law aimed at unraveling TV channel bundles, the DTH operator has removed all Star channels from its various bundles and packages due to a disagreement over pricing.
UPDATE: Star is now threatening to stop providing the signals altogether.
As of today, all Star channels, including Star Sports, Star Plus, Asianet, National Geographic, Vijay TV and Star Jalsha , have been removed from all the packs of Bharti Airtel’s DTH service and will no longer be available to subscribers without extra effort.
From now on, Airtel Digital users have to pay for each Star channel individually, in keeping with the rate charged by Star. The DTH operator said the move was ‘temporary’.
For each subscriber viewing its HD channel, Star levies a charge from Bharti Airtel. In case of sports channels, this comes to Rs 35 per month per channel and for non-sports channels like Star Plus, it comes to Rs 25 per month per channel.
In keeping with this, Airtel Digital has decided to charge its consumers Rs 50 per month for each HD sports channel and Rs 35 per month for each non-sports HD channel.
For non-HD channels, Star charges anywhere from 45 paise per month for Channel V to Rs 9.21 per month for Star Bharat. Sports channels are charged at Rs 15 per month.
As such, for non-HD channels, Airtel Digital will charge its consumers Rs 10 per month for non-sports channels and Rs 20 for sports channels.
To prevent a consumer blowback, Airtel said it will not charge consumers for subscribing to 22 of the most popular of Star’s standard definition channels — including Star Plus, Star Movies, Star Sports, Star Bharat and Star Gold — for a period of one month.
This one-month offer is available only to those subscribers who lost access to these channels due to the shift to RIO, it added.
It is likely that the two companies will arrive at a new settlement in this period.
The 22 channels covered by the one-month offer account for 66% of all the standard definition channels of Star India that were present on Airtel’s DTH platform before the dispute.
The remaining 11 channels will be charged from day 1, if activated by subscribers.
Similarly, the 23 HD channels will also be charged from day 1 if activated.
To compensate for the change, Airtel said it will add 5 new HD channels, including Living Foods, JEET HD, &Prive HD and DSports HD, to the packs of its HD consumers who are losing access to Star’s channels.
If these five channels are not enough to compensate for the number of HD channels lost, Airtel will make a proportionate refund to the consumer’s account for the loss, it added.
In other words, if a consumer was subscribed to 60 HD channels for Rs 225 per month, and loses access to 15 channels due to the shift, Airtel will credit Rs 56.25 back to the consumer, which can be used to buy Star’s HD channels individually.
Consumers can activate the channels individually by calling the DTH provider’s customer care or by using this page to find the relevant ‘missed call’ number.
SHIFT TO RIO
The development indicates that Airtel Digital has fallen back on the ‘reference interconnect offer’ or RIO for arriving at the price of Star channels.
The RIO or reference interconnect offer is a public tariff card from the channel operator to all cable and DTH companies.
Typically, companies like Airtel Telemedia are also offered special concessions on top of the RIO offer due to their size.
RIO pricing is on a ‘per subscriber’ basis, while negotiated deals are usually on a flat basis, irrespective of how many users on the DTH or cable platform subscribe to the channel.
Airtel Digital and Star India said they were unable to arrive at a price that was acceptable to both.
The development comes three weeks after Star India issued a public notice saying that Airtel Digital is not giving it details of subscriptions and was not paying subscription fees.
Star India, which was bought by Walt Disney from Rupert Murdoch three months ago, is India’s largest broadcaster and has a portfolio of nearly 70 channels including the Disney line-up, and nearly all of these are carried by almost all the DTH and major cable networks in India.