Major direct-to-home operators Bharti Airtel and Dish TV are at loggerheads with broadcaster Star India over rate revision of channels ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which begins April 7.

Industry sources told FE that Star India, which has bagged the international broadcast and digital rights for IPL for the next five years by bidding an astronomical Rs 16,347.50 crore, has this year demanded a hike in channel rates that is higher than the usual. But DTH operators Bharti Airtel and Dish TV are not willing to give in to the demand, arguing that industry revenues would not justify the hike and they are unwilling to pass on the hike to consumers.

Irked by their stance, Star India had earlier this month run a ticker on Airtel DTH that the channels might go off air if the operator does not renew the contract. This led Bharti Airtel to move the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal on March 8. The TDSAT has stayed any disconnection till the matter is disposed by it, thus providing relief to the DTH operators.

Industry sources said respite from the TDSAT means that Star’s bargaining power weakens, as it would not be able to disconnect its channels when the IPL begins. The two sides are thus back to the negotiating table, and the argument is sure to be a prolonged one.

When contacted, a Star India spokesperson said in an email response: “In respect and deference to the judicial process, Star, as a policy, does not speak to the media on matters that are sub-judice.”

An Airtel spokesperson said, “We have a long-standing relationship with Star India and continue to be in discussions with them.”

Jawahar Goel, CMD, Dish TV, said, “Negotiations are still on with Star India. However, the broadcaster is asking for a higher subscription money for its channels on our platforms. On our part we have asked Star India to give a discount for its free-to-air (FTA) channels like Star Bharat.” He added that of the annual subscription revenue of broadcasters amounting to Rs 9900 crore in CY17, about 40 percent came from Star India channels.

As per the latest FICCI-EY report, the number of active DTH subscribers in the country grew just 6.1 percent to 52 million in 2017. The average revenue per user (ARPU) has remained flat at around Rs 220 per month.

With a slow growth rate, any increase in subscription agreement would mean that consumers would have to pay more to watch Star India’s channels – something that DTH operators don’t want, as it might lead to disconnection of services by consumers. – Financial Express