Star India and Airtel Digital TV are involved in a very public spat around the pricing of the broadcast network’s channels on the DTH (direct-to-home) platform. Broadcasters and distribution platforms (DTH and digital cable) are often engaged in pricing wars, but the timing of this spat is significant given that less than a month is left before Star makes its debut as the official broadcaster of the Vivo Indian Premier League (IPL) 2018.
On March 23, Star released a video on Twitter ‘warning’ Airtel Digital TV customers about an impending price hike for HD channels. The video, which uses clips from various films and cricket matches, ‘informs’ viewers that the HD channels that cost Rs 200 right now, might cost in excess of Rs 1,000 in the coming days, implying a price hike by the DTH operator. It then goes on to add that the channels would be availed of at the current (Rs 200) rate if the customers changed their service provider. The last frame of the 30-second video carries the hashtag ‘make the switch’, along with names of six distribution platforms, both DTH and cable digital -- Tata Sky, Sun Direct, Hathway, GTPL, Den Networks and Fast Way.
The Star India campaign was in response to messages played by Airtel to its customers informing that Star network channels might go off-air after March 31 if the contract renewals did not take place. “Star network has increased tariffs of its channels, which will result in higher pack prices for you. In order to protect your interests, Star network channels will be temporarily withdrawn from your packs with effect from 31 March 2018,” the DTH operator said.
The DTH operator has responded to Star India’s campaign with a clarification about the customer-facing tariff. The company said in a statement, “We are shocked at the malicious, misleading and defamatory campaign based on blatant lies being run by Star TV. There is no truth whatsoever in Star TV’s assertion that Airtel Digital TV is unilaterally increasing prices of Star TV channels across its packs. We urge customers and public at large not to fall for these lies.”
Airtel goes on to point out that the broadcaster is using arm-twisting tactics to monetise the IPL, a property for which it won the media rights for a massive Rs 163.5 billion. The rights are valid for TV and digital platforms globally over the 2018-22 IPL seasons.
“It is public knowledge that Star TV recently made a massive bid to acquire exclusive rights to a popular sporting event and is now left with no option but to arm-twist and extract the sunk cost from DTH/Cable operators and advertisers,” Airtel Digital TV said. “The fact is that Star TV has been demanding an unreasonable hike in rates from Airtel Digital TV. Passing on such a steep hike in charges to our customers in the form of higher pack rates is not an option for us. Since Star TV has taken such an unreasonable stand, Airtel has been forced to take Star channels on RIO basis at a high cost,” the DTH operator added.
The statement goes on to add that the incremental cost of carrying the channels will be borne by the DTH operator and not passed on to the customer. The IPL starts on April 7 and will be telecast across the Star Sports network and on Hotstar, Star India’s over-the-top platform. As of Q3FY18, Airtel Digital TV had a customer base of 13.9 million users.
Key changes in Airtel Digital TV packs:
All key Standard Definition (SD) channels from STAR network will continue to be available to Airtel Digital TV customers as part of their existing packs (no price increase). Airtel will bear the higher cost of these channels.
In order to ensure customers have continued access to LIVE sporting events, including the upcoming IPL 2018, Star Sports 1 and Star Sports 1 Hindi would be available to all eligible consumers.
Popular High Definition (HD) channels from Star TV will also be available as part of select packs. Other HD channels from Star TV will be available on the a-la-carte basis and Airtel Digital TV will only charge customers what Star TV is charging it, without any incremental cost.