New Delhi, India -- The country's smaller cable operators
are becoming increasing leery amid growing competition between the country's largest MSOs,
accusing those large firms of using "underworld" tactics to gain market share.
The MSOs in question are In Cable Network and New Delhi
newcomer World Interactive Network, owned by industrial holding companies Indus Sind Media
and Communications Ltd. and Hathaway Corp., respectively.
Operators were worried following WIN's entry into the
market here, feeling that it could touch off violence in the industry. They attributed
their fears to heated competition between WIN and ICN in Mumbai and to an earlier killing
of an ICN director, who was shot 13 times. Mumbai police are investigating the death of
the director, but they have been usable to come up with any answers so far.
"Both sides have roped in the underworld to settle
scores in Mumbai. Under no circumstances should this be repeated here," said one New
Delhi operator who asked not to be identified by name.
Following the death of the ICN director, three of the
company's executives resigned and joined the rival WIN camp. They have alleged that they
were repeatedly threatened by people they called "organized criminals," who they
claim were hired by ICN to make them leave WIN.
The executives, who are under police protection, have filed
suit in a Mumbai court seeking $325 million in damages and $70 million in compensation for
the equity in ICN.
"Some undesirable elements have been brought into our
company, but this is a legacy I have inherited," ICN CEO Ram Hingorani said.
The death of the ICN director "was a case of personal
extortion, and incidents like this are taking place in Mumbai all of the time,"
Hingorani added. As for the accusation that ICN hired criminals to threaten its former
employees, he said, "This is a figment of their imagination. People in Mumbai receive
threats all of the time."
However, he added, the three executives who left ICN
"looked after the company for the last seven years, and they were responsible for all
recruitment of cable operators. We had no idea that some of these operators had links with
One of the executives who left ICN said he was being
threatened because WIN is luring ICN operators into its own camp.
Smaller cable operators are particularly worried amid the
expansion of ICN and WIN in New Delhi because they'll also be taking on Siticable, the MSO
owned by media powerhouse Zee Telefilms Ltd., in that market.
"Delhi has already witnessed a similar trend in the
past with Siticable resorting to monopolistic and coercive methods to browbeat operators
into becoming their franchisees. We lodged a number of complaints against them, and this
helped to reduce such incidents," said Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators
Federation of India.
Siticable spokesman Krishna Arora refuted Sharma's
allegations, saying that the operator "can hardly be described as monopolistic, as
there are already three cable companies operating in Delhi."
Of India's 22 million cable viewers, ICN and Siticable each
claim 8 million subscribers, while WIN said it has 4 million.