Vol. 4 Num 270 Mon. March 01, 2004  
Star City

Dhaka's free TV channels not 'free' in Kolkata

Kolkata cable operators bar Dhaka-based satellite television channels from going on air there despite a growing demand for Bangladeshi programmes among Bangla-speaking people in the capital of West Bengal.

By contrast, all Indian free-to-air and pay channels have access to Bangladesh, as cable operators here are bound to show Indian free-to-air channels in a package deal with pay channels -- a business strategy to help the Indian free channels earn revenue from advertisements.

"We have tried to air our programmes in Kolkata as a free-to-air channel. But the RPG, the main local cable operator in Kolkata, demanded money to telecast even the free-to-air channel," said Faridur Reza Shagar, director of channel i, a private television channel.

"We could not agree on principle as we are not showing their free-to-air channels on pay," he said.

The RPG seems to have different reasons for different television channels in Bangladesh.

"We were told that our channel cannot go on air in Kolkata because of our cigarette advertisements," said Sarkar Feroz, senior vice-president of ATN Bangla, another private television channel.

The cable TV professionals in Bangladesh sound sceptical about the RPG arguments.

"We expect a friendly policy from Kolkata of showing free-to-air channels as they are not barred in any other country. Channel i doesn't show cigarette ads," a cable operator said.

Information Secretary Nazmul Alam Siddiquie said: "Our high commission in India told us the Indian government thinks our channels are not profitable. The Bangladesh high commissioner will discuss the issue with the Indian government."

Some media market critics think the demand for Bangladeshi programmes in Kolkata is rising thanks to the quality of Bangladeshi channels and programmes and Bangla channels in Kolkata will face competition.

"There is a demand for Bangladeshi channels and artists in West Bengal as some Indian Bangla TV channels are airing news, drama, music from Bangladesh," an actor said.

"Kolkata provides a market for Bangladeshi products, especially in border areas. But India doesn't want to patronise the market showing Bangladeshi ads on our channels," the cable operator said.

On a different front, media marketing agencies feel Bangladesh should take a hard line on local product advertisements on foreign satellite channels, as they fear the intrusion of foreign cable television may eat up the share of advertising market of Bangladesh.

"A trend has set in to air ads on foreign sports channels like ESPN, Star Sports and Ten Sports. The Indian channels might take a share of the commercial ad market," a media-marketing manager said.