November 20, 2008 / 6:30 AM / 10 years ago

End of TV strike spells relief for Indian soap fans

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Shooting of dozens of Indian television soap operas, hugely popular in South Asia, resumed on Thursday after a television industry workers’ union called off a strike on an assurance of better pay and work conditions.

The strike ended after a compromise was reached late on Wednesday, welcome news for viewers subject to re-runs of popular soap operas, and broadcasters faced with plunging viewership and nervous advertisers.

“We have a lot of workers who work very hard and have an equal hand in the success of these serials and soaps,” said Dharmesh Tiwari of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, which represents workers.

“They deserve to be treated like professionals.”

The soaps are not only tremendously popular in India but also across South Asia, in the Gulf and among expatriate Indian communities around the world.

Apart from a pay hike, TV producers have also put in place a new contract system to replace daily wages, with life insurance for the more than 500,000 workers who work in television, said Mukesh Bhatt, chairman of the producers’ association.

Shoots in Mumbai, home to the Bollywood movie industry and the dominant Hindi-language general entertainment channels, had ground to a halt more than two weeks ago.

Nine general entertainment channels then stopped airing fresh content, resorting to reruns of serials.

Bhatt estimated the TV industry, where general entertainment channels make up for 35 percent of advertising revenue, suffered a loss of about $20 million when work stopped.

Broadcasters, including global names like Sony Entertainment and Viacom, had said they were in no position to absorb any cost increases on account of a slowdown in advertising revenue, and that producers would have to deal with any pay hike themselves.

India’s television industry has seen the entry of several new players recently, helping create hundreds of new jobs, most of which are held by daily wage workers paid by production houses.

“Rather than functioning like a fly-by-night operation, we should function like a professional industry,” said Keerthan Adyanthaya, general manager of Star Plus, the top broadcaster and a unit of News Corp’s Star India.

“I hope that with the introduction of measures such as insurance or fixed shifts, this should happen,” he said.

Additional reporting by Rina Chandran; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Valerie Lee

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