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MCOF conclave stresses on importance of broadband for LMOs

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MUMBAI:  It has been touted as one of the leading get together of the last mile owners (LMOs) in Maharashtra. The Maharashtra Cable Operators Federation (MCOF) National Conclave on Broadband and Cable (NCBC) 2014 saw its president Arvind Prabhoo put his best foot forward in trying to get the LMOs to buy into his vision of a digitised cable TV India where they are also prospering. Apart from formally launching Synergy Cable Operators Private Limited (SCOPE), the first Cable Virtual Networks Operator (CVNO), Prabhoo and a handful of industry vets and consultants, stressed on the importance of broadband and how LMOs could increase their business five-fold, using this tool.

Prabhoo pointed out that number of active broadband subscribers in India is expected double in the next two to three years according to a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India report.  In Mumbai alone, the figure is expected to go up from the current 1.2 million to 4.5 million in the next couple of years. “Broadband will grow, and we need to utilize this opportunity,” Prabhoo said.

Drawing comparisons with the US where 50 per cent of broadband services are provided by cable operators, he said, “We need to implement the same in India. As things stand, only a fraction of the broadband subscriber base is delivered by cable operators.”

Apart from the emphasis on broadband, day one of NCBC 2014 saw heated debate over the existing three models i.e. MSO:LMO, HITS and the newly-minted CVNO, which seeks to provide white label cable TV services to smaller operators in phase III and phase IV.

Presided over by indiantelevision.com founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari, the session had all parties putting forth their points of view. The panel comprised Kulbhushan Puri of BR Cable Network, Atul Saraf of ABS Seven Star, Vynsley Fernandes of Castle Media, and Prabhoo.

During the discussion, Wanvari expressed the view that the full rewards of digitisation have yet to trickle down to the broadcaster, MSO or LMO - as they viewed each other with suspicion, though things have improved in recent times. "There is a need for greater communication and understanding among the stakeholders," said Wanvari. "The LMOs and MSOs need to understand that broadcasters are investing in content and they need to recoup that investment.  Broadcasters need to understand MSOs are investing in setting up infrastructure and that LMOs want a sustainable future. The cable ecosystem also needs to understand that broadband can be extremely rewarding as compared to simple video signals where subscribers tend to be wary of price increases."

To this, Prabhoo invited all stakeholders to come together to discuss issues and take the industry forward while benefitting everyone. “Proper constructive pricing model can be worked out if broadcasters, MSOs and LMOs discuss issues on the same platform,” he said.

Fernandes, who is involved in the upcoming HITS project of the Hinduja Group, said, “Packaging of content should be in the hands of the LMOs. Additionally, the LMOs need to invest in set top boxes which they will deliver to their subscribers so that ownership stays with them. And this is what the HITS project is set to do.”

Prabhoo said that while there will be areas covered by the CVNO in phase III and IV of DAS called Headend on the Ground (HOGS), there would be some covered by HITS (Headend In The Sky). “There could also be areas where HITS and HOGS can work together to take digitisation forward,” proposed Prabhoo.

 Saraf said the future of DAS phase III and IV lay in MPEG4 and not MPEG2 STBs that were currently being seeded by operators. On the issue of low ARPUs in phase I and II, he said, “ARPUs can go up only by introducing value added services like Video on Demand (VOD), Movie on Demand and YouTube. We need hybrid STBs, which can provide both cable and internet services.”

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