Cable TV

Chennai: A story of failed digitisation attempts

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MUMBAI: The Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) has a long wish list for the cable TV sector and one among them is the timely completion of digitisation of phase III and phase IV. While stakeholders have taken up the challenge to ensure that they meet the deadline, what remains to be seen is how will the Ministry deals with the southern cities of Chennai and Coimbatore, which fall in phases I and II respectively and still needs to see complete digitisation.

While other metros like Mumbai and Delhi have seen 100 per cent digitisation, Chennai falls way behind. An I&B report in 2012 had said that close to 62 per cent of the homes in Chennai were digitised. Rubbishing the report, the Chennai Metro Cable TV Operators’ Association said that the reality was far from the figures released by the Ministry.

“There are close to 30-35 lakh cable TV homes in Chennai and of this, only five lakh have been digitised,” a multi system operator (MSO) operating in the city tells Indiantelevision.com.

There are six MSOs operating in Chennai and each of these MSOs have converted only 10 per cent of their consumers to digital TV homes. “We had placed orders for close to one lakh set top boxes, but have seeded only 25,000. The reason behind this is the pending Arasu case in the court,” says the MSO.

Another problem, which MSOs are facing is that of pay TV channels being available to Arasu Cable for free, while the other operators are paying for it. “About 33 pay channels are available to Arasu Cable for free, but we are paying for those 33 channels. It is a big hurdle in the path to digitisation,” adds an MSO.  

As for the ongoing case against Arasu, the court asked the I&B Ministry to submit its Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) report, which hasn’t been submitted as yet. “Not only this, almost 125 cases have so far been filed in the court regarding analogue switch off. The MSOs want to seed set top boxes, but we cannot move forward till the court comes up with a decision on Arasu,” informs the MSO.

The MSOs in Chennai are preparing themselves for the competition they face from the direct to home (DTH) players. For the same, they are now looking at installing hybrid HD boxes and also pushing broadband to their subscribers. “We want to maintain the digital subscribers and so we are now moving to HD boxes,” he says.  

The condition of Coimbatore, which falls under phase II, is no better. So far the city has not seen any analogue cable TV home being converted to digital home.

Also pertinent to not here is that after several failed attempts at getting the DAS license, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had resorted to writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to issue the DAS license to the state owned cable operator. In the letter, Jayalalithaa had requested the Inter Ministerial Committee to submit its final report too.

Complete digitisation spanning 100 per cent homes in Chennai and Coimbatore is possible only after the court gives its final verdict on the state owned Arasu Cable. If the I&B really wants its vision for cable TV digitisation to be complete, it will have to fast track the case.

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