CAS rollout: MSOs look to channel package tiers

MUMBAI: Multi-system operators (MSOs) have initiated talks with some broadcasters for providing their bouquet of pay channels at special rates in the conditional access system (CAS) regime. This would enable cable networks to tier various channel packages for consumers.

The Telecom regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has fixed the a la carte pricing of pay chanels at a maximum of Rs 5 under CAS. The MSOs want broadcasters to price their bouquets below the average of Rs 5 per channel.

"We are in a very nascent stage of discussions. Some of the broadcasters have moved the courts and are, in fact, waiting for the verdict. We expect to have more definite proposals within a fortnight," says Hathway Cable & Datacom managing director and CEO K Jayaraman.

The MSOs will tier different packages to make it price friendly for consumers. "We will be working out packages based on a combination of genres. This will be in addition to the a la carte pricing which, with a cap at Rs 5, is expected to be quite popular," says Jayaraman.

Adds IndusInd Media and Communications Ltd (IMCL) director-in charge Ravi Mansukhani: "Once the broadcasters give us their bouquet pricing, we can work out our own bundling which will offer choice to consumers and make it more attractive than the a la carte pricing."

The stumbling block to such negotiations at this stage, however, is a number of court cases filed by broadcasters questioning the Rs 5 cap fixed by the sector regulator. Broadcasters feel the regulated pricing is unfair and will hurt their subscription incomes.

Hathway and IMCL, meanwhile, will soon kick-off CAS awareness campaigns jointly. The estimated spend: Rs 10 million. Hathway plans to spend an additional Rs 5 million in the first phase, says Jayaraman. Hathway has already started marketing its digital drive in bus shelters, radio and other mass media platforms.

"We are also planning to invest independently through various marketing initiatives. This will be in addition to the joint campaigns where the spend could be Rs 10 million," says Mansukhani.

The MSOs have started offering digital set-top boxes (STBs) and cable at an advance deposit of Rs 250 in the CAS notified regions of south Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Consumers will have to pay a rent of Rs 45 per month only after 1 January, the scheduled date for implementation of CAS. If they are not happy, they can discontinue the service.

"We have started seeding 1,000 STBs a day since 1 November. We expect this to further pick up," says Jayaraman. Hathway is aggressively pushing for digital cable in both Mumbai and Delhi.

IMCL has been slow to push the STBs to its consumers. "Once the marketing campaign gathers momentum next week, we hope to seed 1,000 STBs a day. The offtake should further speed up as we go forward," says Mansukhani.

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