Channels to switch off analogue from 1 Nov

GOA: A dual feed running on analogue and digital cable TV networks in the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai will not be easy this time after the deadline of 31 October is crossed due to three main reasons, according to two senior media executives.

Broadcasters will have the responsibility of shutting down analogue decoders in the four metros that fall under digitisation in the first phase. "This was not there in 2003 (when CAS, or conditional access system, was mandated) and broadcasters were not part of it," explained Hathway Cable & Datacom CEO K Jayaraman.

Also, violation of the government order for digitisation will amount to criminal violence. "The police commissioner has been given the powers this time and violators can be arrested," Jayaraman added.

The third hurdle is that the television ratings measurement of programmes and channels on analogue cable TV networks in the four metros will stop from 1 November. "TAM (the TV ratings agency) will stop reporting ratings from analogue cable in these four cities," said NDTV Ltd. affiliate sales and network distribution head Rahul Sood.

The broadcasters and the multi-system operators (MSOs) are also genuinely interested in digitisation this time around. "They are talking of implementing it (digitisation) correctly and discussing ARPUs (average revenue per user). This is a starting point for the industry and not the end line. The ecosystem is also in place," said Exponentia Capital principal Neeraj Bhatia.

The industry experts were also bullish about investors buying into cable and DTH companies. According to Hathway Cable & Datacom chief financial officer G Subramaniam, cross-media restrictions would not act as a hurdle to investments in the distribution sector.

"Once the first phase of DAS (digital addressable system) takes off on 1 November, investors will breathe easy and will eye the market. Capital will come as soon as DAS commences, and cross-media restrictions should not come in the way," said Subramaniam.

Subramaniam felt wireline delivered better than wireless and, hence, cable was the way to go ahead.

Other speakers at a session on "Markets for Media" at the Indian Digital Operators Summit (IDOS) 2012 echoed the view that getting investors to invest would not be a problem after DAS actually gets implemented in the four metros from 1 November. IDOS is organised by in partnership with Media Partners Asia.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) was well aware of the potential of DAS for penetration of broadband throughout the country and, thus, it would do its utmost to make this a success.

Bhatia agreed and said the future of digital TV was bright. He, however, warned about problems of execution and that investors needed to be patient as this was an investment for the long run.

He felt that convergence will be the real winner in this march of technology so that people can switch from one option to another. This, he felt, will attract more capital. New players will emerge to look after billing and other related services.

Sood felt that a broadcaster could launch more niche and subscription-led channels as bandwidth opens up. "Broadcasters will pay one-time carriage as launch expenses and then build on good content so that viewers want to watch the channel," he said.

Enam Asset Management Vice President – Research Rishi Maheshwari said investors felt better because there was a government regulation, but there will be slow penetration and investors should not look forward to early profitability. Investors tended to look for free cash flow and positive situations as they had to go back to shareholders.

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