Sunset date for digitisation unrealistic, say stakeholders

NEW DELHI: Even as the Government announced that it will bring forward amendments in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act to give incentives to cable operators to take to digital technology, broadcasters and cable organisations are pessimistic that the country will be able to meet the sunset date of December 2014 set for digitisation.

Speakers at the Assocham-organised one-day seminar on ‘Focus 2011 - From Analogue to Digitisation‘ felt that the government should formally issue a notification for bringing in digitisation, reduce customs duty and promote production of set-top boxes as well as facilitate acquisition of equipment. The government should also take steps to bridge the gap ‘pipeline‘ between the broadcaster/MSOs and the last mile operator.

Earlier, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting CM Jatua said while inaugrating the seminar that the incentives are being offered on the recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Jatua said while his Ministry is "doing everything to help the industry to grow, there is need for self-discipline".

On the digitisation front, he said while the country is already digitised to a large extent with six private direct-to-home platforms reaching out to over 35 million subscribers apart from those reached by Doordarshan’s DD Direct Plus, the sunset dates set by the Centre on the recommendations of Trai are for digitisation of the 60 million cable operators. Digitisation will bring in addressability and greater transparency, he added.

Meanwhile, Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) president and a member of the Government Task Force on Digitisation Roop Sharma regretted that there is no clarification even in the meetings about how the government should proceed. Furthermore, the Task Force has asked Trai to answer some questions and is still awaiting a response.

Sharma also said quality of service, tariff and other issues have to be resolved by Trai before burdening the last mile operator, and said the STBs had to be subsidised by the Government.

Zee Networks VP A Mohan said there are certain challenges that will have to be faced on the road to digitisation. There is the problem of huge investments by the MSOs for which the government must immediately implement the foreign direct investment (FDI) recommendations of the Trai, followed by a viable economic model, successful migration from analogue to digital and proper interconnection agreements, and create the ‘pipeline‘ for this migration.

He said all the six DTH players are still running losses, largely due to huge multiple tax burden of which entertainment and service tax alone accounted for 40 per cent of the total tax paid, while the fee for DTH accounted for another 33 per cent.

With the greater transparency that digitisation will bring in, he said taxation would also have to rationalised.

Bharti Airtel CMO - DTH Sugato Banerji said both analogue and digitisation were bound to co-exist for some time but analogue should gradually be phased out.

He said digitisation would bring to an end the under-declaration by the cable operators. He said there would also be greater value addition and non-channel content which will drive digitisation since it was content which was king.

Any subsidy to be given by the government in the process of digitisation should be across the board.

Star India VP Pulak Bagchi said people still do not understand the gains from digitisation and, therefore, public education was necessary.

Digitisation would help in national security by giving the power to the government to block illegal channels, law and order by reducing the rift between broadcasters and cable operators through a cogent licensing regime, and in checking tax leakages through under-declaration or other means, while the consumer will get several social benefits, he said.

HBO GM of network and content distribution of South Asia Siddharth Jain referred to the losses suffered by the creators of music which might get checked, apart from ending the broadcaster-cable operator rift. But he was sure that both analogue and digital would have to co-exist for several years to come.

Meanwhile, Hammurabi and Soloman Consulting CEO and co-founder Rohit Bansal said deadlines should have been more realistic. He also expressed the apprehension that many players may want to push back digitisation.

Earlier speaking at the inauguration, Assocham Media and Entertainment wing chairman T Subbirami Reddy said entertainment was a great power for binding the people together.

Co-Chairperson Sujata Dev said the country was capturing new horizons by moving on to digitsation. This had turned content into one of ‘participation instead of just consumption‘, she added. The Internet has also given the power to create new content and this is the aim of the new value chain.

While DTH had helped digitisation in urban areas, mobile had helped growth all over the country and smart phones were cutting into the market with the power shifting into the hands of the consumer. ICE now meant improving customer experience and, therefore, the content has to be broader. Broadband was the greatest enabler but its growth had still not been to the expected levels and 3G was performing that task through the mobile phones.

Innovative Film City CMD Saravana Prasad, said digitisation was bringing in the feel and touch entertainment experience but mobile entertainment could only succeed through short films.

Assocham Secretary General DS Rawat also spoke at the function at which the Deloitte Report on ‘Media and Entertainment in India: the Road ahead’ and Innovative Film City’s catalogue on Short films were released.

Several recipients of the 58th National Film Awards for 2010 including popular star Dhanush, apart from actor Raghuvendra Raj Kumar (son of the late actor Dr Raj Kumar) were also felicitated on the occasion.

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