Technology

The final word on cable TV digitisation

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GOA: With phase I and phase II on the cusp of completion, what are the lessons the digitising cable TV ecosystem has learned from their efforts? And how can this be put to use when industry moves into phase III and phase IV? This was the focus of the last session of the well-attended (it was houseful even on day two) IDOS 2013 in Goa.

DEN Networks CEO SN Sharma said that his cable TV network was willing to take the punt and had enough investment to push into the territories it was targeting. “It won’t be easy but we are totally committed to doing it. Additionally, a lot of phase II was also done by local MSOs.  We see consolidation. In UK it happened. Five MSOs consolidated and are feeding around 90 per cent of the population there.”

Hathway president Milind Karnik said that the last mile owner in many parts of phase III and phase IV has already upgraded and has awareness of and has already done some upgradation of infrastructure. “They will form cooperatives and consolidate and do what is needed. We too are going to move ahead forging relationships with local cable operators there, apart from serving some communities with our own headends.”

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) principal advisor N Parameswaran said: “We expect like the telecom sector there will be some sharing of infrastructure.  We have learnt from phase I and phase II and there are many things we could have done better and will put those learnings in practice. There has to be some hygiene brought in terms of transparency and every other part of the process. Bill has to be generated to the subscriber. Service has to be provided. There will not be any looking back after that.”

He urged MSOs and other players to understand that the dividends from phase I and phase II will start coming in with the addition of broadband delivery to subscribers. He further said a model has to be worked out between the MSOs and LCOs and TRAI would facilitate that.

Also, in the wake of the continued depreciation of the Indian rupee against the dollar, the MSOs and LCOs feel that the government should give some subsidy to local manufacturers who are interested in setting up local units in the county to give a fillip to the industry.

“We have got to come together. It has to be done together to resolve all the issues,” said Indian Broadcasting Foundation secretary general Shailesh Shah.

Shah further added that the stakeholders would have to think how they can go deeper while addressing infrastructure problems. Carriage issue would also get resolved in a phased manner.

Magnaquest CMO Ramakrishna Mashetty felt the landscape for the next phase of digitisation is different as compared to phase I and II as the cities are fragmented and low markets are there in the chart. “Most of the LCOs and market are unorganised,” he said.

Telecom and Media lead analyst Rajiv Sharma said if the digitised headends start delivering incremental revenues in terms of services and ARPUs go up, return on investment (ROI) will improve. “Lot of external foreign investors are watching the space carefully,” he stated, adding that this imperative that some element of broadband be built in to the set top box so that the incremental revenues start accruing very quickly.

Chrome Data Analytics & Media founder and MD Pankaj Krishna said the campaign in phase III and IV would be different. “The first two phases communicated and played on the principle of fear of blackout for consumers. The communications to the consumer during the third and fourth phase should focus on the benefits that a box can provide to users.”

Parameswaran also addressed the issue of entertainment tax. “We have been working on understanding taxation levels which are a state subject versus a federal TDS or income tax,” he said. “But we are not averse to once again address this issue.”

But what added spark to the panel discussion was the disclosure that the ministry of information and broadcasting was working with the department of telecommunications and MSOs to enable them to use already existing government and other infrastructure to help them as things start moving into phase III.

The other good news is that bills – especially in Delhi – are slated to go out to subscribers in October, and online bills will follow later but interests of the LMO will be kept in mind.

Parameswaran had the final word. Said he: “Digitisation will go ahead as planned. We are totally committed to it.”

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