Cable TV

Kolkata's cable TV ecosystem struggles to cope with CAF

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KOLKATA: Ritika Saha, a city based Gujarati engineer, recently installed a set top box (STB) at a cost of Rs 1,400 and has still not been able to mention in writing about her preference for channels. The reason: her cable operator has not yet approached her with a consumer application form (CAF).

“I hardly stay at home. For news and updates, a cheaper DAS package is more than enough for me. If the local cable operator does not provide me with the form, I shall not have access to cable TV post August on account of no fault of mine,” says Saha, adding that her hectic schedule does not allow her to follow up with her operator.

“Had I placed the order for the STB eight months ago, it would have cost me just about Rs 800. The prices of these STBs have sky rocketed in the past few months,” she rues, little knowing that the depreciation of the Indian rupee against the US dollar has led to the rise in import cost of these boxes.

There are many in Kolkata who have not yet filled up their CAFs. This is the situation even after TRAI's order to the cable TV ecosystem in Kolkata undergoing digitisation to complete the process of collecting subscriber details before 23 August Saha is not the only one. There are many in Kolkata who have not yet filled up their CAFs. This is the situation even after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) order to the cable TV ecosystem in Kolkata undergoing digitisation to complete the process of collecting subscriber details before 23 August. “TRAI plans to crack the whip against any MSO that fails to abide by the deadline of submitting CAFs,” informs a Kolkata based cable operator.

CAF collection rate in Kolkata currently is about 25 per cent and should be around 60-75 per cent by 28 August,” says Siticable Kolkata director Suresh Sethia. “The implementation of DAS and its performance is not upto the mark in Kolkata,” adds media analyst Namit Dave.

According to a report issued by TRAI last month, only 20 per cent of the city’s subscriber details and choices for channels were put up in the subscriber management system as part of the digitisation process.

“The MSOs and cable operators are likely to miss the deadline,” says the Association of Cable Operators' cable operators digitalisation committee convener Swapan Chowdhury. “Achieving the target by 30 August is next to impossible. Kolkata will miss the deadline,” he adds.

“There are many other teething problems. One, not many CAFs were in supply; Two, from past seven days only the MSOs are supplying the forms to people and three even feeding in customer details is time consuming. For an exercise so massive and with so many loopholes in the process, more time is needed,” informs Chowdhury.

While one local service provider complains of not receiving any subscriber information and management forms from his MSO, there is another MSO who says that his cable operator continues to be lethargic and has been loathe to do anything even after the forms were given to him.

Both the MSOs and LCOs will appeal to the TRAI to extend the deadline by 15-20 daysm Both, MSOs and LCOs will appeal to the TRAI to extend the deadline by 15-20 days. “The operators and MSOs can send the subscribers’ choices of package till 31 August. And the billing can start from 1 September,” informs Sethia. “Though the MSOs will not switch off channels, the decision has been left on TRAI."

While 30 lakh STBs have already been installed in Kolkata, the steeper sticker prices - following the rupees downslide- makes digitisation of another 200,000 cable TV homes in Kolkata nigh impossible.

With the depreciation of the Indian rupee to Rs 61.70 (approx) against the dollar, the import price of STBs has gone up by Rs 500-Rs 600. And this extra burden has been passed on by the distributors to consumers, says Chowdhury, adding that for some in the low income category in Kolkata, digital cable TV looks unaffordable now. “Despite the extension of the digitisation deadline, 100 per cent achievement is not possible,” he informs.

Abhishek Cable director Rajendra Prasad Agarwal, feels that out of 35 lakh cable TV subscribers, around 30 lakh have taken STBs. “Houses with four to five cable connections have not yet taken up set top boxes,” he says. Contradicting this claim is Sethia whose estimate is that 27 lakh homes have been digitised with no analog connections left in the metropolitan area of the city.With 11.5 lakh cable TV subscribers, SitiCable is a giant in Kolkata which offers 410 channels.

Manthan Broadband Services, another big daddy has a 34-35 per cent marketshare with a 350 channel service. . “We have 6.5 lakh to seven lakh subscribers. The CAF rate is around 25 per cent as of now,” informs Manthan Broadband Services director Sudip Ghosh. According to industry sources Hathway Cable and Datacom and Digicable Network (India) have jointly achieved 5.5 lakh installations so far.

While the current average revenue per user in Kolkata is around Rs 180-Rs 200, cable operators in south Kolkata charge anything from Rs 350–Rs 475. What’s more is that operators in Shyam Bazaar and north Kolkata have been complaining that customers who are used to monthly subscription fees of Rs 120 are yelping about a hike to Rs 150. MSOs get to keep only Rs 70 on an average out of what subscribers are paying to local cable operators. “The local operators make huge profits,” informs Ghosh.

Turfs have been maintained in Kolkata with everyone maintaining their position and no mergers or acquisitions taking place, unlike in the neighbouring states of Shillong, Jaharkhand, Orissa and Assam where there has been a flurry of activity.

When asked if DTH is making inroads in Kolkata, Chowdhury says, “Since the performance of the DTH is subject to weather conditions, some dissatisfied customers will definitely opt for a digital cable connection. This can happen more so if their queries are not well addressed by the DTH players.”

So will Kolkata meet the 31 August deadline? Answers Dave, “For the next few weeks nearly 5,000 local cable operators and 14 MSOs, which provide service in DAS area will have a herculean task to perform.”

Yes it's something the entire Kolkata cable TV ecosystem will have to jointly and collaboratively work together to achieve. Failing which, cable TV subscribers will see their cable connections cut.

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