Cable TV

Hathway-MCOF show way forward on digitisation

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MUMBAI: The government-mandated DAS has been in limbo for a few months now. Even as set top boxes have rolled out in phase I and phase II towns, the issue of Consumer Application Forms (CAFs), despite claims by all, has yet to be resolved completely with the collections of these falling short of the mark. Then multisystem operators (MSOs) and last mile operators (LMOs) have been having a faceoff with the latter claiming ownership of their subscribers, while the MSOs have been insisting that they are pouring in investments hence they have the right to the cable TV viewer.

But now a ray of hope seems to be emerging from behind the dark clouds with at least a couple of MSO working on what could be a model which could provide a solution to the vexatious problem of who owns the cable TV consumer: the MSO or the LMO? And in the process it would most likely give a real impetus to the realisation of the financial benefits of digitisation, and encourage its acceptance and spread nationally.

Indiantelevision.com gives you an exclusive peep at what is being planned by one of the MSOs - the Viren Raheja-led Hathway Cable & Datacom - with the Arivnd Prabhoo-led Maharashtra Cable Operators' Federation (MCOF).

The two met on 5 December and agreedin principle that the MSO will share its subscriber management system (SMS) with its last mile operators - albeit in a limited capacity. Hathway, through this initiative, has taken a step forward in allowing the LMOs to bill the end consumers.

?It is a great and welcoming move by Hathway,? says MCOF president Arvind PrabhooThe meeting between the duo was a result of the letter sent by MCOF to all MSOs, as a move to ensure smooth rollout of digitisation. It should be noted that MCOF had written to all MSOs after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) gave MSOs the final deadline for starting gross billing by 15 December and submitting CAFs by 31 December.

Calls to Hathway officials did not get a response. But sources close to India's most evolved cable TV MSO admitted to indiantelevision.com that ?yes, we have given the LMOs the right to bill and become the owners of their consumers. They are our trade partners and we want their rights to be maintained. And yes we want them to conduct their business using our SMS."

Hathway, apparently, has suggested two options to take things forward.

The first is for smaller LMOs who who have a few 100 subscribers. The MSO says it could handle the billing for them. The LMO will function as the collection agent, earning a commission in the process for the subscribers who are part of his network. Hathway will be responsible for taxes in this case - including entertainment tax and service tax, wherever applicable.

The second option is for larger LMOs with subscribers running into thousands and tens of thousands. These LMOs will be permitted to log online into the Hathway SMS with a unique ID and password and manage their subscribers, and even generate bills for them. If they choose this option, then they will be responsible for all the taxes and paperwork.

Says the source close to Hathway.: ?This system not only maintains the rights of the LMO over their consumers, but also makes the operation simpler for us. If we have to bill, activate, deactivate or change plans for all subscribers, we will have to set up those many call centres and infrastructure. It is easier for the customer as well, since for them the LMO is the touch point.?

Hathway has been holding road shows all over Maharashtra to educate LMOs about its process and explaining to them that each of them can activate or deactivate boxes assigned only to them. Sessions have been held in Mumbai, Pune, Pimpri, Aurangabad, among other cities.

However, there are still a couple of issues which have to be clarified and agreed upon between MCOF and Hathway. The first is in the area of revenue shares between the MSO and the LMOs. While Hathway has proposed a graded 60:40 to 57:43 split between MSO and LMOs, the latter would like it to be higher - say in the region of 45 per cent- in favour of the cable operators.

The second issue that needs finalisation is: in whose name should the bill be raised - the LMO or Hathway?

MCOF and Hathway are expected to meet this week to resolve these and any other issues that could crop up as well.

?Hathway is the only MSO that has taken a step forward and has shown interest in resolving issues. Other MSOs have yet not approached us for any meeting,? says Prabhoo.

Prabhoo need not worry. The floodgates may open sooner than he expects.

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