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DEN's Manchanda: Consumers will drive phase III & IV digitisation

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MUMBAI: The government mandate to digitise roughly 130 million Indian cable TV homes has been progressing in stops and starts over the past year. But with phase I and phase II  almost complete and billing starting or expected to start soon, industry is now gearing up for the third and final fourth phases. And India's cable cowboy and leading MSO Den Networks' CMD Sameer Manchanda believes that the process is going to be smoother and easier in the smaller towns and hinterland India. 

“It is the consumer who wants digitisation in phase III and phase IV,” said DEN Networks CMD Sameer Manchanda in an interview to CNBC TV 18 today. "Seeing the success of phase I and phase II, it's the consumer in these smaller towns and rural India who are pushing for the digitisation." 

The ministry of information and broadcasting has declared 31 December 2014 as the sunset date for analogue cable TV. And along with that TRAI has been prodding and pushing the rickety cable TV architecture to upgrade quickly.

Manchanda told the business channel that the government mandate combined with the consumer push, will result in digitisation being completed nationally in the next 15 months, giving leeway for a three month delay.

“We are one of the largest players, with a fairly high share of cable TV homes,” said Manchanda during the course of the interview.

90 million of the 130 million TV homes nationally are delivered TV services via cable, he pointed out adding that  “while 20 million homes have already been digitised in phase I and II, around 70-75 million are left to undergo the process in phase III and IV,” he added. 

DEN Networks has seeded around 5 million set top boxes - a 25 per cent share of this 20 million digitised universe - and will need to digitise another eight million analogue homes in phase III and phase IV areas.  “Of course we will be expanding and have raised money for the same. So we will be doing much more in the remaining phases,” he said. 

Though Manchanda acknowledged the competition is coming in from the direct-to-home (DTH) players, he still believes that consumers prefer cable TV over DTH in digitised environment. “In the 42 towns which have so far been digitised, we have seen that 70-72 per cent is cable while 28-30 per cent is DTH, if you leave Chennai out. We do understand there is competition.  But what we have seen in phase I and II - and I believe the same will play out  in phase III and IV -  is that  in a digital universe viewers  are preferring cable TV," he revealed.

Cable, according to Manchanda, in the last one year, has added roughly 85 -90 per cent of the homes that got digitised in the 42 towns.

Addressing the question on the coming in of 4G in India, Manchanda said, “As far as 4G goes, I see cable TV and 4G complementing each other. Digitisation has provided us the bedrock for further change like elsewhere in the world and deliver internet and broadband. So far, India has witnessed speeds like 512 kbps, but here we are talking of speeds of 100 mbps and beyond. And we will be leapfrogging technology like offering ethernet on wire or cable and Docsis 3.0. .We will be launching broadband in March-April. I see a complete revolution coming in with broadband and cable TV companies offering triple play services."

With television here to stay and going to HD and 3D and video getting denser, Manchanda believes the need for fixed bandwidth from consumers at home will rise. "Indian cable TV companies are in an advantageous position as they are the only ones having a wire going into homes - apart from MTNL and BSNL. Hence they will be moving in the way cable companies in the US, Korea have,” Manchanda told the channel. 

Citing Comcast, the largest media and cable company which also offers telecom services as an example, Manchanda said that India is going to be moving in the same direction in the next three to five years. "It would change the way education, video and everything else on the internet is done," he said.

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