'CAS if properly implemented would be a boon to all constituents'

MUMBAI: With 14 July 2003 , the date decided by the government for the final rollout of CAS (conditional access system) fast approaching, it was one of the most important issues discussed at ficci FRAMES 2003 .

Is the cable industry upto the challenges of Set top boxes and addressability ? Will convergence occur? Were some of the issues that were delved into by the panel.

Set Discovery Pvt Ltd , president Shantonu Aditya traced the various steps that need to be taken in order to ensure proper and successful implementation of CAS . Highlighting the primary goals of CAS he said that CAS would improve general welfare of Indian consumer by increasing ability to choose affordable programming. It would also improve industry transparency: minimize under reporting, non-payment, arbitrary rate hikes. Along with the Government getting its rightful share of revenues , the broadcasters/MSOs too will get their rightful share of subscription revenue . Moreover , it would help maintain flexibility for technological advancements and upgrades.

Highlighting the Bill's Main Provisions he said-
  • Phased implementation of CAS

    -- 1st Phase: 4 Metros -Sunset date 14th July 2003

    -- 2nd Phase: Not yet announced
  • Government to decide pricing of Basic Tier ( FTA channels ) .
  • Basic Tier to remain receivable without STB's .
  • No Govt . control over price of Pay TV or composition.
  • Pay channels to be receivable only through STB's effective above date.
  • Operators must publicize subscription rates and submit regular reports to Government declaring total subs (basic and pay), sub rates and channel fees collected.
  • Recognizes any violation as a criminal offense with serious consequences .

Throwing light on the opportunities associated with CAS he stated that , consumer would benefit as he would be able to 'pick and choose' channels of his choice and finally Content would get a chance to be KING . Similarly , each channel could demand its 'true' value in pricing to consumer . On reaching stable state penetration , revenues would go up for all constituents .

Dwelling into the implementation of the plan and challenges associated with it he informed that - Government has constituted a Task force comprising of members from the Broadcasting , Cable and Consumer groups to oversee the progress on implementation .Also, the four metros have 6 million Cable homes . At least 3-4 million CA boxes need to be made available and interestingly, there are no domestic producers as yet . All boxes have to be imported . Also, production capacity of the manufacturers is a concern though all manufacturers claim readiness . MSOs / Operators need to place orders for STBs .Need for financing the boxes , till recovery is made from the consumer .

Commenting on the technology he stated that - general consensus amongst MSOs was to prefer a Digital option . However , investments required in STBs and also up gradation of Headend equipment would need more investment by viewers as STBs would be expensive . But , he stated emphatically that it would offer better features and also less prone to piracy .

On the issue of piracy and under declaration he commented that it was an issue of grave concern for all for all content providers and broadcasters. He stated that the action plan required was

a ) Mandatory fingerprinting feature in STBs as per BIS specifications .

b) Minimum technology standards being worked upon by constituents. Need for a robust system .

c ) Severe penalties for violation including arrest without a warrant.

Other issues discussed by him include -

  • Availability and financing of 6 million STBs to cover 4 metros by June 03 .
  • Also technology and quality issues.
  • Pay channel status during roll-out period . "Sunset"date
  • Minimum STB placement figures prior to switch over . Composition and Pricing of Free-to-air bouquet ( Min. 30 channels suggested).
  • Piracy and SMS transparency issues .

He summarized his discussion by saying that " CAS if properly implemented would be a boon to all constituents . However , in the interim period we could expect considerable turmoil . Therefore , there is need for all constituents to work together closely to ensure successful implementation."

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