Cable TV

Addressability comes to the forefront

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Cable TV addressability has been brought out into the open. Earlier this week, an Andhra Pradesh high court has said that all subscription channels should stop charging cable operators carriage fees for those channels which consumers do not want to subscribe to, according to a report in The Economic Times.

The short injunction was issued by a divisional bench consisting of chief justice Manmohan Singh Liberman and Justice G Raghuram on a public interest petition filed by a consumer S Subbarami Reddy against the I&B ministry, Prasar Bharti and Doordarshan. Reddy has made basic subscription networks such as Star TV, Zee TV, Sony and ESPN-Star TV a party to the case.

The court has told subscription TV channels to back off and not collect any money from cable TV ops until the writ petition is settled in court.

The problem with the Indian cable TV industry is that it is mostly disorganised and MSOs have little control over the end subscriber as they have not placed a set top box in his/her home which allows him/her to choose the channels he/she wants and accordingly pay for them. Only in recent times have cable TV ops starting investing in upgrading their networks making their networks return-path ready.

An estimate is that close to Rs 5,000 per subscriber is needed to be invested in cable TV infrastructure to make it addressability-ready. Of course, the subscriber will pay for part of this investment. The key issue is whether he is interested enough to pay for set top box, especially when most of the time he is wary of paying even the Rs 100-200 that he has to pay every month to the cable TV op.

Zee TV has been mulling addressability for a year or so. It has a Rs 25 billion project to place addressible set top boxes in subscribers homes, but has not been able to raise funds for it. There have been few interested buyers for the 10 per cent stake in Siticable it has offered in exchange for the funds it needs.

The TV channels are expected tofight the interim order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. But it's quite possible it may be used as a landmark judgement - just like the "opening the air waves" order was in 1994 to force the government to be more liberal about broadcasting - to force a hesitant cable TV industry to change.

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