Govt. seeks details of cable headend set-up costs

NEW DELHI: The government has asked the cable and broadcasting industry to come back with more details on the investments that are likely to be needed to be made in headends if conditional access system - facilitating addressability in Indian cable homes - is implemented. This would also form the basis for pricing of the minimum of 33 channels, which a cable operator would have to provide to subscribers as part of the basic-tier of service.

There are some differences between the government estimates on the finances involved and that arrived at by cable operators that hampered a consensus on pricing of the basic tier of service at a meeting of the costing committee on CAS held on Thursday.

For example, while the finance ministry, after collating data and doing mathematical calculation, feels that the cost of one channel for a headend servicing a 7 km radius would be approximately Rs 45,000, some cable operators, according to industry sources, told yesterday's meeting that if all BIS standards are to be followed then the figure arrived at by the finance ministry would almost double per channel.

Additionally, while government estimates put cable penetration in the metros at almost 70 per cent of the total TV homes, the cable industry representatives say it does not exceed 58-60 per cent.

The costing committee meeting, chaired by joint secretary (broadcasting) in the I&B ministry, Rakesh Mohan, has asked the cable industry to provide it with more details on the actual finances involved to set up a headend if coaxial cable/fibre optics are laid.

These issues are important because they are related to the pricing of the basic tier of prices which, the government says, would be fixed by it.

The 33 free-to-air channels that are to be part of the basic tier also include three Doordarshan channels.

However, the genres of channels that should be included in the basic tier have not yet been specified. "Specifying the genres of channels would be difficult because it will depend on the availability of free-to-air channels in a specific genre," a cable operator told

For instance, it would be very difficult to include a sports channel in the basic tier of service at the moment because there are no free-to-air sports channel available. Even DD Sports is a pay channel, though Prasar Bharati is mulling making the channel free-to-air. "This move may have been necesisated so that at least DD Sports can be included in the basic tier of cable service, " a media analyst, closely following developments related to CAS, said.

On the pricing front, while some independent cable operators have suggested charging Rs 3 per channel for the basic tier of service (Rs 99 per month for the package), some broadcasters have suggested a much lower price in the range of Rs 45 to Rs 50.

However, implementation of CAS in the immediate future looks bleak as the government may not hurry it through via an executive order (Ordinance) in between Parliament sessions.

Though the official reason being cited for this delay is that if the prices of pay channels hold, there is no immediate need for CAS, it seems that the government has realised that it would be difficult to convince the President of the country to promulgate an Ordinance at a time when the country has more pressing problems compared to CAS.

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