Addressability issue raised again at CII conference

Addressability. Everyone wants it but no one seems to know how it is to be instituted.

That about summed up the last session of the day as the two-day conference on "The Business of Entertainment" kicked off in Mumbai today.

But as at the Enter Media 2001 conference held in August last year (then as now organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry), where addressability was at the core of discussions at the session on television and broadcasting, this time round as well there was no fresh ground made at the discussion on "The Future of Electronic Media".

All the panelists seemed to agree that one way the ongoing friction between MSOs and broadcasters could be resolved was for conditional access systems to come into play. How and when had no ready answer though.

There were other issues that were covered by the panelists Ashok Mansukhani, executive V-P, corporate services, HTMT (speaking for the cable industry), Ravi Gupta, CEO, B4U Worldwide, and Rajat Jain, executive V-P, SET MAX. They just seemed to get overshadowed a bit.

Mansukhani spent the largest time on the subject. But then that may have been linked to the ongoing stand-off between ESPN Star Sports and InCable Net over increased subscriber rates and the fact that ESPN Software managing director Manu Sawhney was initially pencilled in as one of the speakers. That he did not make it deflated the tenor of the discussions somewhat.

According to Mansukhani, the government was dragging its feet on two crucial issues. As he sees it, there is no political will to get in either conditional access or to push through the convergence bill.

One way to accelerate the move to an the addressable regime was for the government to make available set top boxes at an affordable cost, Mansukhani said. As an immediate measure the 68 per cent duty on the import of set tops needed to be suspended for at least the next three years, Mansukhani said.

Gupta however countered that even in a zero duty scenario this would still come in at a considerable cost. And even if costs could be managed the whole process would take a considerable time.

Bhuvan Lall, executive director, Indian Broadcast Foundation, who chaired the session, put some perspective on the subject when he said that the total worldwide manufacture of set tops in a year was 12 million. Compare that to the declared cable & satellite TV population of 39 million that has to be seeded.

Dinyar Contractor, editor and publisher of trade magazine Satellite & Cable TV raised a point that the cost per set top would come to around around Rs 5,000. Assuming a C&S TV population of about 40 million at the current numbers, the total cost works out to Rs 200,000 million that will have to be raised from the end subscriber, Contractor said.

Jain, meanwhile, pointed out that in a scenario where were over a 100 channels were scrambling for a share of the ad pie, the rush to go pay was becoming more pronounced.

The ad pie may be a limited one but there is no dearth of new entrants wanting to get into the business, is Jain's view. According to him 30 new channels will see the light of day before the year is out.

Jain sees a lot of scope in the regional channels, especially the southern ones. According to him, it makes strategically sound sense to get strong regional language channels onto any platform as far as a bouquet completion perspective is concerned. The regional language channel market is the fastest growing today, Jain says.

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