IBF to seek CAS deadline deferment

NEW DELHI: The big daddies of the Indian broadcasting scene met under the aegis of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation here today to discuss various aspects of conditional access system (CAS).

The agenda: seek deferment of the rollout. Reason: some logistics are far from being tied up and lack of availability of the boxes may lead to total confusion in the metros where CAS is being sought to be implemented in the first phase.

A team of IBF, which is the apex body of broadcasting companies operating in India, has sought an appointment with India's information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tomorrow to apprise him of the ground realities and also convey to him that the team would be meeting up with the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on IT, telecom and convergence Somnath Chatterjee later in the day.

According to a representative of a broadcasting company who attended today's meeting, which did have its heated moments, "The broad consensus that emerged from today's meeting was that the government and policy makers should be apprised that unless the CAS rollout is phased out in the metros also, there would be total confusion in cable homes after the deadline of July 14 expires."

The executive added that the CAS rollout should be phased out in the metros to see the outcome and "to test the waters". "It may start off with one city like Chennai and then later be introduced in other metros too, over a period of time," he explained.

Post-14 July, as per the rules, all pay channels would have to mandatorily go through a set-top box. The whole exercise is to give the consumer the power of choice to see what he wants to see and pay for only that. There also would be a basic tier of at least 30 free to air channels that should be made available to the cable consumers, as per the government, at the rate of Rs 72 per month.

The representatives of big broadcasting companies like Sony Entertainment TV India, Star India, ESPN-Star Sports and Discovery India were more or less unanimous at the meeting that an IBF delegation should seek some relaxation in the deadline for implementation of CAS --- at least to avoid confusion in the metros of Delhi, Mumbai , Kolkatta and Chennai --- as making available boxes to cable operators and consumers is still difficult within the given time frame.

The Subhash Chandra-promoted Zee Telefilms Ltd, which has openly been in favour of CAS and its implementation at the earliest, did sound a small note of discordance at the IBF meeting today.

Jawahar Goel of Zee was not in favour of deferring CAS rollout indefinitely or for a long period of time. According to sources in the IBF, Goel did say that if at all there is a need to avoid confusion on the rollout of CAS, then a short deferment should be sought from the government ranging between 15-20 days.

According to some of those who attended yesterday's meeting, Goel also said that a long-term deferment of CAS may defeat the whole purpose with which the government had sought to introduce addressability in Indian cable homes.

Today's meeting was attended, amongst others, by Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea and Star India COO Sameer Nair, ESPN Star Sports head Manu Sawhney, SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta, SET-Discovery One Alliance president Shantonu Aditya, Discovery India's MD Deepak Shourie, TV Today CEO G Krishnan, Eenadu's I Venkat and Sahara TV president and former I&B secretary Mahesh Prasad. Sahara, as the leading free to air (FTA) Hindi entertainment channel, has been quite vociferous in its support for CAS.

The sources added that Prasad was all for implementation of CAS as per the deadline and also emphasized the fact that in the basic tier there should be 60 channels as just 30 channels may be inadequate for the consumer.

But adding more channels in the basic tier would depend on the technology and the infrastructure that a cable operator has at his disposal as cable operators are already finding it difficult to add the newer news channels to their existing repertoire because of lack of bandwidth and other technical difficulties.

Till the time of writing this report it could not be confirmed whether the I&B minister has granted an appointment to the IBF delegation.

But, as said earlier also in reports on, the CAS saga is far from over.

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