Cable TV

Uncertainty prevails in Mumbai over CAS, DTH

MUMBAI: There is a lot of uncertainty amongst the cable trade in Mumbai, the country's business capital, about the roll-out of conditional access system (CAS) in July 2003. If this is the situation in the country's most progressive metropolitan city where the entrepreneurial spirit runs high, one wonders what will be the plight of "lesser mortals" amongst the cable trade in other parts of the country.



While speaking to various cable operators, MSO (multi-system operator) representatives, one gets a feeling that more clarity is needed on the following issues:

1) The cable trade feels that the FTA (free to air) bouquet pricing issue must be sorted out as soon as possible in order to have adequate time for setting up infrastructure and systems for the roll out of CAS.

2) The three main satellite channels (Zee, Star and Sony) must immediately clarify whether they will become FTA or remain pay channels.

3) The digitalisation of the networks infrastructure will ensure that more analogue channels can be shown to viewers. Currently, the trade is finding it difficult to air several new channels (including Headlines Today, NDTV channels). The only option is to show them at the cost of other less popular channels.

4) Post CAS, the cable trade will have to change their existing methods of laying cables wherein systematic methods will have to be adopted.

5) Today, there is a lot of duplication in several areas wherein cable operators affiliated to the same MSOs are catering to different consumers within the same premises. Post CAS, this will need to be stopped in order to have better cost efficiencies. The consolidation process will become more prominent.

6) Several societies collect money from their residents and directly pay the cable operators. This system will have to be stopped and individual households will have to pay directly. It is possible that the socities will end up paying for the FTA prices only.

7)There is a lot of confusion about the models to be used - whether headend in the sky (HITS) or on the ground (HITG) at the MSO centre in each city. In fact, HITS operators need 52 different types of permissions and several MSOs prefer the slightly more expensive HITG. The key issue will be to ensure that digitalisation process results in ensuring that the feed eventually reaches out to the consumers without any hassles. MSOs will have to support the last mile operators in ensuring that commonly used RG 11 (cable or trunk systems) will be replaced by the 500 series cables which are required for digitalisation.

8)The last mile operators (LMOs) will have to employ more people (including sales teams, accountants) in order to ensure proper subscriber management. The LMOs will also have be trained in customer service and relationship management.

9) There is a lot of confusion about DTH (direct to home) becoming a viable option for consumers who don't want to deal with cable operators. It is likely that some consumers (for example in a society) might buy an antenna (for DTH) and share it with other consumers by using IF antennas.

Hathway GM operations Rohinton Dadyburjor says:" The race is all about who places the first set-top box in the consumer's household. cable operators have to speak in a united voice since CAS has forced unanimity on them. Those cable operators who are committed will survive in the near future. Also, there will be a lot of employment opportunities in sales, after-sales and accounting departments."

Shafiq Butt, a cable operator says: "We also need to know the kind of commissions which we will get in the case of FTA channels. Several MSOs and broadcasters have not yet declared their strategy of incentivising cable operators who support their bouquets."

Another industry expert who refuses to be named says: "The writing is on the wall for the cable trade. Stop bickering, get serious and speak in a common voice. The government is empowering the consumers with multiple options - DTH and broadband could be your competition; not the next-door cable operator or MSO. The cable trade has to realise that the passage of CAS has given them the first-mover advantage. They must grab a large chunk right now before the outside threats throw them out of business!'

Well, it's up to the cable trade to take these words seriously and act on them. Time is running out. Be quick or be dead, is the message going out!

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