DTH

Star, Zee at odds on DTH set top specifications

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NEW DELHI: The issue of standardisation of set-top boxes for KU-band direct-to-home (DTH) television service continues to be a thorny issue contributing to a delay in the start of any such venture in India.

 

 

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) --- as it happened again in a meeting on Thursday --- is finding it difficult to make any sort of recommendation to the Indian government on the STBs owing to a lack of consensus amongst the various stakeholders in the industry.



"One of the main stumbling blocks has been the clause in the DTH policy guidelines that mandates an open architecture for the STBs," a senior BIS official, on condition of anonymity, told indiantelevision.com after yesterday's over two-hour meeting, adding that rival broadcasters have been staunchly sticking to their opposite stand on interoperability, amongst other issues, which is making the Bureau's task difficult.



Is interoperability possible, as has been mandated in the guidelines by the Indian government? Experts opine that that technically it is possible, but practically an 'open' box is rarely used for DTH anywhere in the world as it does not make huge investments in such projects a viable proposition.



Yesterday's meeting was attended by a strong team from Star, including the Hong Kong-based Altaf Ali Mohammed, president digital platforms group, who oversees its DTH project, representatives from ASC Enterprise/Zee and CETMA , among others.



Since no decision could be arrived at yesterday, another meeting has been called for on 28 April where BIS has said it should be decided how things can be taken forward, including a consensus on interoperability. BIS is also of the viewpoint that it has to work within the limitations of the policy guidelines and things mandated therein.



"If the DTH players are so upset with the guidelines, then they should petition the government to go in for modifications. BIS cannot recommend such a step and it will work within the framework of the policy," the BIS official explained.



The open architecture conundrum, as rightly pointed out by BIS, is the result of lack of consensus on the issue.



At one end of the spectrum is media baron Rupert Murdoch's pan-Asian venture Star Group that has applied to the Indian government for a DTH licence through a company called Space TV. Star's stand from the beginning has been that open architecture is a non-starter and this clause should be changed if the BIS sub-committee, examining this issue at the behest of the information and broadcasting ministry, recommends so to the government.



At the other end of the DTH spectrum is Murdoch's one time Indian ally, Subhash Chandra, sometimes also referred to as Asia's Rupert Murdoch by South-East Asia based newsmagazines.



While Space TV is yet to get a nod from the government on the DTH licence issue, one of Chandra's companies, ASC Enterprise, having got the green signal for DTH and the official letter from the I&B ministry recently, is taking a stand that it would do everything as per rules specified in the guidelines. This also includes going in for interoperability where the boxes are concerned.



This divergent view has thrown a spanner in Star's scheme of things, which has also been petitioning that another clause in the guidelines relating to revenue sharing with the government should be modified. And rightly so also.



A typical DTH venture would attract investment between $ 400-500 million. Having invested such a sum, no media organisation would like to throw away the advantage of captive subscribers. Moreover, as Star has pointed out, since such ventures take a long time to break-even, the 10 per cent annual revenue sharing should be modified to profit sharing.



In India, despite small steps forward, DTH at present continues to be DTN (direct to nowhere).

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