South Delhi CAS rollout gets mixed response

NEW DELHI: While some parts of South Delhi got up this morning to find that the Indian cricket team was unleashing a tremendous performance at the Adelaide Oval against Australia, others woke up to blank TV screens. 

Reason: some cable operators had switched off pay channels to meet the 15 December deadline set by the fraternity to roll out conditional access systems (CAS) in the capital's affluent southern part.

At the time of writing, it appeared the government was not going to act against the cable ops; rather that it would provide conditional support to CAS. 

A senior information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry official pointed out that adequate 'education' of consumers did not seem to have taken place. He opined that the cable ops ought to go from "house to house" to convey what CAS was about.

The newly sworn in Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit, while agreeing that consumers had not been informed adequately, did however, say that the new system was good for the industry. 

Dixit, who had opposed CAS earlier (when the capital was in election mode), clarified that her government had wanted all ambiguity about pricing to be removed before CAS was implemented. She stated that her government would be issuing newspaper ads seeking people's suggestions on the implementation of CAS.

As for the multi-system operators (MSOs) and cable operators, they were fairly satisfied. By evening, they had received quite a few enquiries about set-top boxes (STBs) and CAS from consumers. Some MSOs - like Siticable - even claimed that by afternoon a few hundred boxes had been delivered.

Hathway Datacom president (operations), north India, S N Sharma informed, "The response from consumers has been encouraging." Sharma claims orders for thousands of boxes have been placed with the MSO.

Siti Cable head and Zee Telefilms vice-chairman Jawahar Goel said, "We have been getting enquiries for the boxes and, if the trend continues, there will be a smooth rollout of CAS in South Delhi within a shorter period of time than anticipated."

If the cable industry is to be believed, orders for approximately 5,000 boxes have been placed, some of which have already been installed and are awaiting activation.

Strategic 'blackouts'

But a cable operator servicing parts of Vasant Vihar and Vasant Kunj admitted in private that the so-called 'blackout of pay channels' was partial and also that not all enquiries are translating into actual sale or movement of STBs. "People still are playing the wait-and-watch game in some areas," the cable op said.

Some areas where the pay channels were blanked out (due to absence of boxes) included Defence Colony, Pandara Park, Prithviraj Road, Safdarjung Development Area and parts of Maharani Bagh --- mostly areas where Delhi's rich and famous and political personalities reside.

For example, Prithviraj Road is not only the residence address of owners of several high-profile business houses - like the Daburs and the Goenkas - but it is also home to deputy prime minister L K Advani.

An industry observer pointed out, "If pressure has to be built, politicians and residences of high-profile bureaucrats would be the obvious targets."

Value packages

Meanwhile, Siticable is providing its CAS service to South Delhi's denizens for approximately Rs 100, inclusive of Zee Turner bouquet and the sports channels. 

Though Star and Sony channels are being provided as part of this Rs 100 package, Siti Cable executives said, "The deals with Star and Sony have not been signed yet. As and when they are done, the Rs 100 figure would see a slight increase." 

Goel pointed out that since the government had dubbed CAS a consumer-friendly move, the MSOs are trying to evolve the "best and affordable package for CAS consumers".

Finally, one thing is clear: the cable industry certainly does not want to upset the consumers. This was probably why the industry decided to telecast Star Sports in all cable homes (CAS-enabled or not) on Tuesday. So that people could watch the grand finale of the India-Australia match.

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