Television

CAS confusion due to corporate rivalry: RSP

NEW DELHI: Information and broadcasting (I&B) minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today set the cat among the pigeons by stating in the Parliament's Upper House (Rajya Sabha) that a large part of the confusion relating to CAS

(conditional access system), especially in Delhi, owes its genesis to corporate rivalry amongst various industry stakeholders.

"If corporate rivalry goes on unabated and the consumer's interest is not taken into account, then we (the central government) would review the situation," Prasad said while replying to questions relating to consumer discomfort in the South Delhi area. "We are also open to all suggestions," he maintained. The cable fraternity is presently seeking to implement CAS, after getting a shot in the arm earlier this month when the high court quashed denotification of Delhi from the rollout map.

Pointing out that there is a great deal of hostility among broadcasters and multi-system operators (MSOs) - this was the first time that such a public admittance has been made by the government - Prasad said that the government would like everybody, including the respective state governments, to cooperate in rolling out CAS. This would be beneficial for the industry and the consumer in the long run as investments would flow in gradually, he said.

Driving home his point about corporate rivalry, Prasad explained that the stand-offs are such that Star Network has refused to join a DTH platform managed by Subhash Chandra's ASC Enterprise, and Zee, in all probability, would reciprocate by refusing to join a Star-backed DTH 

platform when it comes about.

Prasad did not spare the cable fraternity too. "I know there is massive under-declaration which has forced the broadcasters to increase the prices of their channels."

Admitting that there would be "teething problems in any transitory regime", Prasad gave it back to the vocal Congress parliamentarians by saying that though the Centre is continuously monitoring the situation, the 

"nitty gritties of implementation is the responsibility of the state" (in this case Delhi's Congress government headed by CM Shiela Dikshit). He added,"Let's have a little patience."

Though the debate on CAS started late in the evening owing to Rajya Sabha's prolonged preoccupation with the Telgi stamp paper scam, the Congress Members of Parliament lobbed some tricky queries at Prasad relating to the costing of set-top boxes (STBs) and the way addressability was being rolled out in South Delhi.

MPs who ultimately did participate in the debate on CAS included Suresh Pachouri, Kapil Sibal and SS Ahluwalia (Congress) and Nilotpaul Basu of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

At one point the Congress MPs even threatened to walk out if the minister did not reply to their specific queries on pricing and availability of boxes and the government's inability to reign in pay channels from raising their prices 

frequently.

Pointing out that the Chennai experience (not the correct example, though) in CAS has shown that many channels like Star Vijay had gone free-to-air (FTA), Prasad said the "pull of the content" and "market dynamics" would decide which channels continue to remain pay and FTA.

He, however, ruled out any government move in the immediate future to check or fix the prices of pay channels.

Dwelling on the manufacturing industry's appeal not to stop CAS rollout, Prasad said unless a demand is created, indigenous manufacturing of boxes at low cost would not become a reality. The minister maintained that the government's efforts would be to ensure boxes are not 

forcibly sold to consumers.

Earlier Pachouri, Sibal and Basu tried to put the government on the mat by indicating that while the consumer suffered (as in burning of Rome), the Centre, (like Emperor Nero), played the fiddle and behaved in an "irresponsible manner."

While suggesting that pay channels should be reined in by putting a limit on their prices, Pachouri debunked the government's claims that the basic tier of FTAs - irrespective of the number ranging from 30 to 60 - would satisfy the viewers.

He also claimed that as per his information, in a market like Mumbai, pay channels' viewership share was 72 per cent, while FTA channels' share was 58 per cent. For Delhi, also pay channels' share at 75 per cent was higher than those of FTA channels, he said.

Earlier in a written reply to the Upper House, Prasad stated that the indigenous industry was "not fully prepared" to gear up to the situation of manufacturing of boxes in the country.

"A series of meetings were held with the indigenous manufacturers to ascertain their capability of making the boxes. It has been indicated by the Consumer Electronics and TV Manufacturers' Association (Cetma) that they would require sometime to make these boxes available in the market," the minister said.

What was not conveyed to the MPs, however, is that it was Cetma that had assured former I&B minister Sushma Swaraj that within a short period of time local manufacturing would bring down the cost of boxes!

A figure that Cetma had given to Swaraj then was that an analog box would cost as low as Rs 1,500 (a little less than $ 30).

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