Cable ops dissect CAS implications at Scat workshop

MUMBAI: Pandora's box is finally open. The CAS bill, which has thrown up more questions than answers at least for the present, was the subject of intense debate and discussion at the opening session of the two day Scat Bombay Workshop that kicked off in the city this morning.


Over 150 cable operators from all over the city who converged in Mumbai today were treated to a critical analysis of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2002 by Scat editor Dinyar Contractor. While assailing the bill for leaving vague the definitions of terms like 'pay channels' and 'addressability', Contractor said the Bill had also left certain issues un-addressed. 

The government, he said, has not specified retail margins for CATV delivery. While cable ops' margins in countries like the US are often as high as 50 per cent of the total subscription revenue, the Bill has left the matter to market forces here. There is no clarity on sharing of revenues between satellite broadcasters and CATV delivery MSOs and last mile operators, or on audits and ratification of SMS figures. Consumers here will have to choose channels a la carte instead of in tiers as is done overseas, says Contractor.

Also, the question whether MSOs will permit local generation of the basic tier has been left unanswered, he said. 

The definition of a pay channel, in respect of a cable television network, as a channel the reception of which by the subscriber would require the use of an addressable system to be attached to his receiver set, can also give rise to several possibilities, Contractor pointed out.

Since the definition does not link it to whether a broadcaster asks for payment for his channel, an associated network can even arrive at an all India settlement with an associated channel by paying a flat sum for its subscribers. It can then put that channel on the basic tier, reaching a wider audience, Contractor noted.

In a similar manner, an unscrambled FTA channel could be scrambled by a CATV network and delivered through an addressable system, making it a pay channel on that network, Contractor claimed.

Despite some of its apparently vague clauses, the CAS Bill, said Contractor, is clear that the carriage of pay channels without an addressable system post 14 July 2003 would be tantamount to a cognizable offence under section 4A. The CrPC defines a cognizable offence as one for which a police officer may arrest without a warrant. 

The spectre of police harassment in the absence of clearly laid down guidelines and the prospect of an addressable system that could be hacked were clearly among the prime concerns of participating cable ops. Some, like Mrugesh Golatkar, an operator from a Mumbai suburb, said there will considerable confusion regarding the physical implementation of CAS, but staunchly maintained that they would prefer a digital addressable system to an analog one.

Col V C Khare, a member of the BIS committee on set top boxes, however, stressed the need to mull the considerations that have guided the government's guidelines. 

The Analog vs Digital Debate

Analog and digital system providers, who have descended on the country to reap the first harvest of CAS, were among those present at the Scat debate to educate participants on the benefits of their products. Arcom Labs' regional vice president Basil Dillon Malone extrapolated on the benefits of the analog MDI system. Other than offering over 117 channels in 860 MHz and video on demand, TV consumers' needs can be satisfied either through analog or digital technology. The MDI set top box, he said, offers BIS approved good quality descrambled pictures, is compatible for the pay per view system which may make its entry into India shortly and is able to use electronic countermeasures if a breach occurs. The analog set top costs lesser than digital ones, at Rs 2,500 as against Rs 7000 for a digital one, apart from the headend costs, which too are considerably higher than one for analog systems. 

NDS' business development manager Danny Gershon who detailed the company's digital STB profile, said the digital STB keeps content more secure than analog systems, and keeps subscribers honest with its employment of control words, secure packets, electronic counter measures, smart card authentication, pairing and fingerprinting which eliminate the possibility of hacking.

Operator controlled features in the NDS digital STB include varying levels of encryption for each channel, allowing taping control for different shows, and blackout of certain areas if the operator wishes. Subscriber controlled features include passwords, parental rating and a check on spending limit (in case of PPV). Under the system, the cable op is also able to telecast electronic programme guides, offer multiple language support (dubbing in different languages for films) as well as send out local bulletins and personalized mail. 

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