Television

No budging on CAS rollout deadline, warns Rakesh Mohan

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NEW DELHI: The broadcasters seem to have been cornered for the moment even as the MSOs, cable operators and the government took a strident stand over various issues relating to the implementation of CAS at today's government-piloted task force meeting here.

Interestingly, the chairman of the task force, Rakesh Mohan, joint secretary (broadcasting) in the information and broadcasting ministry is understood to have conveyed to every stakeholder in the game that the deadline of 14 July is sacrosanct and that no delay would be tolerated by the government in this regard.



According to some of those who attended today's meeting, Mohan also conveyed to those present that if the deadline of 14 July is not adhered to and the broadcasters had not listed the pay channels in various bouquets, then all pay channels would be deemed to be free to air.



Efforts made by indiantelevision.com to elicit a response from the broadcasters proved futile as two of the broadcasting industry representative, Manu Sawhney of ESPN India and Shantonu Aditya of Sony Entertainment TV India refused to talk.



"As broadcasters, we have taken a stand that it would be the IBF that would speak on the issue if at all there is something to speak about," Sawhney told indiantelevision.com when asked whether the cable operators and MSOs had taken a tough stand (which they said they had).



It is also learnt that Mohan said that at the next meeting, slated to be sometime in the first week of March, a broad consensus on the basic tier's pricing would be arrived at after wide consultation with the industry in the interim.



However, a Mumbai-based representative of an MSO did admit that the broad issues that were discussed today included a quick decision on the basic tier of service, delinking of the individual pay channel's pricing from the basic tier's price (as has been argued by broadcasters) and helping others in the industry to move towards quick implementation of CAS.



But another independent cable operator was more cutting when he said, "The arguments being adopted by the broadcasters are nothing but delaying tactics."



The broadcasters, it is learnt, have been maintaining that they are unable to come out with the individual pricing of the pay channels as the price of the basic tier has not been decided yet. "Now, I wonder how is the pricing of the basic tier linked to the individual prices of pay channels?" shot back another representative of an MSO, when asked about the meeting.



The price of the basic tier has also become a contentious issue. While the broadcasters have suggested a price of between Rs 25-30/household, the cable operators have said the business would become unviable if the price is below Rs 150-200.



A memorandum presented to the ministry by an independent cable operator from Kolkata, while giving the breakup of servicing a consumer, except pay channels, states that cable TV maintenance charge/month/point (including profit before tax) comes to Rs 170.



The note goes on to add that "with a profit of Rs 36/month/point or household, no small network can survive."



The MSOs have also brought up a point that in case of pay channels, there should be a limit to the amount of commercial time they can have in a day. A figure that has been mentioned in the task force meetings and those held between broadcasters and MSOs is that out of total 1400-odd minutes of programming that a channel has in a day, the limit of commercial airtime (excluding in-house promos) should be capped at 0.5 per cent.



Rationale: if a consumer is paying, for example, Rs 50 for a premium movie channel, then he should not be irritated by ads. The argument also attempts to hit the broadcasters who have dual stream of revenue for pay channels in India --- subscription (which is alleged to be very low because of rampant under-declaration by cable ops) and advertising. A scenario that is contrary to the concept of pay-per-view as prevalent in the West.



Can the implementation of CAS be as smooth as had been envisaged once the Indian Parliament had okayed the changes in the Cable TV (Networks) Regulation Act, 1995? At the moment there seems to several blips on the screen.

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