Television

Govt losing grip on CAS rudder as cable ops on warpath, broadcasters defiant

NEW DELHI: Even as the cable fraternity is on the warpath, though for reasons of its own, the government appears to be out of its depth in its efforts (or the lack of it) to tackle the broadcasters with whom the honeymoon seems to be over.

On Tuesday, while a section of the cable operators threatened to continue in the present regime from 1 August (that is charge the current rate of cable subscription fee), if the government did not put in place a regulatory mechanism to rein in broadcasters, another section threatened a blackout unless the basic tier price is raised to Rs 180 per month per household.

As the cable ops and distributors of cable service were holding separate press conferences in the capital here and hurling threats, at another venue a senior government official admitted, "The government is open to have a fresh look at anything and any proposal."

Today's admission comes at a time when the government is feeling the heat from various quarters on the implementation of CAS in the metros, area-wise or otherwise. Even today former Delhi chief minister Madan Lal Khurana said CAS couldn't and should not be implemented in Delhi before the elections slated to be held later that year. Khurana has also petitioned the Prime Minister to exclude Delhi from the CAS rollout list.

Pointing out that even today, the deadline agreed upon for submission of individual rates for channels, the broadcasters did not submit any rates to the government, the official said, "What was normally agreed upon, should be stuck to."

The official further added that the government has no intimation on whether the cable operators would supply the cable service at Rs 72 from 1 August till CAS is finally rolled out across all the metros by 1 December.

"We are waiting to hear from the cable operators and broadcasters (on the price of Rs 72 during the transition period). The broadcasters certainly haven't confirmed and the cable operators are saying different things depending which side they are on."

The official ruled out promulgation of an Ordinance at the moment, barely a week away from the date when Parliament reconvenes, to rein in broadcasters and limit advertising on pay channels.

Interestingly, the government is keeping a watch over the cable fraternity and today sent an official to monitor the proceedings incognito at one of the cable operators' congregation, while an information and broadcasting ministry official met up with the MSOs.

CABLE OPS THREATEN DISRUPTION

In what could be called a show of strength, the Cable Operators United Front (COUF) today collected over 500 operators from various parts of North India in the Capital to criticise the government-broadcasters nexus.

According to Virendra Gaur of the COUF, the government has to review the price of the basic tier of free to air (FTA) channels as an ordinary cable operator would not be able to provide the service at Rs. 72 (exclusive of taxes) per month per household.

COUF has demanded that the FTA channels' price be revised upward to Rs 180 (slightly over $3) and threatened blackouts of cable service if their demands are not met.

Meanwhile, the Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) and the National Cable Telecom Association (NCTA) told a press conference in the absence of a regulatory framework, they would not offer the Rs 72 `honeymoon' package for all channels, as agreed earlier.

The cable operators said that several issues needed to be addressed, including putting a cap on advertising on pay channels, asking broadcasters to come up with `reasonable' pay channel rates and ensuring that there was no blackout of any pay channels once the new regime is implemented.

NCTA president Vikki Chowdhry also alleged a nexus between the politicians and pay broadcasters, while COFI's Roop Sharma aid, "By not declaring any price the broadcasters are out to sabotage CAS."

Interestingly, the cable ops have to rely on the broadcasters to woo the media. COFI and NCTA's invite said that FTA broadcasters like G Krishnan of TV Today Network would also be present as also politician Amar Singh. Neither of them turned up, of course.

HINDUJA CLAIM ON STBs

The Hinduja-owned HTMT today said that it has imported 50,000 set-top boxes (STBs) and from August would have access to indigenously manufactured boxes.

HTMT's VC Khare told journalists that the company has entered into a contract with Celtron that has a manufacturing facility in Mumbai.

"From August our target would be to have 5,000 indigenously made boxes daily," Khare said.

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