Television

With STBs in stock, MSOs gear for CAS push

MUMBAI: "Mission 'CAS'hmir"! This rather quaint turn of phrase about sums up the concerted effort the major MSOs will be making in the coming month to get the stalled conditional access engine moving.

And if statements dished out today by another key protagonist (who till recently was on the opposing side of the CAS divide) - lead pay broadcaster Star India - is taken at face value, the 1 September CAS rollout deadline might just take place without a further rollback.

This was the key point that came out of a discussion on CAS organised by the Press Club of India in Mumbai. CAS discussion organised by the Press Club of India today. Represented in the discussions were the three major MSOS Hathway, Siticable and INCableNet, pay broadcasters Star and Zee and ratings agency TAM Media.

Star India COO Sameer Nair spoke about pay broadcasters and CAS. "One of the myths going around is that pay broadcasters are against CAS. Why should we take that stance? After all CAS will give us real viewers who pay real revenue. Therefore real numbers will come out. The cable business will become legitimate. Consumers who are now being forced to watch 90 channels will be able to pay for only what they want outside the free to air bouquet. Distribution revenues will also go up. "

Siticable head and Zee Telefilms additional vice chairman Jawahar Goel said, "I do not see why there is so much noise about CAS being consumer unfriendly. If FTA channels satisfy him then there is no need for him to invest in the set top box. His bill will in fact come down to Rs 72 (minus taxes). CAS is like a toll tax. Only people who use the road need to pay for it. At the moment Siticable is offering all pay channels for Rs 128."

INCableNet president Rajiv Vyas said that the company was geared up to meet demand. "There will be no waiting for list for the set top boxes. We have also set up a call centre. We are also providing training to LCOs (local cable operators) to help provide superior service to the customer. From 1 August we will kick off a consumer awareness and marketing campaign. This will be in the form of road shows and events. We will pushing the benefits that our product the Indigital set top has to offer like the electronic programme guide, video-on-demand. We are calling this Mission CAShmir," Vyas said. He however, declined to put a number on the quantity of boxes the company expected to be sold.

Hathway's Neeraj Bhatia said much the same thing while detailing his company's plans.

Star India's Nair did raise some concerns though. "We are concerned about the implementation of CAS. The availability of set top boxes is one and implementation speed is another. At this point of time consumer education is of the utmost importance. Most of them are unaware of what a set top box is and why they will need it. Call centres also need to be set up so that consumer doubts and grievances can be swiftly addressed."

Nair pointed out that Star had suggested a staggered rollout city-by-city, zone-by-zone and he was glad that the government had taken note of it. He also suggested the creation of a model CAS zone in order for CAS to become desirable. "We were suggesting offering wholesale prices to the MSO. After all the MSO and not the broadcaster is the end retailer. After buying the package the MSO will bundle the channels according to the subscribers needs. We have also suggested tiers and the bundling of channels according to their genre."

The Consumer Guidance Society of India's Anand Patwardhan expressed concern about corruption and bribery coming in. "It is a paradox that it is the cable operator that will decide what constitutes a FTA channel. This will see FTA broadcasters paying to cable operator and smooth talking the babus in Delhi to make sure that their channel is in that top 30 list. Another danger is that after buying a box a consumer may be denied a regional channel by an MSO under the pretext that no agreement exists between the MSO and that particular broadcaster.

"The choice of the consumer should extend to technology. The box should be given as per his requirements. The consumer should first and foremost have the freedom to choose whether or not he wants to be a cable consumer," Patwardhan said.

Meanwhile, indiantelevision.com has in its possession a sample of a CAS registration form that Hathway has prepared. Similar forms have been prepared by the other MSOs as well. It needs noting however, that this need not necessarily be what will finally go out into the market once the actual marketing of STBs gets underway.

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