Television

Govt firm on zonal rollout plan, "honeymoon period" effective till December

MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: Responding to the reservations expressed by some quarters over its proposed zonal conditional access rollout plan, the government today appeared to rule out any further modifications.

The government has stated that the "honeymoon period" or the interim migration period would be effective till December by when "the calibrated area-wise rollout" would be completed in the four metros.

Addressing select journalists, I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "Every effort would be used to make sure that the CAS rollout is smooth." Prasad added that the government would be setting up dedicated consumer courts to address cable-related cases. This new initiative on the part of the government is the outcome of a meeting Prasad had today with the Delhi Resident Welfare Association (DRWA), an umbrella body representing 126 resident associations in the capital.

DRWA representative Yogeshwar Prasad said, "We have concerns that need to be addressed, otherwise we are pro-CAS. What is bothering us is the way CAS is being sought to be implemented, as of today."

While the government maintains that all stakeholders had agreed to it (no consumer groups it needs noting), it is not just the Mumbai cable ops that are not exactly ecstatic about zonal rollout as presently laid out.

The pay broadcasters are all saying that the zonal rollout plan is fine but have a problem with the "free time" being given to areas such as Zone D (fourth and last zone) in the rollout plan, which benefit from the FTA pricing incentive plan for a full four months, while those in Zone A for instance will have only a month's grace period.

According to the information and broadcasting ministry however, the stakeholders had agreed, among other things, on the following:

* Cable operators will charge only Rs 72 per month plus taxes for all channels, including all available pay channels, from all cable TV customers from 1 August onwards.

* The period between 14 July and 31 August will be used primarily for creating consumer awareness about CAS, procurement of set-top boxes by cable operators and MSOs, and for broadcasters of pay channels to conduct promotional campaigns.

* Each of the four notified metro cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai) would be divided into four zones for the purpose of staggered rollout of the addressable system of transmission of pay channels.

* From 1 September onwards in Zone A in each metro, pay channels can be watched only with the use of STBs. Pay channel consumers in this zone will be charged, in addition to the price of the basic tier plus taxes, only for the individual channels of their choice as per the pre-announced rates set for them.

Consumers of free-to-air (FTA) channels, who will not need an STB, will be charged only Rs 72 per month plus taxes. In zones B, C, and D, cable operators will charged only Rs 72 per month plus taxes for all channels, including all available pay channels.

* From 1 October onwards CAS will take effect in Zone B in each metro, while in zones C and D subscribers will pay only Rs 72 per month plus taxes for all channels.

* And so it follows in Zone C from 1 November onwards and Zone D from 1 December.

Star India COO Sameer is not just worried about the subscription hit that the channels will take but also about possible complaints from residents in the earlier designated zones that they will not enjoy the freebies to the extent that those in the later designated zones would. Nair further states that the longer the period that consumers get to enjoy the free viewing period, the greater would be their resistance to getting onto the STB bandwagon after the "honeymoon" ends.

Speaking about the STB rollout, Nair said that while channels could do on-air promos it was the MSOs that held the key to box offtake. Whether or not consumers start buying boxes would depend on the kind of packages that were drawn up, says Nair.

The MSOs meanwhile, say while it is they who are taking the biggest hit in revenue terms, it is the broadcasters that are hogging all the media sympathy. The phased rollout will at least protect ad revenues for the broadcasters, but the MSOs will find it extremely difficult to extract any share from the last mile operators from the FTA subscription revenues, is their grouse.

Meanwhile, a top executive from a major broadcasting company reportedly met senior I&B officials today and during the discussion reportedly raised doubts about the infallibility of the mechanism for the purpose of billing under CAS.

The ministry has decided to get the standard specified for this purpose by the Bureau of Indian Standards, reports say.

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