Television

Day of CAS meetings yields nothing

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NEW DELHI: The MSOs cannot come to a consensus on the areas that may be first included for conditional access rollout in the four metros. The cable operators of Mumbai, and elsewhere too, feel that dual feed concept is not technically feasible. The broadcasters are of the opinion the cable fraternity is spreading a lot of disinformation on the pricing structure (Rs 500 and above for pay channels) and dual feed seems to be the only viable alternative at the moment. And, of course, the Indian government is totally confused



That sums up the CAS saga as of today, 12 days away from the 14 July deadline when addressability is supposed to be introduced in cable homes in the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.



"We are discussing various options, but we don't have too many options," Star India COO Sameer Nair told journalists around 7:30 pm after coming out, along with other broadcasters, from a meeting with the officials of the Prime Minister's Office. The importance of the meeting could be gauged from the fact that the meeting was held over two sessions in the afternoon and evening.



Even as all this drama was happening at the PMO, a delegation of MSOs that met India's information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and later additional secretary in the ministry, Vijay Singh, could not decide whether South Mumbai or West Mumbai should be the area where CAS would be rolled out if it is done area-wise or zone-wise in various cities.



"Hathway and INCableNet couldn't decide amongst themselves whether South or West Mumbai should be included for CAS rollout," a person who attended the MSOs meeting said.



Simultaneously, a delegation of cable operators and MSOs from Mumbai, including representatives from UCN, Spacevision, ICT, INMumbai,

SET CEO Kunal Dasgupta looks relaxed after the meeting at the PMO (Photo by Sanjay Sharma)

Win and SitiCable totally rejected the concept of dual feed.



"The PMO officials assured us that from 14 July CAS would be announced, but not implemented strictly," Anil Parab, a CAS task force member and cable operator said, adding that they have conveyed they are against CAS and it should be deferred for at least three to four months. Parab, incidentally, belongs to the Shiv Sena that is opposed to CAS implementation.



In a day that saw meetings from mid-day till late in the evening at various venues between various stakeholders of the industry and the arbiter, the government, the media had a tough time running from one place to another trying to gather sound bytes and quotes. The task was made more difficult with each stakeholder of the industry trying its best to mislead the media. 



The task was made more difficult with each stakeholder of the industry trying its best to mislead the media.



An example: even as the broadcasters were having a meeting amongst themselves after the first session at the PMO, a senior exec of a broadcasting company told a journalist that he was "away to Singapore discussing the financials of his company.



Star India's Peter Mukerjea (L), ESPN Star Sports' Manu Sawhney (centre) and Discovery's Deepak Shourie appear to be discussing a common strategy. (Photo by Sanjay Sharma)

BROADCSTERS DEBUNK CABLE OPS' CONTENTION



The broadcasters today tried to turn the tables on the cable fraternity alleging that it was spreading "misinformation" and should have been ready with the set-top boxes, while the truth is that there aren't enough boxes in the country to facilitate a smooth rollout of CAS.



"One thing that needs to be clarified is that all these talks of Rs 520 (for all pay channels) is wrong and misread figures," Discovery India head Deepak Shourie said after the meeting at the PMO, adding that discussions are being held with the government to see how a glitch free CAS rollout can be made possible.



If Shourie was as usual diplomatic, Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea was the media's delight with his sharp, even if debatable, reasoning.



Pointing out that the cable subscription price would be "half" of that being quoted by the cable fraternity (Rs 500+), Mukerjea said, "We are trying to find a way forward, but clearly there aren't enough boxes available. Now that's a problem and the government has been misinformed by other people (on the number of boxes available)."



Asked what are the alternatives since the cable operators have rejected the dual feed concept floated by the broadcasters, Mukerjea said, "There are no answers to it right now."



Dwelling on a suggestion that has been given to the government, the Star India head said that the broadcasters had suggested that there be a pre-designated period where the prices of pay channels are frozen and the cable subscribers are allowed to migrate to the CAS regime slowly even while receiving the normal cable service.



"The Prime Minister has wished that there be no blackouts of channels (from 14 July) and that is why we had suggested that dual feed model be implemented," Mukerjea said, hinting that today's meetings at he PMO was to try "find a solution to the problem that the cable operators have come out with."



SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta, who lamented that he had not been able to visit the gym because of the CAS meetings, felt that the government is trying to come out with a notification on how to make pay channels not pass through boxes so that the consumers can watch them. Basically, that would mean status quo.



Shourie made it all clear when he said that the "current business practice should continue" till the time when the consumer is ready to migrate to a CAS-enabled regime. In the meantime, the broadcasters would hold their prices.



But has the government asked the pay channels to turn free to air, albeit for a short period of time to help facilitate the migration? "No such suggestion has come from the government yet," Dasgupta clarified.



Those who attended the meeting today also included ESPN Star Sports' Manu Sawhney and his colleague.



CABLE FRATERNITY STANDS DIVIDED



One section of the cable industry suggests something, while another section rejects it. 



While the MSOs, including Rajiv Vyas and Ashok Mansukhani of INCableNet, Jayaraman and SN Sharma of Hathway and Rajiv Khattar of SitiCable did suggest to the government to go in for area-wise rollout of CAS, a consensus could not be arrived at as to which area should be earmarked for the first phase rollout in Mumbai.



Cable operators led by the Shiv Sena's Anil Parab speak to the media. (Photo by Sanjay Sharma)

Though the meeting with the minister and the additional secretary was described as a stocktaking exercise, one of them admitted that "various other options were discussed."



An option suggested is to introduce CAS in Chennai, Kolkata, West Mumbai and South Delhi. In the first two there are least opposition to CAS, while the remaining two areas are considered affluent zones in the cities of Mumbai and Delhi.



This issue was directly discussed with the broadcasters, though they said the PMO officials too, have heard something on these lines.



The MSOs are supposed to come back to the ministry again tomorrow with more agreement on the points of disagreement.



Meanwhile, the Mumbai delegation that met the PMO officials admitted that the government too, is confused and doesn't know what exactly to do in the light of suggestions and counter-suggestions from various quarters.



But one thing the delegation made clear: dual feed implementation not possible in Mumbai.



In the end, after almost six months of deliberations over CAS, it is almost back to the square one where there is no unanimity over even very basic issues.



As for the government, there was no reaction from it till late this evening.

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