Television

UTV mulls launching a channel post-CAS

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MUMBAI: The conditional access system (CAS) will provide several opportunities to production houses as well. One of the biggest players in the market is already mulling plans to start a special content niche channel as well as approaching multi-system operators (MSOs) for the mandate of providing content.

 

While addressing a selected group of journalists at his corporate headquarters in Mumbai, UTV group CEO Ronnie Screwvala didn't rule out the possibility of the group starting it's own niche (special content) channel. "The post-CAS environment is conducive to starting a special interest channel. We are examining all the possibilities but haven't drawn up a final business plan as yet."



Screwvala also raised what he claims has been an "ignored point". "The intention of moving towards a structured conditional access system is a good intention but the decision makers have missed an important link by not invoking the licencing regime. Even today, cable operators have to approach the Posts and Telegraph office for permission - they don't actually get a licence from the other government authorities," says Screwvala.



Screwvala says that the control rooms of cable operators are generally located within the premises of cooperative societies and this scenario will continue post 14 July. "The monopoly issue has not yet been addressed. If the cable operators are forced to acquire licences, then the cooperative societies will have choice of at least two competitive cable operators. The licence regime will also ensure value additions."



Quoting the example of HBO (Home Box Office), Screwvala also says that multi system operators (MSOs) and cable distributors will feel the need for sourcing content that can be aired in the free-to-air band. "Abroad, several popular channels started by moving up the value chain in terms of providing content. Channels such as HBO have graduated through various levels of programming including in-house commissioning of series - resulting in shows such as Band of Brothers - amongst others."



When queried about the recent comments made by representatives of broadcasters that production houses will need to take a cut, Screwvala said that broadcasters need "more power on programming" to benefit from the tentpole programming strategy.



"Post CAS, the demand and accent will be on high quality programming. Everyone will aspire to be in the Top 100 list in an attempt to lure audiences. The attraction of compelling content will entice consumers and make them invest in the set-top boxes. Otherwise, they will be very happy watching the 50-odd FTA channels provided by the MSOs," Screwvala says.



Screwvala emphasised that broadcasters aren't sourcing content at unrealistically high levels. "We are definitely not being overpaid. The results are there to be seen on the screen. Over the last few years, the quality of content delivered by TV producers has improved dramatically not just on the leading channels but across all channels," adds Screwvala.



Screwvala adds: "Also, when more and more consumers start opting for pay channels, broadcasters will be forced to review the rates of their individual channels. The bouquet rates that are applicable today will no longer be applicable in a six-month time period post-14 July. However, in a country like India, it will take at least 18 months for things to settle down."



While claiming that "mirror" versions of pay channels might be a temporary phenomenon, Screwvala says that pay TV channels will benefit tremendously in the consolidation phase once the process of CAS implementation gains momentum.



Screwvala also adds that UTV will reduce it's dependence on cable and satellite programming - currently at 80 per cent and increase it's exposure on the national broadcaster Doordarshan and its affiliate channels.



"Well, this strategy is not linked to CAS but DD has opened up in the last few months. The policies are much more producer-friendly and we see an opportunity. We have always been actively associated with DD. Currently, our mix is 50:50 for regional DD channels vis-a-vis DD1. We hope to continue with the same proportion," adds Screwvala.



UTV is one production house which is definitely looking at the brighter side of things.

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