Cable TV

Government weighing various CAS rollout options

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NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: Has CAS finally degenerated into unconditional uncertainty? The joke seems to be coming true. But, say government officials, things may not turn out to be so bad as being predicted by the critics of CAS.

The Indian government and the bureaucrats who frame laws and regulations aimed towards better governance are examining various options for phased rollout of CAS so that not only the public, but also the industry is not inconvenienced.

Information and broadcasting ministry secretary Pawan Chopra feels CAS would be enforced more vigorously in time but admits next month's launch date is not 'sacrosanct'." Chopra made this comment in an interview to BBC World that would be telecast on Sunday's edition of India Business Report .

According to Chopra, "I think we have a fairly good amount of consensus emerging on this. We should not treat the date of 15th July as so sacrosanct, that next day everybody who does not have a set top box will be arrested. We will have a close look at the situation, and we will be flexible in the initial stages. As time goes on, the law will be enforced more vigorously."

Meanwhile, indications are that the government is considering various alternatives instead of being firm on the 14 July deadline. The options include area wise or zone wise CAS rollout and genre wise roll out of CAS. In both there will be a dual illumination system wherein a mix of the current and new scenario will co-exist.

According to information available with indiantelevision.com, the I&B mandarins are busy pouring over maps of Delhi to see if the city can be divided into zones and CAS can be started off in one zone at a time from 14 July to cover the whole city over a period of time.

Though there was no official confirmation of the zone-wise implementation or that route being taken, industry sources said Delhi, for example, may be divided into zones with the first zone to experience CAS may be the areas in South, South-west and central Delhi --- areas that are considered upmarket and where the purchasing power of people is considered to be more.

The second zone that is being looked into for CAS implementation, if this model is accepted, would cover the areas falling in north, north-east and north-west Delhi. The third phase may include east Delhi, generally referred to as `Yamuna paar' or across the Yamuna river, and the neioghbouring township of Noida, which falls in the state of Uttar Pradesh, but for all practical purposes is considered part of Delhi.

Similar division can be looked at in places like Mumbai and Kolkata too.

The zone-wise breakup is being looked at from the point of view that as CAS progresses to more populated and less affluent areas of Delhi, time gained may help in driving the sale of set-top boxes as knowledge about the whole system spreads by word of mouth.

If the zone-wise rollout is implemented, then it would also mean that the government and the industry would have to live with dual illumination --- one in digital mode through the boxes and the other in the analogue mode as is prevalent at present, albeit for a short period of time during the transitory phase.

If the government adopts the genrewise rollout option, CAS will be instituted across all the four metros all but not all pay channels together. For instance starting with English niche channels and moving on to English infotainment or movie channels; Hindi movie channels, so on and so forth.

With opposition to CAS in three states from various quarters --- Delhi, West Bengal (Kolkata) and Maharashtra (Mumbai) --- if the zone-wise rollout plan does not catch everybody's fancy, then it'd be back to what broadcasters had earlier suggested: try out CAS in the city of Chennai as there have been no voices of dissent there. The Chennai option is certainly an easier one but offers no real clarity as far as a rollout model is concerned. Principally because the most powerful channel (and network), Kalanithi Maran's Sun channel, is free-to-air.

Still, the cable industry is in total flux and the MSOs are, understandably, confused. Said Zee Telefilms additional vice-chairman and head of Siti Cable, Jawahar Goel, "At this moment, a response on the reported government stand cannot be given. Some more clarity on the thought process is needed before we can say what would be our next strategy."

A senior executive of another MSO admitted that the government's 'soft launch' tune is jarring and highlights that there are extraneous forces working over time. However, this person also said that before castigating the government, some more inputs are needed, which would hint at the government's future course of action.

The CAS saga meanders along without any definite solution in sight even less than a month away from a deadline that was announced six months ago (something worth noting for those who came in late).

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