Broadcasters at loggerheads on CAS

NEW DELHI: It is quite clear and well documented now that there is a vertical divide within the broadcasting fraternity on conditional access system (CAS), despite the broadcasters operating in India maintaining that they stand united on the issue.

Interestingly, NDTV president Prannoy Roy, while maintaining that the two news channels from NDTV are digital free to air, said that in a post-CAS regime most news channels are likely to turn free to air. Unfortunately this aspect was not followed up with other broadcasters.

Yesterday morning, pubcaster Doordarshan (the last one expected to do so) telecast a 30-minute show on CAS and its various implications where it became evident that Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea and ESPN India country head Manu Sawhney were on one side trying tactfully to say that rollout of CAS in all the four metros simultaneously may lead to chaos and that it should be tried out in one city first.

On the other side, there were the likes of Zee Telefilms CMD Subhash Chandra, TV Today CEO G Krishnan and Sahara's media and entertainment head Sumit Roy who were all for CAS and its implementation as per schedule. In between, were the likes of Doordarshan director-general SY Quraishi who felt that because of its vast network and compelling programming (or is it lack of it?), DD being a pubcaster would gain in a post-CAS regime.

Though Mukerjea --- who had a tough time conversing in Hindi --- may have had a point that unavailability of adequate number of set top boxes is likely to create problems in the rollout of CAS, he couldn't articulate himself as effectively as, say, Chandra who clearly said, "CAS is good for the consumer... (but in the short run) the advertising revenue of pay channels would dip."

Chandra in his own earthy style also debunked a theory put forward by Star India that STBs bought in one area of a city may not work properly in another area of the same city because of the technology involved.

Of course, there were the mandatory sound bytes from cable ops and consumers. But the whole programme again brought home the point: CAS is not an easy subject to deal with and that DD probably is not the platform to produce a programme on CAS because it has its own limitations.

Can an organisation, where the main source of livelihood is still government aid, be really critical of a policy decision pushed forward by the information and broadcasting ministry? What's more, some quotes of an old interview of Rakesh Mohan, joint secretary in the I&B (now on a long leave), were added to yesterday's programme.

Moreover, important questions on the pricing of the basic tier of service and its effect on the smaller cable ops, the issue of quality of service, the failure of CAS to do away with the bouquet system (at least till now) and the royal ignore given to consumer in whose name all this has been done were neither answered nor properly debated.

Unimaginative collation of soundbytes from warring people and a meandering scrip marred what could have been a really interesting piece on CAS. If this is the quality of programmes through which DD hopes to hook viewers (and net additional advertising revenue), then the satellite channels can rest in peace that the terrestrial broadcaster would not make much of a dent in a post-CAS regime.

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