Conference seeks ways to revitalise cable industry

MUMBAI: The future of cable television in India lies in the value additions that addressability can deliver in the days to come.

Overtly as well as subtly, this was the message driven home by the speakers at the day long Ficci-SCaT 2003 conference on the cable and satellite sector held in Mumbai on Thursday.

Sony Entertainment Television (SET) India CEO Kunal Dasgupta set the tone in his keynote address by stressing that broadcasters and distributors alike need to 'begin listening to what the consumer is asking for'.

He opined that the set-top box (STB) should not just be a medium to pass on the same channels that were available earlier, but be able to deliver more interactive and localised services. This way it would arouse the interest of the consumer, he said.

Dasgupta lamented the lack of communication between the government, broadcasters, multisystem operators and the lay public and blamed it for the chaotic implementation of conditional access in the country. However, IndusInd Media and Communications vice-chairman R T Hingorani alleged that it was the combined effort of politicians, broadcasters and 'instigated consumers' which ensured that CAS' does not take off well.

Predicting that there will be segmentation after CAS is implemented, Hingorani said that while an estimated 45 per cent of consumers will opt for the free-to-air (FTA) channels only, there would still be 40 per cent of the TV viewing population that would opt for the premium value additions which could be offered via a STB.

Admitting that subscribers' base declaration is still at a measly 20-25 per cent of the actual viewing public, Hingorani said that measures were being taken to ensure that by next September the figure rises to 50 per cent.

Later, speaking on revenue generation through conditional access, NDS Solutions director James Field said that CAS can be used to leverage the ability to pay by the entire demographic mix of subscribers - from those with very little disposable income to the high fliers with all the latest gadgets.

While the higher demographics may well decide to spend more, a sophisticated billing system can also offer viewing opportunities tailored to the subscribers' ability to pay.

Swissfone India Ventures president Laveleen Singhal, who also spoke at the conference, said that internet telephony, global calling is a revenue spinner that can be added to the services bouquet by a cable operator. Pay-per-use services, he said, are also possible, but are hampered by poor implementation of IP legislation allowing unfair advantage to video libraries and pirated movie and gaming software.

Singhal pointed out, Web commerce could become a local community subject with no payment hassles, easy and guaranteed delivery obviating the need for inventory and display costs.

Order collation could drive purchase efficiencies and help cable operators save money, he said.

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