Cable TV

Lukewarm response to CAS in Chennai: SCV's Dayanidhi Maran

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CHENNAI: Not a mad rush but a lukewarm response! This is how Sun Network director overseeing the operations of Sumangali Cable Vision Dayanidhi Maran says when asked about the first day of the conditional access system (CAS) in Chennai. Incidentally, the city will enter the record books for the being the first (in India) to adopt CAS (in entirety) as of today.

The implementation process of the first phase of the conditional access system has commenced in Chennai - a city where the free-to-air (FTA) channels dominate. Some of the pay TV channels in Chennai are Star Vijay, SCV, Sun News and all the Hindi entertainment channel bouquets (Star, Zee, Sony, ESPN-Star Sports).

None of the Tamil channels are pay channels and therefore the general consensus amongst the cable trade is that CAS has obtained a lukewarm reception. Sumangali Cable Vision officials state that they have sold nearly 1,200 set top boxes as of today.

However, the dominant multi system operators (MSOs) such as Sumangali Cable Vision and Hathway claim that preparations have been going on since quite some time.

While speaking to the indiantelevision.com team, Sun Network and Sumangali Cable Vision director Dayanidhi Maran says: "We were ready for CAS almost one year back. In fact, at present, we are the only MSO in the country and probably the whole of South East Asia to offer 104 digital channels."

Talking about the preparations, Maran adds: "We undertook grand promotions to create awareness about CAS in Chennai. We commenced training modules for our franchisees in the beginning of 2003 itself and concluded these programmes by 14 July 2003. The cable operators were offered crash courses on how to approach households for educating viewers about set top boxes; and giving live demos."

"Since the last one month, we have been running promos on 15 network channels as well as the local MSO network channel," adds Maran and goes on to say that 90 per cent of the viewers are happy that they still get to watch all the Tamil channels.

Another Tamil channel Raj TV has tried a different approach. Its chief executive says that if the decision makers were using Chennai as a testing ground, then they wouldn't learn much from the way the CAS rollout progresses in the city.

While speaking to indiantelevision.com, Raj TV CEO Rajiv Nambiar says: "Well, Chennai seems to be the easiest place to impose CAS rollout but it will be the last place where this new technology might really be deemed successful. It is the first place where CAS gets implemented in the entire country but decision makers shouldn't expect any concrete learnings from the the way it gets implemented in the city."

Talking about Raj TV, Nambiar says: "As far as we are concerned, we have made it very clear that we shall exist in the dual mode. We will have a differential pricing system as far as subscriptions are concerned inside and outside the city. However, Raj TV will be available in an encrypted-but-zero pricing form in Chennai and is part of the basic tier."

While talking about the impact on advertising, Raj TV's Nambiar says: "Any which way, Chennai accounts for 20 per cent of the Tamil Nadu market." Raj TV claims to have a connectivity of 2.5 million households in the whole of Tamil Nadu and plans to up this above the 3 million mark. There could be an increase in subscription revenues from outside the state, Nambiar mentions.

Most of the other channels don't anticipate much of a change in their revenues in the initial days of CAS implementation across the country.

A Star Vijay executive says that the channel won't get affected because "Star Vijay has a loyal viewership base due to its programming strategy revolving around soaps and serials - not much of films or film based programming."

The general impression amongst the trade is that the Chennai viewers are happy getting their "daily staple quota" of Tamil channels.

However, this doesn't seem to be the general consensus. The indiantelevision.com team spoke to a Chennai resident staying in Alwar Peth who says: "Generally, Chennai residents are quite concerned about buying set top boxes. They view it as a new investment and are still coming to terms with it. The elite viewers, who are aware of the fact that CAS has been deferred in Delhi and Kolkata, are wondering why Chennai is being penalised."

This SEC (socio-economic class) A1+ resident, who hasn't bought a set top box, also claims that the cable last mile operators are unclear and haven't really pushed the boxes.

As far as CAS rollout in India is concerned, it seems to be a question of "there but not quite!"

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