Television

Government at a loss on CAS in Mumbai

NEW DELHI: In what may be an embarrassing situation for the central government, CODA (Cable Operator and Distributor Association) spokesperson and Shiv Sena Vibhag Pramukh and spokesperson from Mumbai Anil Parab made it clear at a CAS (conditional access system) implementation committee here today that addressability would not be implemented in Mumbai till "Balasaheb Thackeray gives the permission and certain issues are clarified."

To top it all, a senior government official admitted after the meeting, "It (CAS) is a non-launch and that the government may have to re-notify Mumbai, setting a fresh date, if CAS is not rolled out in Mumbai within the next few days."

Addressability, which was supposed to be implemented in the south zones of Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai from 1 September, was almost a non-starter with only Chennai going in for addressability; while Kolkata and Mumbai deciding not to implement it citing their own reasons. Delhi had already been denotified and taken off the rollout map last week.

Asked whether the pay channels, including those from the Star stable, were off the air or being routed through set-top boxes (STBs), as had been mandated by the Indian government, Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea said, "I am not aware of the situation in Mumbai as I have been in Delhi, but the pay channels have been switched off (in non-STB homes) in Chennai."

According to multi system operator (MSO) Sumangali Cable Vision GM (operations) Vittal Sampadakumaram, CAS has been implemented in toto in Chennai and they do not expect much trouble there.

However, it is Mumbai, more than Kolkata, that is giving sleepless nights to the central government.

Pointing out that it is life as usual in Mumbai, Parab told journalists after coming out of the CAS meeting here that "nobody would dare switch off pay channels in non-STB homes in Mumbai."

"Why use Mumbai for this poison test, when it is not being implemented in Delhi?" Parab shot back when asked about the reason for Shiv Sena’s opposition to CAS in Mumbai.

According to Parab, while the government did not say anything officially today on the so-called non-implementation of CAS in Mumbai, Shiv Sena’s stand is that CAS is not consumer friendly, especially in the wake of the fact that there is no uniformity in the implementation scheme with various MSOs and cable operators offering varying schemes.

"If and when the discounted rates (of pay channels) are announced, we’ll see what to do," Parab said, adding, that they have examined the legality of the issue.

On its part, the government while reiterating that it would be lenient for the first 10 days on CAS, however, said that a senior official would be sent to Mumbai to take stock of the situation.

MUMBAI MSOs STILL OPTIMISTIC

Even as the Shiv Sena factor left its effect on the implementation committee meeting today here in Delhi, various MSOs like Hathway and INCableNet were optimistic that CAS would become a reality in Mumbai too.

INCableNet COO Rajiv Vyas said that his company is prepared to rollout CAS in Mumbai.

Vyas insisted that Shiv Sena was "not adamant" on stalling rollout of CAS in Mumbai, but have raised certain objections, which can be removed and the doubts removed.

According to Hathway CEO K. Jayaraman, unless the cable fraternity was ready to implement CAS in Mumbai, it’d be a slow affair.

Expressing his optimism that issues can be resolved, Jayaraman admitted that his company has seeded very few boxes in Mumbai.

"We have about 450 boxes out in Mumbai, but the boxes can only move when there are clear signals available on the issue," Jayaraman said, adding that the industry would sit down and make an effort to "resolve the issues" as long as it takes.

So, how would one describe today’s implementation committee meeting attended, amongst others, by even Zee Telefilms CMD Subhash Chandra for some time? "A stalemate," said Television Eighteen Ltd. MD Raghav Bahl, adding, "Things would move very slowly on this front."

DELHI CABLE BODY SOUNDS A WARNING

The Delhi-based Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), meanwhile, today has petitioned the government that cable operators would have no option but to raise the monthly subscription fee in Delhi in the wake of the capital city being taken off the rollout map.

Pointing out that the whole industry is totally "demoralised and has lost faith in the government bringing the situation to a chaotic end", a memorandum from COFI states, "In such a situation we have no options left, except to demand the rates for all pay channels shown to the consumers, irrespective of their choice, which along with the free to air (FTA) channels’ distribution and the taxes may come to Rs 500 to Rs 650 per month."

If this is put into reality it would a quantum jump in the fee from the average of Rs 170 per month that a Delhi consume pays his cable operator.

"This is going to be detrimental to the interest of millions of consumers who were, so far, paying a subsidized subscription of Rs 250 to Rs 350 purely due to individual efforts of last mile cable operators, often called by the broadcasters as ‘under declaration’," the COFI statement said.

To avoid a "chaotic situation and mass scale resentment by the consumers," it is now suggested that the government should assess the viewership figures of various channels in the four metros through an independent agency and ask the broadcasters to charge the MSOs/LMOs based on those figures so that the operators are not blamed for any under declaration and the broadcasters get their due, while the consumers are not inconvenienced, the COFI statement said.

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