Television

CII backs conditional access

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NEW DELHI: A new player has now stepped into the convoluted CAS drama - the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). And, quite dramatically, the apex chamber of commerce feels that conditional access is the answer to the many ills afflicting the Indian broadcasting industry, but it should be rolled out under a regulator's watchful eye, may be the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), as an interim measure.



In a paper on CAS, submitted to the Indian government a few days ago, CII has said that in India, 'due to the nature of market development in the initial stages, it hasn't been possible for the market to adopt addressability. This has resulted in a "unique" situation (high pay TV penetration and near-zero box penetration) where the pay channels have a dual stream of revenue, advertising and subscription.'



"CAS can address this stalemate in the market by streamlining the practices of pay channels and directing their decision to turn free to air or remain pay," government sources, quoting the CII paper, said.



According to the government sources, the CII paper too has recommended that TRAI may be approached for overseeing the (broadcasting) industry issues as an interim measure.



The suggestions are likely to gladden not only the hearts of the cable fraternity, fast losing hope of seeing CAS ultimately becoming a reality, but also that of the government that is grappling with the knotty issue in its role as the third umpire. Broadcasters may not be so happy to read such recommendations as it would strengthen the hand of the government to neutralise anti-CAS voices within the government and in certain political parties and press ahead with its implementation.



Interestingly, through proper charts and illustrations, the CII paper has said that globally in most markets, pay channels are routed through set-top boxes (STBs) that help the industry in keeping track of piracy and also collect subscription money from individual households.



The architecture of the box and other details are usually decided by the market forces, except in certain special cases like Pakistan where individual prices are specified genre wise (on the basic premise that satellite channels do not create Pakistan specific content) or the UK, where the government is intending to switch over totally to the digital mode.



Sensibly, the paper on CAS doesn't gloss over the intense friction between the broadcasting and cable segments of the industry. Keeping this in mind, the CII paper says that to neutralise ground monopoly in the initial stages, for the development of the industry, various steps can be taken, including all broadcasters providing signals to all operators on non-discriminatory rates. Ditto for the cable ops. They would have to carry any broadcaster which approaches an MSO, "provided there is parity in the agreements being offered by the broadcaster to all other MSOs," the sources said.



Declaration of maximum retail price, and not fixed prices, and subsequent transparency in the revenue sharing are important cogs, the paper points out, while suggesting a formula for calculation of a la carte prices of individual channels in a bouquet.



Interestingly, the CII paper suggests that the government should have a role to play while revenue sharing agreements are being drawn up or have been completed. The idea, the sources, said, looks simple: that the government or a government body should know the details of the agreements so that transparency can be maintained and non-discriminatory pricing cannot be resorted to by broadcasters.

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