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Asianet mulls launch of digital cable TV services in Q1 2006

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MUMBAI: Rajan Raheja-owned Asianet Cable Vision (ACV), the largest cable TV network in Kerala, is planning to launch its digital services in the first quarter of 2006.

Kochi will be the first city in the state to offer digital cable TV. "We are set to launch the services by March-end. We will start with Kochi and then quickly spread out across the state. The digital headend will be at Kochi. As we have an underground fibre backbone, we can cover the entire state from this centralised headend," says Satellite Communications Ltd CEO Mahesh Kumar.

The set-top boxes (STBs) will be priced at around Rs 4,000. The two-way enabled boxes with inbuilt cable modem, on the other hand, will cost approximately Rs 6,000. On offer will be around 150 channels. "We will be offering value-added services from the time of launch. We will push broadband through this as well. Even in the basic digital STB, we can offer broadband by connecting through an ethernet port," says Kumar.

Asianet will make an initial investment of Rs 100 million. It will use Scientific Atlanta systems including the STBs, conditional access systems (CAS) and headend. Interestingly, sister company Hathway Cable & Datacom has selected NDS for its encryption systems and offers STBs from Humax of Korea.

But how does he expect the boxes to move when it has failed in other markets? "We are targeting 25,000 STBs in the first year of operations. Unlike other MSOs, we own the last mile and the customers," says Kumar.

SMS DRIVEN CABLE CHANNEL

Meanwhile, Asianet today launched an SMS-driven cable channel which has music and movie content. "It is probably the first channel in the country which will telecast songs and movies only from the SMS-led voting system. We have tied up with all the mobile operators in the state and viewers will have to use our short code number - 67675. We have a revenue-share arrangement with the telecom operators," says Kumar.

Asianet Satellite Communications runs the cable network, ACV, and a few cable channels. The company is held by Raheja who also has a 74 per cent stake in Hathway Cable & Datacom while Star Group owns the rest.

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