Cable operators meet to counter DTH threat

MUMBAI: Feeling the threat that direct-to-home (DTH) would offer, cable operators met in Mumbai today to discuss how they could beat the competition.

They were particularly concerned about the way a DTH service provider was approaching housing societies in Mumbai with the proposal of offering residents a central dish antenna through which it would connect individual installations. This would, thus, do away with the usual practice of each flat owner having to buy a dish.

The meeting was called by Cable Operators and Distributors Association (CODA) and multi system operators (MSOs) were invited to offer their views. No decision has been taken yet on what course of action the cable operators would take.

"By setting up a common dish antenna, the DTH operator can grab away the entire society. This amounts to redistribution of signals and is unfair," says a last mile operator who attended the meeting.

Tata Sky Ltd, the joint venture between the Tatas and Star, has approached societies of several high-rise buildings in Mumbai with such proposals because individual dish antennas, though not expensive, would be a difficult proposition in homes. Besides, marketing it to societies would be less tedious and cumbersome a process than approaching individual homes.

Defending the strategy, Tata Sky CEO Vikram Kaushik says this is only one of the many proposals that the company is making to rope in DTH subscribers. "Whenever any restructuring happens in any business, there will be forces which will have to adjust to the new reality," he elaborates.

Tata Sky is planning to start its DTH service anytime between March and June 2006. It is awaiting the launch of ISRO's Insat 4A satellite on 16 December.

In the meeting, representatives from MSOs suggested cable operators to push for digital cable TV. By being able to seed set-top boxes (STBs), they will be more effective in retaining their subscribers. "Antagonising any broadcaster by blacking out channels is not the solution, at least not immediately. Other ways have to be tried out. Ultimately we have to compete in the market with technologies like the DTH," an executive from a leading MSO said.

CODA will meet again next week to decide on what action cable operators would take. "There are many issues that the cable industry faces. We were discussing some of them," CODA president Anil Parab said, refusing to specify any single topic that dominated the meeting.

Siticable CEO Jagjit Kohli, Incablenet president Manoj Motwani and senior executives from Hathway Cable & Datacom attended the meeting.

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