Cable TV

MSOs moot Re 1 a day rent scheme on STBs

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MUMBAI: The digital set-top box (STB) that will sit in consumer homes to receive pay channels will come cheap. Facing the threat of competition from direct-to-home (DTH) service providers, cable TV operators are preparing to enter the conditional access system (CAS) regime with an aggressive price plan.

Multi-system operator Hathway Cable & Datacom has decided to introduce a rental scheme on its STBs with a fee as low as Re 1 a day. Incablenet is likely to follow suit but will be finalising its pricing on Monday, sources say.

"We will be charging a rent of Re 1 per day on our boxes. Consumers will have to pay upfront Rs 999 as a refundable deposit," Hathway Cable & Datacom CEO K Jayaraman tells Indiantelevision.com. Currently, the boxes are available for purchase at Rs 3,000 with no rental schemes.

Even in Kolkata, Manthan Cable Network is considering a rental scheme of Rs 50 per month on an initial deposit of Rs 800-1,000. Competition can further drag down prices. "We are planning to charge a rent of Rs 50 per month on our STBs," says Manthan director Gurmeet Singh.

Cablecomm Services Pvt Ltd, another big operator in Kolkata, is also planning to structure its tariff plans for the CAS era.

Siticable, which is the only MSO that has operations in the three metros of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata where CAS is going to be initially launched, could not be contacted for its comments. Chennai is the other city where CAS is already in place, but has seen slow uptake in demand.

While broadcasters have expressed concern on the supply of boxes to seed the market at such short notice, cable networks have dismissed such fears as "being fictitious." A phase-wise rollout of CAS in the three metros and an existing stockpile of STBs will make the transition smooth, operators say.

"The industry has a stockpile of 800,000 boxes while estimates put the number of cable TV households in the notified areas of south Delhi and Mumbai for the first phase of rollout at over 600,000. Based on the demand, the boxes can be quickly replenished to keep the supply line flowing. It will take around one month to import the boxes," says Jayaraman.

Kolkata, where Hathway has no operations, has an estimated total of around 250,000 cable TV homes to be covered in the first zone CAS rollout. "We have a stock of 100,000 boxes and are offering 195 TV channels on our digital cable," says Indian Cable Net CEO Amit Nag. Last year, Siticable acquired Indian Cable Net from the RPG Group to become the dominant MSO in Kolkata.

Manthan, the largest operator in south Kolkata, has installed a digital headend and is in the process of putting its encryption system in place. "Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority has around 1.8 million cable TV homes. The logistic cycles will be worked out," says Singh.

Mumbai and Delhi together have around seven million cable homes. "With CAS, we expect to give healthy competition to DTH. The ground will also get more organised and volumes, as they pick up, will drive down the cost of boxes," says Atul Saraf, one of the founder-promoters of 7 Star.

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