No final solution on CAS rollout; call for channel MRP

NEW DELHI: CAS or conditional access system is near and still so far.

While multi system operators (MSOs) and a section of independent cable operators today demanded that broadcasters come out with subscription rates for individual channels, instead of for a bouquet of channels, for smooth implementation of CAS in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, pay broadcasters said they would consider the option.

At a time when a demand was also made that the government try put a maximum retail price (MRP) on pay channels, the information and broadcasting ministry said that it would wait for detailed feedback before making such a move.

A day-long interaction to sort out various issues involved with implementation of CAS (as mandated by a Delhi court) saw stakeholders, including MSOs, cable operators, broadcasters, sector regulator Trai and consumer organisations present their stand to the government.

According to a representative of a stakeholder present during the meeting, which lasted over eight hours, the discussions were "positive", but marred by "contradictory opinions from the cable industry".

Even as a demand from a section of the cable industry that pay broadcasters come out with a la carte prices for smooth rollout of CAS was made, certain last mile cable operators from Mumbai sounded skeptical on addressability.

Some of the broadcasters raised objections to the demand on a la carte pricing saying TV channels, if priced on individually, would be expensive compared to the bouquet cost.

And, while most participants in the meeting, called by the government, felt that CAS is inevitability and should be rolled out, some consumer organizations felt that addressability could be introduced as long as it didn’t put additional burden on the consumers.

Rather, the consumer organisations went to the extent of saying that introduction of CAS should not result in increase of price of cable services from the present, which range anywhere between Rs 100 to Rs 500, depending on the type of deals that have been struck with the local cable operators.

According to some people who attended the meeting, at one point of time the government representative --- I&B secretary SK Arora --- chastised the cable industry for indulging in double-speak on introduction of CAS vis-à-vis carriage fee.

However, the government has convened a meeting on Friday again to take stock of the feedback from the industry stakeholders when the sequence of the rollout of CAS is likely to be given a final shape. Provided the government doesn’t go in for an appeal against the Delhi High Court order that is.

Those who attended the meeting included Trai’s broadcast in-charge Rakesh Kacker, Zee's Jawahar Goel, Roop Sharma from Cable Operators Federation of India, independent cable ops from Delhi and Mumbai like Vikki Chowdhry and MSO Alliance’s Ashok Mansukhani, apart from representatives from the IBF, Star, Sony and consumer organisations.

"We also informed the government that CAS was being implemented in the notified areas and we were giving attractive schemes to the consumers for possession of set-top boxes (STBs)," Press Trust of India quoted Roop Sharma as saying. Chowdhry went to the extent of saying that the pay broadcasters were “clearly on the back foot” in the meeting.

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