Technology

STBs apart, industry feels left in the cold

STBs apart, industry feels left in the cold
 

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: While the 2008-09 budget has largely left the media and entertainment industry untouched, Finance Minister P Chidambaram announced some measures that are expected to benefit the cable, direct-to-home (DTH) and IPTV growth in the country.

Mixed bag for DTH, Cable

Dish TV MD Jawahar Goel feels the DTH industry has something to feel positive about. "At present there is zero duty on import of set top boxes. Now the Finance Minister has also removed duty on import of specified parts of STBs. This will provide leverage and opportunity for DTH players to evaluate the option of manufacturing STBs locally," he says.

Tata Sky MD and CEO Vikram Kaushik, however, doesn't agree that there is too much for the sector. "The benefits are so insignificant that the impact will be almost homoeopathic," he says.

There is only a relaxation on some of the components for manufacture of the STBs. "We had expected much more, especially significant reduction on excise duty, which has been denied us," Kaushik adds.

The issue of double taxation, with the entertainment industry having to pay both entertainment as well as service tax, has been left unchanged.

Goel, however, gives a more detailed rationale behind being upbeat. He argues that since the CVD (countervailing duty) is reduced from 16 per cent to 14 per cent, the cost of the Consumer Premises Equipment (CPE) will go down and will benefit the DTH operator who are already providing considerable subsidies to consumers.

The new provision introduced by FM in Service Tax, stating that any item being provided under the "Right to Use" to the customer but not covered under VAT, will now be covered under 'right to use.' This is a move towards the Goods and Service Tax (GST) regime, Goel points out.

He says this will partly address the issue of multiple taxation on the DTH industry, where presently along with the service tax, VAT was also being charged on the CPE, though these were being given on rental or lease models.

"This will help the DTH industry to give more options to the consumers to acquire the CPE on rental, which has been stipulated by Trai in its Quality of Service requirements. It will benefit the industry by taking the CENVAT credit of the service tax paid, thus positively impacting the cash flow of the capital intensive businesses," Goel says.

The multi-system operators (MSOs) are more cautious. Says Hathway Cable and Datacom MD and CEO K Jayaraman, "It is too early to see how the STB vendors respond to the duty waiver of some components and set up manufacturing bases in India. This will succeed only if the foreign vendors start producing here. Local manufacturers will also feel encouraged but they have to comply with the conditional access vendor."

The MSO Alliance is not happy with the way the demands of the industry have been ignored, especially on the issue of rationalisation of taxes.

Says MSO Alliance secretary Avnindra Mohan, "There is marginal benefit on some STB components; it would be of some use only when Indian companies start producing STBs on a large scale. As it is, 90 per cent of the STBs are being imported today," he holds.

The Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) is deeply dissatisfied with the budget, saying there is nothing in it for the local cable operators.

Says COFI president Roop Sharma, "There is no provision of making digital headends cheaper. The marginal help to STB manufacturing would only be good for the DTH players and also of IPTV. But there are only 500000 STBs in the Cas (conditional access system) notified areas. So it hardly makes any difference to us. What the cable industry needed was incentives for digital headends."



Broadcasters feel digitalisation should get the push

Broadcasters, on the other hand, feel the budget is positive in what little it has to offer. Says Star India CEO Uday Shankar, "The incentives provided for STB manufacture is a welcome sign. In fact, anything that goes towards digitalisation is good because this country is a victim of choked distribution pipes on analogue systems."

Agrees Global Broadcast News joint MD Sameer Manchanda, "The government has done something for the STBs and also for the convergence equipment. Since this is good for digitalization, it is also good for us as broadcasters."

Sums up INX Media founder and CEO Indrani Mukerjea: "The budget has provided an impetus for growth to the Digital revolution - by reducing the duty on certain specific components of STBs to nil. I am also happy that duty on convergence products related to the media and entertainment industry has been halved. Of course, I wish there had been a reduction in corporate tax rates for the industry too."

Film industry feels left in the cold

The film industry has mixed feelings. Speaking for the multiplex operators, E-City Ventures MD Atul Goel has this to offer. "The impact on the entertainment industry would be limited, except for the customs duty reduction on equipment from 10 per cent to 5 per cent. However, we are happy to note, from the Cenvat reduction, that there is a direction towards convergence of indirect tax rates from the existing inefficient regime. We sincerely hope that the Empowered Committee of Finance Ministers recommend a substitution of entertainment tax levied on cinemas with GST (to be rolled out by 2010)."

Prime Focus CFO Nishant Fadia feels the Indian film and entertainment industry should have liked special tax concessions and a reduction in corporate tax. But, on the positive side, he says, reduction of CENVAT in import duties and customs duty on equipments are steps in the right direction.

Nothing for FM radio

FM broadcasters feel the budget has nothing specific to offer to spur the sector's growth. Says Big FM COO Tarun Katial, "The service tax needed to reduce, especially since the radio industry is at its infancy and has great employment and media opportunities in the semi-urban and rural markets."

Radio City CEO and AROI president Apurva Purohit believes reduction in base rate of excise duty from 16 to 14 per cent is positive for the industry overall. But there is little for the sector. She says, "Development and supply of content for use in advertising purposes has been brought under service tax net. This is likely to see an increase in advertising cost bringing a slowdown in advertisement revenues to broadcasters and print media which will ultimately be passed on to the consumer."

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