Television

CAS Rollout: Three Months a More Comfortable Time Frame

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One after another, the complaints are gathering. Not enough set-top boxes (STBs); insufficient time to effectively and smoothly roll out conditional access system (CAS); and no marketing at all to generate a consumer pull.

The pay TV broadcasters are at it again. Back in 2004, the government decided to withdraw CAS based on the backlash faced from broadcasters and consumers. Will history get repeated this time around?

Looks unlikely. If the government decides to move the Supreme Court, it can at best get the implementation of CAS delayed by a few months. But the industry today is more or less settled to the fact that CAS is here to stay, sooner than later.

A stockpile of STBs, imported in 2003 during the time government had mandated CAS, is waiting to enter into consumer homes. Unlike in the past, MSOs also have the support of their franchisee operators to push digital boxes

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Valid, though, is the question thrown at the multi-system operators (MSOs): Can they implement CAS in the next four weeks?

The MSOs say they can. There are several factors working for them this time. They have already deployed digital cable TV in small patches. A stockpile of STBs, imported in 2003 during the time government had mandated CAS, is waiting to enter into consumer homes and can by and large take care of at least the first phase of implementation (zone one) in the three metros.

The MSOs also have the support of their franchisee operators to push forward the digital boxes. Unlike in the past, last mile operators have swung in favour of CAS for fear of losing subscribers to the direct-to-home (DTH) service providers. Concern over thrust of second and third bouquets by broadcasters has also brought them into the side of the MSOs in pushing for CAS.

Still, a month's time seems an impossible deadline to meet. MSOs will have to work out commercial agreements with broadcasters. In all fairness, this will take time as broadcasters have to negotiate and chalk out long term deals in an addressable system. Several considerations will have to be weighed in before arriving at a retail price structure of their TV channels. In the new era, discounts on volumes will also become an important part of the matrix.

MSOs will have to work out commercial agreements with broadcasters. In all fairness, this will take time as broadcasters have to negotiate and chalk out long term deals in an addressable system

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Though operators are in favour of CAS, there are several issues on the ground that have to still be sorted out. Flowing down the chain margins will have to be fixed for distributors and last mile operators. Commissions on sale and rental of STBs will also have to be worked out. MSOs, however, are confident that such agreements can be done in quick time. The problem is that everything can be "set into motion" once the commercial terms are settled with the broadcasters.

A lot of ground has to be covered including launching promotional campaigns. Just looking at the logistics, one realises how Herculean the task is. A more comfortable time zone would be three months. But the ball game can change if support is extended by everybody including the government and a tough regulator to cut the errant stakeholders into size. Support from the broadcasters will also help in making CAS possible in quick time.

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