Cable TV

Media Partners Asia: Cable the ultimate key to India's broadband digital future

This is an executive summary of a Viewpoint Paper presented to the Prime Minister's Office on 16 March 2007. The Paper was produced by research firm Media Partners Asia (MPA), and also supported by Liberty Global, Inc; Macquarie Media Group and Star Group.

The current cable industry, which already contributes 0.6 per cent directly to GDP, has the potential to increase this direct contribution exponentially, if it maximizes its broadband digital potential and attract investment. To do this, cable needs to be seen by the Government of India as the significant platform in the national economic context and as the key driving national broadband digital growth. Therefore, it needs higher priority in policy planning and a framework that allows it to maximize value.

Cable today in India is the dominant last mile pipe, connected to 20 million more homes than fixed line telephony. Cable TV already connects an estimated 71 million homes and almost 60 per cent of homes that own a TV set subscribe to cable TV, with India overtaking the US in 2006 to become the second largest Cable power in the world. Projected to further establish its status as the leading last mile network, cable will, serve more than 100 million TV homes by 2010. Its size and scale, if harnessed, presents a great opportunity to drive broadband digital deployment.

What is needed is an influx of capital an order of magnitude greater than currently exists. However, investors say that sentiment on broadband digital development in India is being somewhat dampened by the regulatory framework, which has grown too intrusive and harmful to long-term growth. As a result, investors are still cautious about funding long term broadband digital network upgrades when regulation imposes strict controls on the pricing of new capital intensive services. Concerns have intensified with the regulation for the deployment of digital conditional access systems or CAS in India. While all investors are agreed that CAS will provide a significant impetus to the deployment of broadband digital networks, they think it will work only in a less tightly regulated context.

Shane O'Neill, Chief Strategic Officer & Board Member, Liberty Global Inc., says: "The market is very attractive in terms of sheer size and growth potential but could be held back by 'over regulation' in key areas such as channel rate regulation, mandated revenue shares between industry participants and FDI caps. A lighter approach might be necessary to encourage the significant investment required to develop the broadband and digital industries both of which are very important for India's future development."

Alex Harvey, MD of Macquarie Media Group, adds, "We think India's cable businesses, due to their ability to offer a range of converged services, will be material areas of growth and opportunity. A key element to realising these growth opportunities will be a transparent and proactive regulatory environment - this must be a priority area of government focus."

Paul Aiello, the new CEO of STAR Group says: "The stakes are high for policymakers and the regulator to get it right, ensuring progressive policies that facilitate investment and growth."

Investors are eyeing many deals in the cable broadband/digital space... one of the complications for some of the larger investor groups is how the current regulatory framework will play out - the current restrictions on revenue share, channel distribution and pricing are not optimal for investment, especially as there is no concrete signal was to when these restrictions will be lifted.

(The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily subscribe to the same.)

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