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IDOS 2017: Cable TV sector needs more collaborative broadcasters, say MSOs

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NEW DELHI: Even as the multi-system operators and cable operator are doing their bit to aid digitisation, broadcasters need to participate more in the process which officially has been completed. They need to be more transparent and supportive of the distribution platform operator -- in this case the MSO and cable TV operator -- and not be like a tax collector always asking for more.

This was the general view of both, S N Sharma of Den and Ashok Mansukhani of Incable in a discussion in ‘The Indian MSO: Redefining the raison’etre’, who also said it was only now that the MSO was beginning to monetise almost five years after digital addressable system was first launched.

Furthermore, the broadcasters were still free to fund the business as they wanted, and, as Sharma put it, there are only two laws that control the broadcaster – the Programme and Advertising Codes and the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995. Thus, there is virtually no regulation for the broadcaster, Sharma said.

Both, Sharma and Mansukhani agreed that MSOs and even LCOs had put in a lot of effort to get DAS off the ground -- that too in a period of four to five years, which is unprecedented globally.

"The DAS regulation was brought in for transparency and to allow everyone to have a fair share of the huge subscription revenues that viewers were paying to watch cable TV," said Sharma. "But, the sad part is that broadcasters are constantly asking for rate increases of 24 per cent or so without even asking if it were possible," added Mansukhani.

They said that it would be better if the broadcasters were to communicate rate increases to viewers and invest in promoting that, rather than expecting MSOs who are just about recovering from the hangover of the huge investments they have put into DAS as well as getting robust systems and processes in place. "Also, we are not equipped or have the creative mindset to communicate this effectively for all channels," agreed both Sharma and Mansukhani.

Rather than going to courts to stall the TRAI tariff order, they said, broadcasters could collaboratively work with the DPOs to take DAS on to the next level. "Neither the government nor the regulator has been able to do anything," they said.

"We have our own troubles, recouping our investments to bring back profitability into the cable TV sector, as well as dealing with piracy and leakages which broadcasters take time to check and stop because they have procedures to follow," said Sharma.

Mansukhani disagreed with Indiantelevision.com founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari that the cable TV sector will not be in a position to manage complicated skinny a la carte bundles for the millions of customers that it serves. "Our backends are ready," he said. "Our SMS, billing and KYC of the customers is in place," he said. "We are just waiting for the (court) order to come through."

He opined that the industry would ultimately survive the changes, and he was also confident that the cable industry was ready to adapt to any new technology.
To a question about monetisation, Sharma said the MSOs were not beginning to reap the monetary benefits of Phase I. Even the DTH industry was beginning to break even only now, more than a decade after it was launched.
Mansukhani said he was happy that the Hinduja’s headend in the sky (HITS) NXTDigital was reaching 1.5 million consumers. But, the need was to break even as early as possible and "giving a dividend to my shareholders."

But, he stressed the need to keep the dialogue open with the LCOs who are the ones dealing with the consumer. Consumer connect has to continue. He regretted that the level playing field that he had hoped to get from the government has never came.

Both Mansukhani and Sharma agreed that, though the government had not made a difference between the urban and rural viewers, this was necessary if there has to be penetration in rural areas. Otherwise, they would go to Doordarshan's FreeDish.

Sharma said his company was soon launching a device that would not be internet-based and could be used for all gadgets including mobiles, TV, tabs, and so on.

Mansukhani said that it was clear that the MSO will have to graduate from being a TV MSO to a multi-screen MSO.

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