Cable TV

Need to regulate cable TV pricing: CUTS Survey

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MUMBAI: Cable TV prices need to be regulated as consumers have no freedom to switch their operators and face frequent hike in subscription charges, according to a survey conducted by a group of consumer organisations in the country led by CUTS.

The survey findings reveal that seven out of 10 households interviewed do not have option to change their cable operator, and 80 per cent of these households faced a hike in subscription charges at least once in the last one-year. The survey is based on responses of more than 1500 representative respondents from the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

The survey was conducted by CUTS in Delhi and Kolkata, CAG in Chennai and CGSI in Mumbai. The project was supported by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India, under their consumer welfare fund.

"In an industry where there is a virtual monopoly at the consumers' end, the survey identifies a crying need to regulate prices and ensure proper service standards at local level," says CUTS secretary general Pradeep S Mehta and CAG legal coordinator in Chennai Bharath Jairaj.

The Cable TV sector is a seller's market and the consumer is merely a puppet in the hands of operators, the survey says. Though 70% cable TV subscribers received more than 50 channels, most of these (83%) usually watch less than 15 channels. Thus consumers are made to pay for more than 35 channels, which they do not watch.

Eighty percent households covered by the survey pay between Rs 150-300 as monthly cable subscription charges. Maximum respondents (38 per cent) pay between Rs 150-200, followed by 24 per cent paying between Rs 200-250 and 20 per cent paying between Rs 250-300 per month. Importantly, there is not much difference in the subscription charges paid by consumers in lieu of the number of TV sets owned by them.

Kolkata with average monthly subscription charge of Rs 175 is the least expensive metro, followed by Chennai (Rs 187), Mumbai (Rs 247), and Delhi (Rs 253).

The survey reveals that most respondents (96 per cent) have heard of CAS. However, in terms of acceptance of the system, there is variation across metros. Majority of respondents in Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai are not in favour of accepting CAS and advance fear of increase in monthly rentals as the main reason for their response. On the other hand, majority of respondents in Mumbai, in particular those paying monthly subscription charge of Rs 200 and above favour CAS and expect that CAS would reduce the monthly rentals. Most respondents do not want an increase in their monthly cable bills, if CAS is implemented.

Moreover, variation in perception of respondents across metros regarding post-CAS monthly subscription charges highlights the poor awareness with respect to CAS. In fact, lack of information about different aspects of transition to the CAS regime has been one of the main reasons for failure of CAS in its first attempt.

"Trai is soon going to come out with its recommendations on Cable TV services. Given the experience with implementation of CAS, it is imperative that whatever system is proposed by Trai, there is full clarity and mass awareness of consumers, in order for any proposed system to succeed", the consumer activists suggests.

The survey also looked at the mode of procuring the set-top boxes. While majority of respondents in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata expressed their preference to buy, majority of respondents in Chennai prefer to rent a set-top box. Sixty-seven percent respondents do not mind advertisements during TV programmes. In contrast, only three out 10 respondents are willing to pay more if advertisements are removed from TV programmes.

CUTS has prepared a Draft Cable TV Bill and is organising a one-day seminar in New Delhi on 18 October to deliberate on a consumer friendly cable TV system.

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