The sunset gets closer…

14 Dec,2011


By A Correspondent



The Lok Sabha has passed the much-awaited Bill for digitization of Cable TV in India with the assurance that cable operators will not be harmed from the proposed move. The digitization sunset date for the four metros is June 2012. For complete digitization of cable sector in cities with population of more than one million, the date is March 30, 2013, all urban areas by September 30, 2014, and the entire country by December 31 2014.


Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said that the move to convert Analog TV into Digital will bring India on par with other countries like US, Britain, Korea and Taiwan.


As a matter of fact, digitization of TV will bring subscription revenues for broadcasters and of course the elimination of carriage fees from the broadcast ecosystem – something which, as experts believe, would eventually happen as complete digitization would set in. As for now, carriage fees is one big challenge all broadcasters are facing. Industry estimates suggest that roughly 20 per cent of a channel’s cost account for carriage fees. As per the new regime, all satellite channels will be beamed to houses through set-top-boxes.


While most members supported the Bill, a few raised their voices against content being broadcast on some channels and the unjustifiable hike in the cable rates. Soni assured Cable operators that the move will not render them jobless, and that the government’s major concern was the viewers’ interest. She said that an enabling provision had put in place to the effect that only Rs 200,000 to Rs 300,000 would be needed by cable operators to move to digitisation.


On the prices of set-top-boxes, she said, “The prices of set-top-boxes will fall. These will be available on installments and rent. Also, viewers don’t have to take a whole bouquet of channels. TRAI will impose a tariff capping for subscribing to channels.” She also said that digitization would provide consumers a la carte selection of channels and video-on-demand among other things.


She added that the Headend-in-the-sky (HITS), which had so far failed, would take off with greater investments


The ordinance was passed earlier this year to meet the deadline set for full digitization by December 31, 2014. The government will complete the process in four phases starting with metros.


The Bill will now go to the Rajya Sabha for passing and then go to the President for her assent after which it becomes law. Mr Dinyar Contractor, Editor-in-chief, SCATMAG, is of the opinion that it is only a matter of time before Rajya Sabha will pass the bill.


According to Mr Devendra Parulekar, Partner & Segment Champion – TV Distribution Ernst & Young, the development is a positive one as this will lead to transparency in the entire system while creating a win-win situation for every stakeholder. “Digitisation will provide customers with wider choices, better signal quality, HD content and niche content tailored to suit niche audiences.”


Whether there will be an effect on pricing, he said, “With hyper-competition, I don’t think price points will rise significantly; they will more so be determined by the market forces. ”


On what it means to MSOs, Mr Parulekar said that MSOs focus will shift from B2B to B2C. However, due to the short implementation time-frame, he said that MSOs are likely to lose round one of the battle to DTH players, who have already invested in mature back-end systems. She also said that there were punitive clauses against cable operators, MSOs or DTH operators who failed to show the must-carry channels, including the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV channels.


“The jury is still out on how the sector would fare in the medium to long term, as digital cable+broadband has some inherent technological advantages over DTH, as well as the advantage of personalised service that cable offers to end-subscibers. These service enhancements will need infusion of large funds and hence the sector may see some transactions (M&A activity). With increased transparency in collection of subscription fees as well as tax collection, broadcasters can de-risk their revenue streams versus advertising revenue that they are presently overly dependent upon,” he added.


Big story image: Fotocorp

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