100 Days to D-Day…but where are the Set-Top Boxes?

23 Mar,2012

By Shruti Pushkarna


Only 100 days to go for Digitization Day and the ground reality does not look too promising at this point. There is a mammoth requirement of set top boxes, Digital Addressable System (DAS) licences have not yet been issued to operators and several other issues remain unresolved as of now.


To get a clearer picture of the ground reality from the cable operators’ end, MxM India spoke to Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India. Speaking of the ground level scenario, Ms Sharma said, “No DAS licences have been issued to the operators still. Until and unless the operator has the license, he can’t get a bank loan and unless the operator has the license, he will not want to order equipment which is worth no less than 1 crore. And more importantly there is no consumer demand for digital. This is only government’s demand because they want to curry favour to the broadcaster. There isn’t any incentive from the government either. They are only forcing a technology on consumers by mandating it.”


But more than anything, the biggest problem as pointed out by Ms Sharma is the sheer unavailability of Set Top Boxes (STBs) in the market. She told MxM India, “You need a Set Top Box to go digital and where are the STBs? First there was talk of importing them from China but that will also take atleast four to five months. Now there are some vendors in India but for that too, the chip has to be imported from outside. There is a requirement of 30 lakh STBs for Delhi alone and this is counting only one TV per household. Also, where is the manpower to deploy all these STBs?”


Another industry source told MxM India, “As per the declared number, there is a requirement of 10 to 12 million STBs but my experience says that the actual total count will be no less than 20 to 22 million, because they have only counted 1 TV per household. The boxes are just not there.”


Ms Sharma feels that the government is pressurizing the smallest guy in the entire value chain, which is the cable operator. Talking of other unresolved issues, she said, “Even if the cable operator gets the STBs and gets the license, the government has not assured that every operator who gets the license will get the content. How can the operator make such a huge investment when there is no assurance of content? The government is only pressurizing the smallest guy in the value chain, they can’t pressurize the broadcaster, not even the MSO.”


MxM India also spoke to Mr Neeraj Sanan, EVP- Marketing and Distribution, MCCS to learn of the state of readiness of channels and industry as a whole. Mr Sanan said, “In principle, the entire fraternity of MSOs, LCOs and DTH friends are united in supporting the lead taken by TRAI. In my view, Delhi and Mumbai are slightly ahead of Kolkata in digitization. Being a country where examinations to appraisals to income tax, everything happens at the last minute I see two things:  a huge last minute rush (that too provided TRAI holds it grounds) which will put operational pressure in implementation. I still hope that, in the larger interest of the community, that we see the sunrise of Digitization. Already we have taken a lead in creating consumer pull through tickers which have been running on MCCS’ three channels for a month now and if all players in the value chain do the same I am sure we can see a successful June 30 sunrise.”


But as per another industry source June 30th seems quite unachievable, “There is a lot of resistance from LCOs and cable operators’ end. Their business is fragmented, that’s how they make their revenues, and digitization will put a stop to that. And moreover, none of the MSOs are really prepared because this requires a capital investment of 30 to 35 crore and they don’t have that kind of funding. The sheer size and the volume of the business is so large that you cannot do it even by December 31st. One thing is certain, it will create unforeseen situation on ground.”


Ms Sharma feels that the deadline might seem possible only if STBs are made available. Listing out all issues that need to be addressed before June 30th, she said, “First and foremost, tariff needs to be in place. DAS licenses have to be issued. Interconnection agreements have to be in place. Revenue share has to be specified. STBs have to be made available in the market. And there have to be fiscal incentives given to the operators. Also, we need to have many consumer awareness programmes. All these problems have to be addressed if the deadline has to be achieved by the notified date.”


She also added that the TRAI had only done one open house recently in Delhi but since the June 30th deadline applies to all the four metros, TRAI should have done an open house in each of these cities.


What’s your view on Digitization? Do you think the four metros can meet the deadline? Email us at shrutip@mxmindia.com and editor@mxmindia.com.


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One response to “100 Days to D-Day…but where are the Set-Top Boxes?”

  1. DeshBhakt says:

    I think govt doing all these to give DTH more customer from cable