MIB diktat: Digitize or get punished!

21 Mar,2012

 

 

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Reiterating the government’s stand on implementation of digitization in the Indian market yet again, Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary (Broadband & Policy), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting made it clear that there was no alternative to digitization, that digitization has been made mandatory for all and those who don’t digitize will be subject to punishment under Section 11.

 

Speaking at the CASBAA India Forum 2012 in New Delhi, Ms Sahu said, “It actually becomes punishable if you don’t give digital signal by the notified date. So after June 30 if somebody does not give digital signal and continues with analog signal, it becomes punishable as per Section 11.” Ms Sahu admitted that the biggest challenge for the Information & Broadcasting Ministry was to keep pace with the evolving technology as far as policy formulation is concerned. She said, “Policies are slower than evolving technology…By the time you have put in place a legal framework, you have another innovation come up. So the policy needs to keep pace with the technological advancement. We also need to speed up the policy making process.”

 

Addressing the forum earlier in the day, Uday Kumar Varma, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting also emphasized that digitization will run its course successfully. He said, “Digitization is a phenomenon which is sure to happen and now we need to look beyond the digital. Digitization is an idea whose time has come and the only question is that of timing and phasing, which the government has already looked into.” The Secretary also said that despite the mammoth challenge of digitization, it is set to address a plethora of issues for broadcasters, like measurement, carriage fees etc.

 

With regard to the availability of set top boxes, Mr Varma said, “The country is in a fair position… as per industry estimates, we require about 10 million set top boxes in the four metros. Around 2.5 million set top boxes are in stock and another 7 million are being procured, about 1.8 million have already been installed.”

 

Addressing the audience, Ms Sahu also said that Cable Television Network Regulation Act of 1995 has now been amended. It is under this act that digitization has been made mandatory. She also said that certain major changes have been brought in policy in the amendment act which will facilitate digitalization. Clearing the air on issues pertaining to licensing of MSOs and registration regime for the cable operators, Ms Sahu said, “The rules under the act have already been drafted, it is under consultation. We don’t have to bother much about the rules because we are not going to substantially change the licensing procedures for the MSOs and therefore it is not going to disturb the entire process of digitization…The licensing procedure for the MSOs and the cable operator is much simpler, it’s not going to be complicated at all because we know that we have to finish the first phase in time, before June 30.” In the new act, TRAI has been empowered in the act itself to make regulations on tariff and interconnection issues.

 

Talking about the need to create more awareness among consumers about digitization, both the Secretary and Joint Secretary asserted that the government has already started taking steps in that direction. Ms Sahu said, “We have a committee which is working on the communication campaign. Our jingles are already on two of our radio stations and we just finalized our TV spots. Ministry has already gone ahead with a Facebook account, we are developing an exclusive website, our toll free numbers are already working. But I would like to appeal to the broadcasters and the broadcasting bodies like NBA to come out with their campaigns also.” The onus of bringing awareness she said, lies with both the government as well as the broadcasters.

 

However, Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India feels that the government needs to do much more in terms of educating the consumers. She said, “Industry has done everything on its own, the government should play a better role in educating the consumer. Since government has mandated the change over from analog to digital, we want government to take a more proactive role in this. They should do many consumer workshops, many consumer awareness programmes and give some incentive to the consumer to transform from analog to digital.”

 

In an earlier session titled, ‘The Big Picture’, Ashok Mansukhani, President, MSO Alliance, Management Consultant, M/s Hinduja Ventures highlighted three issues, which if addressed now, will make the deadline of June 30 possibly achievable. He said, “The first issue is to have a level playing field cable rules which align the cable rules of 2006 to the DAS act of 2012. Second is, we want a level playing field regulation for digital addressable because the August 2006 CAS regulations cannot work in DAS. And the third is, unless government says that this is a government mandate, everybody on July 1 must necessarily watch television in these 4 cities through a set top box exercising choice it will not take off.” Mr Mansukhani also said that the government needs to get its act together and get all the rules in place to avoid any chaos. He added that in his personal view the June 30 deadline was a mirage in a Siberian desert but the industry was nevertheless committed to make it happen.

 

Narayan Rao, President, News Broadcasters Association and Executive Vice Chairperson, NDTV, said that digitization will provide a huge potential for the entire industry in forms of revenue. He also said that industry members need to get rid of the trust deficit and work together in order for digitization to happen by the notified date.

 

Mr Mansukhani said, “Digitization should become an acceptable form of television viewing in India from now on and the industry should make consumers aware of it and take care of them.” Mr Sunil Lulla, VP, IBF and MD & CEO, Times TV Network echoed Ms Roop Sharma’s views when he said that the government needs to take more responsibility for communicating to the consumer the benefits of digitization.

 

In a separate session titled, ‘The Regulatory Mandate’, speaking about the biggest regulatory challenge for the government, Anil Khera, CEO, Videocon d2h said, “The biggest challenge is to implement within the given time frame.” Mr Ravi Mansukhani, MD, IMCL said, “The biggest challenge is to create a level playing field in a world of convergence.”

 

Answering a question on whether India is ready to go beyond digital, Mr Khera said, “The first 4 metros will set the pace for digitization. The success of these 4 metros will decide the pace of digitization for the rest of the country.”

 

K Jayaraman, CEO & MD, Hathway Cable and Datacom as well as Mr Ravi Mansukhani expressed their disappointment with the budget which had no fiscal incentives mentioned. Although Mr Jayaraman said, “It is not a big show stopper for Phase I, I’m sure it’ll come by Phase II and III.” Mr Mansukhani said that the bigger MSOs are lucky to have an investor so money is not a problem for them but there is another smaller MSO who cannot come up with the money; it is this MSO which will be affected, and the government should set up a fund for these MSOs.

 

The forum ended with a session with GroupM South Asia CEO Vikram Sakhuja talking about ‘The Advertising Revenue Advantage’. He spoke about how digital TV advertising revenue is adding value for platforms, broadcasters, advertisers and consumers across the Asia Pacific. He said that digitization has the opportunity to take measurement from sample to census. The three areas of impact for advertisers in the digitized era are targeting, measurement and interactivity. He said, “Great interactivity and involvement comes from digital TV… we are moving from lean back television to lean forward television and this will lead to increased levels of interaction.” He said we can increase the value of TV inventory by digitization. He concluded, “The new business model will be such where distribution will lead to advertising.”

 

 

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